Cars can stink. Cigarette or weed smoke, dog odors, old food, or other smells can make riding in your car unbearable. Luckily most of these are fully removable! In this article, I will go over the methods we use as a professional detailing business, the things to look for, and some DIY techniques.
Level of odor
Whenever I have someone reach out about odor removal, one thing I ask is how “bad” or how “thick or heavy” the smell is. I ask because not all smells need the same treatment. If the odor is “not too bad,” it can be removed by cleaning it thoroughly. But if the aroma is heavier, some other steps may be needed to remove the smell thoroughly.
Scrub and go over everything
One of the most significant differences between ordinary interior detailing and when a strong odor is in the car is that everything needs to be cleaned. This seems like it should be included in both, which is true, but we mean that for odor, every surface needs to be scrubbed clean, even if it “looks” clean. During typical detailing, once you go over a surface, it’s good to go if it looks clean. But odors can be embedded in fabrics and even plastics, so they all need to be thoroughly scrubbed even if it “looks” clean already. The goal of this is to try to remove any source of the odor. Take cigarette ash; for example, it can fly and land anywhere inside the car, so it needs to be removed.
As a professional business, we have multiple chemicals we use for different situations & surfaces. For carpets, upholstery, and headliners, we use a range of carpet cleaners from P&S to Maguaris, Owners Pride, and Other Professional Carpet cleaning companies. Some may even be specially created to help get rid of odors.
Ozone Machine Treatment
An ozone machine is placed inside or outside the vehicle, with the air circulating inside the car. The device works by turning oxygen molecules(O2) into Ozone molecules (O3). This has been our go-to method after detailing an interior and letting the surfaces dry.
“Ozone reacts with odor molecules by transferring the “extra” oxygen atom of the ozone molecule to the odor molecule, changing its composition so it no longer has the same chemical makeup. This chemical reaction is called oxidation.
In a nutshell, through the oxidation process, what was formerly an odor-causing molecule is now an entirely different compound, and therefore does not possess the odor of its preceding form.”- Restoration Remediation.
Ozone treatments are used commonly in the restoration industry, like Servpro or other companies you call after a fire or flood damage to your home or building.
*CAUTION* Now ozone is excellent for “eliminating odors including tobacco smoke, human and pet odors, food odors, mold and mildew odors, garbage odors, renovation odors and much more” according to The Ozone Experts, using one can be dangerous. Ozone is not safe for humans, pets, or other living things, including plants, to breathe in. According to the EPA, “When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and throat irritation.” This is why one MUST be used with caution and adequately.
After our treatment, we always have an air-out period of the car. We have the doors open, along with ozone having a half-life. “Under standard conditions (21°C, 1 bar or 70°F and normal atmosphere pressure), the half-life of ozone gas is 20 minutes”.
How To Use an Ozone Machine
The one we use is a small portable one that anyone can buy from Amazon since the area we work with in cars is much smaller than companies that do whole commercial buildings.
The best way is to place it outside the vehicle with a tube on the output going into one of the windows. Have the car on and running with the rest of the windows up. Turn the air on max with recirculate mode turned on. Also, extend the seat belts out, flip down the visor, and have the mats on their sides so the air can move around as quickly as possible. This way, the machine will take outside air and turn it into ozone in the car. We do this outside, so we don’t have to worry about ventilation. Have the vehicle on and running first. If your machine has a timer, set it ahead of time. You want turning the device on be the last step. Once you do, let it run for 40 minutes (we found this to be effective in most cases.) Also, set a separate timer for the same time to help you know when it is done once the time is up. Unplug the machine, open all the doors, and let the vehicle run for 30-60 minutes. (Luckily, most cars don’t use too much gas while idling)
Another way to use it is placing the machine inside the vehicle with everything else the same, except keep one window down to let in fresh air for the device to work.
Steps to Getting Rid of Odor
Here is our process when doing an interior detail with odor removal. In most cases, the odor we are fighting is cigarette smoke odor.
1) Thoroughly brush and vacuum all carpets, mats, upholstery, and even headliners(gently).
2) Scrub all hard surfaces and remove any build-up. The most extensive areas are any surface touched by human hands/skin—steering wheels, door panels, center console, seatbelt, and so on.
3) Thoroughly Shampoo all carpets, mats, & upholstery. Use them if you also have a steam cleaner or carpet extractor. You also would want to clean the headliner as well gently. You don’t want to over-saturate the headliner, which may affect the glue holding it up. This can be done by spraying some cleaner into a towel and lightly scrubbing the headliner, one section at a time.
4) Clean any residue from all the windows.
5) Let dry and assess. This is where if the odor isn’t too foul, you can be complete. Maybe spray your favorite air freshener if you prefer.
6) If it still smells or is terrible initially, run an ozone treatment for 40 minutes. (Make sure all carpets and upholstery are dry: if still wet, it may cause the tips to bleach.)
7) Open all the doors and let the vehicle air out for at least an hour.
8) After an hour, the vehicle might still have a light ozone smell (like the smell of rainfall.) Spray your favorite scent to cover the ozone smell while it finishes airing out.
9) Change cabin air filter(Can be done at any point in the process.)
10) If you can, park the car outside with the windows slightly down, just enough for some air flow to finish airing out for a day (if possibly where you live.)
That is it!
That is our method when we detail a vehicle with odor removal. I hope this is helpful, and we will also be doing videos on this subject. If you would like us to do this for you, fill out our booking form below to schedule your appointment today! Let us know if you have any questions!