Why Does My Car Smell Like Mildew? Troubleshooting Guide

Helen Skeates
Helen Skeates
15 min read

When you begin to wonder, “Why does my automobile smell like mildew?” it isn’t enough to just spray perfume. One thing is for certain: if the car smells like mildew, mold is surely lurking somewhere in there.

What’S That Musty Smell In My Car?

The ability to distinguish between more than 10,000 distinct odors is one of the most astounding features of the human nose. Aromas can be pleasant or offensive, depending on where they come from and who they come from. Most animals’ sense of smell is far more sensitive than that of humans, so a dog could detect a bad apple in a barrel of good apples, whereas we might only detect a rotten apple in a bunch of fresh ones. You get a whiff of something when all of these ingredients are in the mix. Regardless of whether you work out in the gym or not, opening the door to your car and inhaling the gym odor is not a pleasant experience.

How To Remove Musty Car Smells | Turtle Wax

Why Is There Mold In My Car?

Colonies of fungus release their spores into the air, causing musty and mildew odours. In most cases, excess moisture, more than 50% relative humidity, provides the ideal environment for the growth of these bacteria to thrive. If you add heat — mold thrives in temperatures between 77°F and 120°F – your car becomes the ideal breeding ground for mold and mildew. Mold thrives in porous materials like leather, foam, felt, and paper, while mildew thrives on surfaces like vinyl and plastic that are impermeable to water. Do you know what could allow mold and mildew to thrive in your vehicle?

  • Forgotten Food – Moisture is found in almost all food and beverage products. Spilled liquids can also soak through the padding of the seat cushions and the carpet. Humidity grows everywhere in your automobile, even in places you can’t see or access, as food dries and water evaporates.
  • Misplaced Apparel – Exercise can increase perspiration to over a gallon per hour in people who aren’t exercising. Your clothing, socks, and shoes will all be contaminated to some degree by the chemicals in the air. After a swim in the pool or ocean, your towel is going to get soaked while you’re drying off. Evaporating sweat or water, if left in a trunk or the backseat, enhances the car’s relative humidity.

Water-based Damage

  • Damage and aging can lead to water leaks in the vehicle’s interior. Bodywork or body panels that aren’t properly sealed can leak. Many automobiles suffer from worn-out, deteriorated, or cracked door or trunk seals, and this is a typical problem. Another common problem is clogged sunroof drains, and keeping the window or sunroof open in the rain can cause your carpets and seats to get soaked.
  • Another source of water and new mold spores is the weather, which includes rain, snow, and muck. To avoid this, make sure your shoes are clean and dry before you enter the room. On a hot day, this water can evaporate and penetrate the entire vehicle if it is kept in a closed vehicle.
  • If your car has air conditioning, the evaporator, which removes moisture from the air, is always wet. In most cases, the water drips out of the car through a hose. If the drain tube becomes clogged, water may collect or even flow into the vehicle, soaking the carpets and other soft surfaces. Mildew can build up in the air box and evaporator if the evaporator is left in recirculation mode.

Is there a way to get rid of the musty odours in your automobile, which can be annoying and even trigger allergic reactions? Is it possible to eliminate musty odors from your car without the use of harsh chemical cleaners?

Remove Mildew Smells And Musty Smells

Because mildew is a living creature, even though it is minute, the only method to get rid of the smell is to inhibit its growth. To get rid of musty odors from your car, follow these two simple actions.

  • First, remove any visible mold and mildew from the affected area, along with any potential sources, such as food or clothing. Steam cleaners are a fantastic non-chemical approach for killing both visible and invisible mold because mold cannot survive over 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Using white vinegar and water instead of harsh chemicals is a great option. When it’s sunny and windy, leaving your car outside with the windows open helps dry up the interior.
  • Turtle Wax Power Out deodorizes hard and smooth surfaces including door panels and dashboards. Odor-X Spray and a lint-free cloth are all that is needed. Odor-X Spray can also be sprayed into the air conditioning vents or air box to eliminate musty smells from the air conditioning system. Stains and odors are no match for Turtle Wax Power Out! Upholstery Cleaner’s built-in brush when used on porous surfaces like seats and carpets.

When it comes to deodorizing, Turtle Wax Power Out is the best choice for both rough and smooth surfaces, such as the door panels or dashboard. Using Odor-X and a soft towel, spray the odors away. Air conditioning vents and air boxes can also be treated with Odor-X Spray to remove musty odors from the system. Turtle Wax Power Out! Upholstery Cleaner, with its built-in brush, works on stains and odors on porous surfaces including seats and carpets.

Prevent Car Smells From Car Smells

How can you prevent musty odors from returning to your automobile now that mold and mildew have been removed? In order to prevent mold and mildew from returning, it is necessary to remove sources of heat, humidity, and food.

Mold and mildew thrive in environments that are hospitable to them. Repair water leaks and don’t leave anything wet in your car to prevent humidity. When parking the car, turn on the air conditioning to allow for fresh air to circulate. There are all-weather floor liners that keep the carpets dry in rain, snow and mud. The greatest method to extend the life of your vehicle and keep it smelling great is to keep it clean on the inside and the outside. Turtle Wax Power Out in a compact travel size! Pump Kinetic is fantastic for occasional touch-ups, and it’s easy to use.

Smell is truly a marvel, as we can use it to identify everything from the morning coffee to the evening snifter to our significant other to danger. With the correct products, it is possible to erase unpleasant scents from your car and prevent mildew odors from returning.

How to fix a bad smell in your car | Practical Motoring

Breeding Grounds Of Mold And Mildew

Toxic mold and mildew do not spring out out of the blue. In order for them to spread, there must be a breeding area nearby.

Mold may have formed for a variety of reasons in this example.

1. Forgotten food

Your car might have five-day-old food in it since you forgot to clean it and were too busy to do so. Increasing humidity levels are a wonderful growing habitat for mold as food dries out and water evaporates.

Not only does this compromise your personal hygiene, but the stench of food left in your bag or purse might cling to your clothing, wasting precious perfume.

In order to avoid this, you do not need to be an extremely well-organized person. However, you can do small preventive measures, such as allocating time to clean up your car each day.

Mold and mildew can be avoided with a little daily maintenance.

2. Spilled drinks

One of the things you want to prevent is a spilled drink. Drying up the wet area is all it will take to put an end to your slobbery antics.

To avoid damaging the area, use a clean, old towel or tissue to gently pat it. Hair dryers and other such conveniences are an option as well.

Since spilled liquids can soak into carpet padding and seat cushions, it is important to thoroughly dry up the affected area before moving on to the next step. Molds will take advantage of any excess moisture in your automobile, so keep it dry at all times.

To avoid having to deal with mold-covered leather seats, follow the instructions in this article on how to remove mold from leather seats.

3. Spoiled clothes

Sweating roughly 20 ounces per day is normal for the average individual, regardless of how much exercise he or she gets or does. One quart of sweat can be produced in an hour of vigorous exercise.

No matter how much one tries, this much perspiration will go into their clothes.

It is likely that the water vapor from these wet clothes will raise the humidity, which in turn may encourage the growth of molds. The same holds true for a towel that is used to dry off after a swim in the pool.

4. Water leaks

Water leaks may be caused by a wide variety of circumstances, all of which contribute to the degradation and aging of a vehicle. Leaks can occur when bodywork or body panels are not properly sealed.

Door and trunk seals in many automobiles are aging, loose, or damaged, which is a regular problem Leaving the window or sunroof open in the rain might wet your carpets and seats if the drains become clogged.

5. Weather

Mold spores can also be found in the rain, snow, and muck that accumulates on the ground. To avoid this, make sure your shoes don’t get wet before you step on the floor mats or carpet.

6. Evaporator

In vehicles equipped with air conditioning, the evaporator becomes damp as a result of water being drawn out of the atmosphere. The water usually drips out of the car through a tube.

If the drain tube becomes clogged, water may collect in the vehicle and wet the carpets. Mildew can form on and within the airbox of the evaporator if the unit is left in recirculation mode.

Fungus colonies that release reproductive spores into the air are the source of musty and mildew scents. The optimal environment for these microbes is more than 50% relative humidity, and excess moisture is frequently the source of such automobile scents.

With the right amount of heat, mold and mildew colonies can flourish in your car (where temperatures range from 77°F to 120°F). Leather, foam, felt, and paper are porous substrates for mold growth; vinyl and plastic, on the other hand, are impermeable to both mold and mildew.

Removing The Mold And Mildew

Now that you’ve figured out what causes mold, you need to know how to get rid of the musty odor quickly and easily.

Step #1. Removing visible mold

The first step is to get rid of any mold or mildew you can see, as well as any potential sources such stale food or worn-out clothing. Steam cleaners are an effective non-chemical way for killing visible and unseen mold because mold cannot survive above 140 °F.

White vinegar and water can be used in place of chemical additives in cooking. When it’s warm outdoors, it’s best to leave your car outside with the windows open, and even better if it’s light and airy.

Step #2. Deodorize

Use Turtle Wax Power Out! on surfaces like door panels and dashboards that are stiff and flawless. Using Odor-X Spray, spray the air conditioning vents or airbox with the product to eradicate musty aromas from the system.

For porous surfaces like seats and carpets, Turtle Wax Power Out! is the best choice. The built-in brush of the Upholstery Cleaner effectively removes stains and unpleasant odors from your upholstery.

If you discover mold on the paint of your automobile, read this guide on how to remove mold from car paint quickly and easily.

How to Remove Smells from Car Upholstery | ChipsAway Blog

Car Smells Like Mildew: How to Fix It

Identifying the smell

Mildew is usually discovered when a car’s air conditioner is turned on and emits an unpleasant odor reminiscent of sweaty gym socks.

Whenever moisture condenses inside your evaporator, this is a telltale symptom of mildew growth. If there is a lack of airflow, water leaks or even humid circumstances may be to blame.

It’s possible that musty odors continue even when the air conditioner is turned off because of the carpet or upholstery in your house. If your car has been flooded or the windows were left open in the rain, mildew is more likely to grow inside.

How to fix a car that smells like mildew

Your car’s mildew odor can be eliminated only once you’ve located the source. Consumer Reports’ chief mechanic, John Ibbotson, says that mildew is commonly caused by leaking heater cores or clogged air conditioner drains, which can lead to mold.

Fixing these issues is often sufficient to get rid of offensive odors. In any case, if the problem persists, you should have an air conditioner inspection conducted.

Most individuals prefer to get rid of musty scents immediately rather than wait for repairs to be completed. Turning off your air conditioner while you’re less than a mile from your destination is recommended by Popular Mechanics as a short-term cure for this problem. If you don’t have the air conditioning on, turn up the fan on high to aid in drying out the system. This, of course, is only a short-term repair, as the problem is likely to resurface as long as your air conditioner has issues.

Cleaning to remove mildew smells from a car

If your car’s soft surfaces have become infested with mildew, you’ll need to give them a good scrub. Start by purging your bag of unnecessary belongings.

Removing soiled clothing or other items can often eliminate the foul smell as well. Once you’ve tried everything else, shampooing your carpets and furniture should solve the problem. Serious situations, on the other hand, may necessitate the use of an alternative. The best way to get rid of any lingering odors and avoid the growth of new mold or mildew after you’ve cleaned your automobile is to let it air out.

Things to avoid

Home remedies for mildew in air conditioners are in high demand due to its prevalence. As a result, there is a lot of terrible advice out there, like spraying your vents with Lysol or pouring Listerine in them.

Air conditioning systems are already weak, and neither alternative provides a long-term solution. Both options are risky.

Air fresheners are another option to try and cover up the smell. Even if this helps, it won’t help you fix the problem that caused mildew to grow in the first place. In fact, the mildew and too much air freshener might both exacerbate breathing problems.

The smell of musty odors can be upsetting, if not embarrassing, for certain people. They can be easily eliminated, though, because there is typically a clearly defined reason. A complete cleaning and repair of your air conditioning system should help you get rid of the musty odor caused by mold or mildew.


The first step to getting rid of mold is to ask yourself, “Why does my automobile smell like mildew?” Mold can be smelled, and it’s important to pay attention to it so that you don’t end up making more difficulties.

Helen Skeates

Helen Skeates

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