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Aroma Therapy: How to rid your car of bad smells

Written by James Foxall

Aroma Therapy: How to rid your car of bad smells

Of all the senses, smell is arguably the hardest to fool. We all have to breathe and that means we’re subjected to millions of different scents every day. And as our cars present such a relatively confined space, a bad smell can really get up your nose.

Car valuation experts reckon motors that have been smoked in can be worth up to 10 per cent less than those that haven’t. So it makes sense to remove pungent pongs from a car. It may cost a bit but chances are you’ll make that back when it’s time to sell the car. In the meantime, it’ll certainly make your motoring much more pleasant. Here we look at three nasty niffs and how you can eliminate them from your motor.

The Smell Of Life

It doesn’t matter what the smell in a car is, it’ll be caused by bacteria. According to car deodorant firm Aromarite, these micro organisms are so small around 400 million are the same size as a grain of rice. These miniscule monsters munch on a multitude of things and in so doing create a nasty niff.

They might be working on sweat that’s soaked into the seat covers from a hot day’s driving. Perhaps mud with fragments of cow poo, that’s been deposited in the car by dirty boots after a country walk. It could be crumbs from crisps dropped during long journeys. Or it may be sugary drinks, surreptitiously spilt in the back by younger members of the family while mum or dad is busy driving. And that’s just to name a few.

As the bacteria multiply (scarily, Aromarite says they can double in number every 15-30 minutes) and feed off these, they release chemical by-products that whiff.

The Remedy

Your first instinct might be to spray air freshener inside the car but all it’ll do is temporarily mask the smell. You need to give your car a thorough clean. Any motor retailer will have a wide range of products designed to clean a car’s interior. You usually get what you pay for and big-name brands such as Autoglym and Meguiars spend millions on research to make their products more effective.

Once the source of the smell has been removed, there may still be a lingering odour in the car. To remove these, there’s a process called Thermo fogging. This is where special fragrances are turned into steam so even hard-to-reach places inside a car are covered. The fragrances are designed to ‘pair’ with existing smells to yield something innocuous. An online search should reveal companies near you that offer this service.

Smell Of Dogs

Your mutt might be man’s best friend but even the most die-hard dog lover has to admit a pooch’s perfume leaves something to be desired.

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Dogs perspire through their feet and other hairless areas such as their nose. Their hair follicles also produce oils. Over time, an increasingly pungent combination of the two builds up in the car’s seats and/or carpet causing an unpleasant odour.

The Remedy

The best thing to do is not to let your hairy chum’s feet and fur come into contact with carpet or seats in the first place. There’s a wide range of upholstery and boot protectors available from retailers such as Pets at Home

If it’s too late for that. There are steps you can take.

Remove all carpet mats from the car before giving the interior a good vacuum to pick up all the hair your furry friend will have shed. Give the mats, whether carpet or rubber, a good scrub and leave them to dry on a washing line. Then use a shampoo to clean the car’s carpets and any fabric upholstery. Finally use a disinfectant cleaner on the boot area’s hard surfaces before employing a proper vinyl cleaner.

The Smell Of Smoke

The legacy of smoking in a car, particularly cigarettes, is arguably the hardest niff to neutralise. That’s because cigarette smoke contains tar which causes it to stick to any surface it comes into contact with.

In addition to this, the interior of a car is a confined environment. Even if you smoke with the window open, some smoke will settle somewhere. Fibres, such as those in carpets and seats actually trap the smoke particles, resulting in the ‘ashtray’ smell non-smokers are familiar with.

The Remedy

First of all clean out the ashtrays and cupholders. Then vacuum all fabric surfaces including those you can’t see such as the carpet beneath the front seats. Next shampoo all the upholstery and carpet, or if your seats are leather use a leather cleaner.

Then turn your attention to all the hard surfaces. That includes the roof lining, door liners and any flat areas such as the dashboard. Finally, clean the air vents and if you can the cabin air filters. Over time these too will have become impregnated with smoke.

When Cleaning Isn’t Enough…

Sometimes giving the fabrics inside a car a good clean simply isn’t sufficient. If that’s the case, try an ozone clean. The theory is simple. Ozone is a gas that’s present in very low levels throughout the earth’s atmosphere. When concentrated, it starves bacteria of oxygen and kills them. And no bacteria means no smell. Professional cleaning companies charge around £100 to pump the gas into the car’s interior. The process takes around half an hour and is impressively effective.

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Written by James Foxall

Read more from James Foxall

James Foxall is an award-winning journalist and former motoring editor for the News of the World. He now writes a consumer column for Daily Telegraph Cars. His favourite car is the original VW Golf GTI.

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