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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Can we talk?

I think we've known each other long enough that I can be honest with you.  Brutally honest. Mmmmkay?

It's about the, er, smell.  You know, that stale, unwashed pong that makes me want to roll down the windows, and hang my head into the slipstream like a dog.

No, not you, silly... you smell fine.  I'm talking about your car!

If you're like me, you enjoyed that 'new car smell' for the first few months that you owned your current transportation.  And from then on, you've done nothing more in the way of 'hygiene' than to run the vehicle through the local car wash a couple of times a month.

Oh sure, once or twice a year you're a big sport and spring for the deluxe 'inside & out special' to clean away the accumulated crud under the seats.  But by then it's too late.  Months (or years) of dropped food, spilled drinks, @ss sweat, pet drool and of course the flatulence that you held in all day, every day, at the office until you were safely alone in your car... all conspire the form the above-mentioned 'pong'.  Add to that the damp, moldy smell you sometimes get from your overworked A/C in the summertime, and... wow, your car stinks!

What can you do about it?

We'll first of all, forget about getting back that new car smell.  It went to the same place as your high school figure.  Most of that new car smell was just the out-gassing of the new plastic components in the car interior, as well as the nylon carpet/floor mats, anyway.  I'm guessing that isn't very healthy to be breathing in so it isn't the worst thing in the world that it's gone..

But there are a few things you can do to make your car interior a little more bearable:

1.  Periodically steam clean the seats.  I haven't done this yet, but it is on my list of things to do in the next week or two.  A friend did it for his old jalopy and the difference was amazing.

2.  Leave the windows open on warm sunny days. Parking the car with the windows open (or at least cracked) can let the wind and sun undo a lot of the damage you've done to the aroma-sphere of your car.

3.  Every time you wash the car have it vacuumed too.  You wouldn't believe the stuff that gets ground into the carpets and shoved under/between the seats in the course of a week or two.  If you have kids and/or pets, multiply the problem by a factor of 10!

4.  Whatever you do, stay away from those heavily scented pine trees and other stinky cardboard figurines that hang from your rear view mirror.  They smell OK for about 10 seconds, and then immediately start to smell like the janitor's closet at an under-funded public high school.  And those little bottles of liquid 'air freshener' that you see in auto-supply stores?  Unless you are a gypsy cab driver and also have the beaded seat cover (to keep your butt from going numb on those long night shifts), eschew that stuff.   The only reason deodorant works on your pits is because you wash them every day or two before applying a fresh coat.  Your car interior is a perfect proof that more is sometimes less.  Much less.

5.  Tea Bags.  I can't remember where I read this tip (and it's driving me crazy because it was definitely in one of my regular blog reads), but a neat trick that flight attendants sometimes use to deal with stinky airplane bathrooms is to hang up a couple of herbal teabags; the kind with orange, cinnamon, or other similar pleasant flavor.  This isn't the cure, mind you.  But it will make the sickness bearable until you get the caar interior properly cleaned. 

There now, I'm so happy we had this little chat, aren't you?  Oh, and don't thank me... I'm a giver!

Posted by David Bogner on September 8, 2009 | Permalink


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Well! I never! My car is deeply, deeply hurt. I'm taking her out for tea to try to pick up her spirits. But don't expect her to be giving you a little lift any time soon. Mmmmkay?

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Sep 8, 2009 3:21:08 PM

If I could find a Youtube link to the Seinfeld about the B.O., I would post it here....


Posted by: What War Zone??? | Sep 8, 2009 3:21:42 PM

Uh, I guess I should point out that my car is an Egged...

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Sep 8, 2009 3:22:40 PM

I saw the teabag idea on Lifehacker; they were referencing Apartment Therapy.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Sep 8, 2009 3:46:40 PM

when one of our children was carsick, having had chocolate milk for breakfast (!) my husband investigated odour removal - he discovered that charcoal is very good for "smell absorption." we left some of the coal from the barbeque in a dish in the car and it really worked very well. Maybe one could do this on a long term basis and the smell in the car wouldn't get too bad to start with!

Posted by: Mrs Belogski | Sep 8, 2009 3:53:02 PM

oo i love this... you're giving cleaning tips. fab!

my last car, my 1993 Nissan Quest family van was 13 years old with 190K on her. That car went through two kids... including them both learning to drive her. Lots of soccer and baseball - not to mention years of pop warner football (whew). And I have to say, right up to the end the boys would clamber in and tell me it always smelled so fresh and clean.

It's all about the maintenance.

Posted by: weese | Sep 8, 2009 4:51:10 PM

Not being much of a tea drinker (though I'm coming around) I've found an alternative to teabags that I'd learned from a beauty salon owner... used to combat the "aroma" of dye and other hair chemicals

take an old dress sock and fill it with a fresh bag of coffee beans (whole, not ground) twist the top, fold it over and voilà! coffee scented car. I'd advise against using a flavored coffee bean (french vanilla or hazelnut) and stick to just regular or french roasts... but each to his or her own.

I've found a 1 or 2 pound bag to last almost a year... kneading it now and then to freshen it up. I just found an older 'bag' was still de-fuming my trunk this weekend, after two and a half years... smaller space, I guess.

Posted by: Jethro | Sep 8, 2009 6:52:56 PM

ground coffee also helps with covering odor.

Posted by: dave | Sep 8, 2009 7:12:01 PM

freshly- cut grass (the green stuff that forms a lawn)- leave in the car overnight, that'll do it

Posted by: britac | Sep 8, 2009 8:47:42 PM

I love the coffee idea Jethro! I'm going to try that with cardamom flavoured beans.

Posted by: Noa | Sep 8, 2009 9:26:44 PM

Yes - sprinkle ground coffee under the floor mats to deodorize!

Posted by: tnspr569 | Sep 9, 2009 12:28:02 AM

@ss sweat?

My car stinks. Not as bad as the time we had to take it into the mechanic so the dead rat could be retrieved, but still it stinks.

When my husband 'notices' the car, I tell him he could have a clean and fresh smelling car, or a clean and fresh-smelling house, but not both. And then I let him decide.

Posted by: Baila | Sep 9, 2009 12:45:27 AM


Posted by: Raz | Sep 9, 2009 3:12:56 AM

Like the steam-cleaning advice; wonder if that is the way they shampoo my seats when I ask them to every now and again.

Inexpensive method for vast improvement (at least, for the likes of the men in my family who... sigh... aren't the freshest-smelling specimens): FEBREEZE the seats, cloth areas once every 2 weeks or so.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Sep 9, 2009 5:22:24 AM

The smell of Febreeze makes me gag. Febreeze combined with the smells so vividly described by Dave would make me want to drive the car over a cliff.

Posted by: Baila | Sep 9, 2009 6:53:42 AM

Interesting tips. Thank you.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Sep 9, 2009 10:12:06 AM

I don't have a car, but you inspired me to vacuum my couch!

Posted by: Sarah B. | Sep 9, 2009 4:59:36 PM

Oh, I LIKE these...much more sensible than my husband's method: no food or drinks in the car, and no pets without laying down rugs first. Our cars always smelled fresh, but with kids we stopped a lot for refueling in light of the "no-food-or-drink" rule.....

Posted by: aliyah06 | Sep 9, 2009 5:31:36 PM

Just make sure the upholstery isn't treated with Scotchgard or some other protective substance before cleaning them with steam or chemicals. The cleaning will remove the protection.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Sep 9, 2009 7:23:18 PM

@ Baila: I laughed. You should also know I have a slight advantage: nasal surgeries in my youth robbed me of a fair amount of my smell sense. On the minus side, I have been known to poison myself occasionally with bad food. :o)

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Sep 11, 2009 4:18:25 AM

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