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Hagerty Employee

Operation Un-stink: Smelly Hyundai gets the lemon law treatment | Hagerty Media

Have you ever found yourself desperately trying to get the putrid smell of urine and raw chicken out of a car, with no luck? Or did you recently purchase a new vehicle that smells like gym socks and the manufacture won't help? If so, keep reading!

Many years ago my cousin bought a used imported car from a large rental company. Don't know what went on in that thing, but it always had a ...peculiar... aroma. The vehicle name and the smell rhymed with "It's too fishy." We removed the seats, the carpet and the door panels and scrubbed everything with diluted color-safe Clorox, followed by a heavy application of Windex. Before we reassembled it, we put a small plastic tub filled halfway with pool chlorine in the interior and let it sit over a weekend. Presto, smell gone. She traded it in the following Tuesday.

About using pool Chlorine... DON'T!
I tried that once on a 1957 Caddy, and because chlorine is a powerful oxidant, it caused pitting on most of the chrome surfaces. This in only two days!
Pit Crew

Great article Matt!
I would add to determine how long the smell has been in the car. That may save you time and effort on the course of action to take. Recent smells may be just a surface clean or carpet shampoo. Longer odors would require a far deeper/longer cleaning action (foggers, white vinegar, ozone generator or complete replacement).
I've used the Bissel SpotClean ProHeat with success. Just remember to go over with clean water to remove any cleaning solution odors.
Also Riccar makes a pet fur vacuum brush for upholstery.
And I always keep a small aerosol can of Ozium for short term relief.
Cheers !

All good tips, I hope people read your comment. I had the same Bissell and loved the results as well. My sprayer stopped functioning pretty early on unfortunately so I moved over to the Hoover, otherwise I would still use it.


I only notice one omission here, and it's way early in the narrative. The toothbrush, used to remove the frat urine and chicken bits? It can be easily slipped into the offender's guest bathroom medicine cabinet, where the girl he left you for will use it. And there you are.

That's some good, factual, car advice. You sound like maybe you've done a few pranks in your day, haha!
New Driver

Nokout is also available at, where there are plenty of good "How-To" docs to guide you in applying this product. The most important part is - direct contact with the odor source. If you can make that happen, it'll work for you. An easy way to apply is to use a "cool mist" vaporizer unit. Set up your car so that the HVAC is set to recycle inside air, but don't start the car yet. Fill the little reservoir with Nok-Out, put it in the car and close the door. Allow it to run until a thick fog has developed inside the car. Then, open the door and quickly reach in and start the car. Close the door. Allow it to run for 10 minutes or so. This will remove odors in your ductwork - including tobacco smoke odor.

Glad to hear of another fan of Nokout! Good advice.
New Driver

I have a 2003 50th Anniversary Corvette that the original owner stored in his garage with dryer sheets and moth balls inside. I sprayed the carpets throughout with an enzyme, then placed bowls of crushed charcoal, baking soda, and coffee grinds in the trunk and interior for 6 months. Three months with the windows closed and 3 months with them open 4 inches. Is the smell of moth balls will simply not come out. Please HELP. Any practical advice is welcome.
Intermediate Driver

Bought a used 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee in 2010. When I picked it up I helped the previous owner remove at least half a dozen "air fresheners" that his wife had placed at various places inside the vehicle. I know there is still one remaining because to this day, 10 years + later, I still smell something floral when I open the door. I have looked EVERYWHERE I can think of for the offending item, but no luck after all these years. Cleaning, ozone etc. does not help until the source is removed. Luckily it's not a really offensive smell, just hugely annoying!
Intermediate Driver

Sorry for the following dissertation. But here are my tricks I learned teaching detailing to my automotive students over the past nine years.

Thorough vacuuming includes the detailers secret weapon: the air hose. A high velocity small nozzle airgun gets an amazing amount of sand and small particles out of carpet and hidden places the vacuum can't extract. Rub the gun over every square millimeter of the carpet Seriously, wear safety glasses because your face gets sandblasted and high velocity sand in the eye can be serious plus you don't want to get whatever else is in the carpet imbedded in your eye especially if driven in with force that could cause a serious infection. Use the vacuum and the air hose at the same time. There will be particles all over the seats and dash when you're done. You will know when you have all the sand out because your face will stop being pelted.

An airgun also gets almost all the dirt and cleaning solution out if the cracks and crevices of doors and dashes blowing them into your microfiber.

A Tornador for $125 or so with it's special enzyme cleaning solution is amazing for lifting dirt, stains and smells out of carpets, headliners and seats without scrubbing that can damage the fabric especially soft fuzzy headliners.

There are four kinds of stains and deposits that can cause smells. Knowing the chemical base of the stain determines the solution composition you need to use to remove the offending material.

Always do a test patch before cleaning with any product. The following is generic fabric cleaning not specific to cars but a very good guide for selecting the right cleaner. The proper one will work great, the wrong one can make things worse.

From the website:

Oil-based Stains:
Are best treated with a heavy-duty detergent together with hot water. Oil stains need to be emulsified or broken down into small particles i.e. Dawn dish soap your wife has under the sink. Heavy oil stains can be removed by pretreatment with a heavy-duty liquid detergent or with an aerosol petroleum-based solvent. On lighter stains, a powdered laundry detergent mixed with water to make a runny paste, and rubbing the stained fabric with that paste works too.

Example: automotive oil, butter, collar/cuff greasy rings, cooking fats and oils, cream, fat, grease, hair oil, hand lotion, lard, margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressing, suntan oil or lotion.

Protein Stains:
Cleaning method: Protein stains usually require enzyme pre-treatment to break down the protein bonds. Soaking in cold water and then laundered or in the case of cars an extractor or vacuum. Fresh protein stains can be removed by soaking the soiled fabric in cold water before washing. If protein stains are dry and set, they should be soaked in cold water using a detergent or an enzyme presoak product. After treating the stain, the fabric should be laundered in warm (not hot) water. Bleach may be necessary if the stain was colored (beets, ice cream).

Cleaning mistake: Protein stains should not be soaked in hot water. Soaking protein stains in hot water causes coagulation of the protein between the fibers of the yearn.

Example: baby food, baby formula, blood, cream, meats, egg, feces, gelatin, cheese, ice cream, milk, mucous, mud, pudding, urine, vomit.

Tannin Stains:
Cleaning method: To clean a tannin stain a detergent should be used (see clean stain). Soap should not be used on tannin stains. Fresh tannin stains usually can be removed using laundry detergent and by washing in hot water. Old and set tannin stains may need bleaching for more complete removal.

Cleaning mistake: Soap should not be used on tannin stains. Using soap sets tannin stains permanent.

Example: alcoholic beverages, beer, coffee, cologne, color pen, cranberries, fruit juice (apple, grape, orange), raspberries, soft drinks, strawberries, tea, tomato juice, washable ink

Dye Stains:
Cleaning method: Dye stains are very difficult to remove. Dye stains are best cleaned with heavy-duty detergent and safe-for-fabric bleach. First, dye stains need to be pretreated with a heavy-duty liquid detergent. Then, they need to be rinsed thoroughly. Finally, the fabric needs to be soaked in solution of all-fabric powdered bleach.

Example: blueberry, grass, cherry, india ink, Kool-Aid, mustard, tempera paint.

Hope this is helpful.

Wow. Amazing advice. I need to save this info!


Staying away from Taco Bell helps to keep the car un-stinky. Just saying.

Good tips in this article.
Intermediate Driver

If the odor is coming from fabric and remains after having been thoroughly shampooed, I've found good old fashioned Ozium spray will work. This is what the airlines use, or they use to, I haven't flown in years so I don't what they use now.
Close up the windows, and with at least one door open hold your breath, reach-in and blast the carpet, seats, and anything else that's fabric, then close the doors. Let it sit in the garage or shade (no sunlight) at least overnight, but the longer the better. A second treatment like this might be needed but I've had Ozium work when other products have failed.
New Driver

I have fought this fight many times. When I bought my Corvette, it smelled like a dead hooker. I did some research and managed to find a solid solution that really helps in addition to what was in this article; Star Brite Car Bomb. I made YouTube video about it years ago, and I still use it to this day when needed. Check it out