There aren’t many worse things than being couped up in a car with a really bad smell. Part of the problem is a car is such a confined space. Bad smells are also difficult to get rid of because cars are essentially metal boxes full of soft furnishings ready to soak up liquids and harbour smelly bacteria. But there are some things you can try.
Clean up as much as you can
You must get to work as soon as you notice the problem. First find where the smell is coming from. You and your nose might have to get close and personal with various parts of the car.
Once you’ve located it, mop up as much of the spill as you can, using absorbent kitchen roll. The reason cars are so tricky to get smells out of is that beneath the carpet they frequently have a thick layer of sound deadening. This could have been designed to soak up liquids and they’re difficult to get access to.
Assuming the spill is still wet, you need something absorbent to try to draw the liquid out. Perhaps an old towel, with plenty of pressure from your hands.
If the smelly liquid has had time to dry, you need to make it damp again. Get a moist cloth and wet the area of the spill. Then try to draw as much of the liquid you’ve put down out as possible.
Baking soda is your friend
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) neutralises the acids that cause many nasty smells. But first of all it’s an idea to break down the proteins in the milk. There are various ways to do this. One that people swear by is vinegar mixed with a dissolved dishwasher tab. Rub this into the area of the spill, then again, try to draw as much of the liquid out using a towel.
Once you’ve done that, spread the baking soda over it before leaving it overnight. The idea is the baking soda will grab the molecules that are causing the smell and neutralise them. Finally vacuum the baking soda up and rub the remainder out of the carpet. Depending on how bad the spill (and smell) is, you might have to repeat this procedure a couple of times.
Or use a carpet cleaner
Domestic carpet cleaning machines are worth trying too. These spray a mixture of water and smell-neutralising cleaning solution into the carpet. They then suck it out, like a vacuum cleaner. The best ones are very effective at getting smells out of carpets.
You may need to lift the carpet
If the smell has soaked into the sound deadening, you may need to lift the carpet so you can give the insulation beneath a good clean. However, re-fitting a car’s carpet isn’t as easy as it may sound. You may need an expert’s help.
Get the professionals in
There are companies that specialise in removing bad smells from cars. The best ones do it by sealing the car as best they can, then injecting ozone into the car. The idea is that the ozone will kill any bacteria. And no bacteria equal no smell. From personal experience we can say that this is relatively effective, banishing about 95% of the offensive odour. It’s good enough if you need to sell a car.
I’ve been writing about cars and motoring for more than 25 years. My career started on a long-departed classic car weekly magazine called AutoClassic. I’ve since pitched up at Autosport, Auto Express, the News of the World, Sunday Times and most recently the Daily Telegraph. When I’m not writing about cars and motoring, I’m probably doing some kind of sport or working in my garden.