Bad car smells are a fact of life, especially if you have kids and/or pets. Or maybe you're just a raging slob of a human. That last one's on you, by the way. You typically have to drive your car every day, so why not eliminate that unpleasantness? Too busy, eh? Well, if you know the facts about some of the worst car smells out there, it might get you in gear to get things taken care of. Here are 3 insane facts about some of the worst offenders in the pantheon of car smells. 

Spilled Milk in your car ALREADY had bacteria in it!

child drinking milk in car
That whole milk is good for him but really nasty for your car's interior. 

If you or your kids has ever spilled milk in your car, especially during the warmer months, you know how bad the smell gets. In fact, it's easily one of the worst odors in your car, making you nauseated as soon as you open the door. What you don't know is that milk starts out with bacteria and only gets worse when exposed to the festering atmosphere of your warm car. It's enough to get that gag reflex going just thinking about it.

Most milk is pasteurized to kill pathogens and prevent people from getting sick, but the temp isn't high, so some bacteria gets left behind. Both Streptococci and Lactobacilli in the milk feed off the lactose in the milk and convert it to lactic acid. Acidity rises, and that sour smell goes nuclear in your car. The festering microbial stink in your car then becomes almost unbearable, and it doesn't go away on its own. It's one smell you need to jump on with the right treatment. 

HOW TO GET RID OF THE STINK: You don't need much, but you have to be aggressive. Use basic white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray the spill and the surrounding area (probably on the carpeted mats or floor of your vehicle). Let it soak for a few hours, blot dry with a clean towel, and leave the windows down to vent. When you drive, put a few scented dryer sheets in your door pockets to help mitigate some of the vinegar smell until it's completely gone. 

Cigarette Smoke Particles in your car NEVER leave!

hand holding lit cigarette in car
Now might be a good time to kick that smoking habit for your car and your kids.

Many of you enjoy your daily smoke(s) to and from work. It provides some peace, feeds the buzz, and helps pass the time in traffic. Of course, you know it's bad for you, but did you also know that no matter how much you clean, those smoke particles will never really go away? And they also lead to what's known as third-hand smoke exposure, and kids are especially at risk.

You can spray deodorizer, use an air freshener, and even vacuum or wipe things down, but the smoke particles stay trapped in your cars softer surfaces like headliners, carpet, and upholstery. It also enters your car's HVAC system. Yep, it's that bad. When someone gets in the car, those particles are disturbed and get re-released into the air. Did we also mention cars with a smoke smell have trouble selling? And when they do sell, the value is less than if the car had never been smoked in. 

HOW TO GET RID OF THE STINK: Roll all windows down and start wiping smooth surfaces with Windex or another ammonia-based spray cleaner. Use a steam cleaner to clean carpets and upholstery. Cover all carpeted surfaces with baking soda and leave for a few hours. Vacuum thoroughly. Also, use a safe non-toxic HVAC cleaner in your HVAC intake system vents while the AC is cranked all the way up to max cooling. Do the same with the heat on (both with recirc off). Oh, and you have to stop smoking in your car. 

That Sweet Aroma inside your car is ACTUALLY toxic!

leak intake manifold gasket
This failed intake manifold gasket could be the cause of that sweet odor inside your car. (image:

If you've noticed a sweet smell emanating from the front end of your car, be forewarned. It's not a good thing. As a matter of fact, it's actually dangerous, and you should take care of the source of the problem since the culprit is likely coolant leaking from a failed intake manifold gasket or leaking hose. Coolant might look harmless (and smell kinda good), but it contains ethylene glycol which is toxic, and you and your family members should not breathe it in. If you smell it inside or outside your car, take care of it as soon as possible. 

HOW TO GET RID OF THE STINK: If it's just a loose radiator cap, you can take care of it yourself by closing it (ONLY after your engine has cooled for a couple of hours). Otherwise, take it to your local mechanic to address the problem properly and safely. And unlike sour milk or cigarette smoke particles, you should take care of this as soon as possible. Not only is it bad for you, it's bad for your vehicle.

Get that NEW CAR SMELL without having to do any of the above. Buy one of these three great new vehicles we recently test drove:

2019 Ford Edge ST

ford edge st

Find Local Discounts on the Ford Edge

2019 Toyota RAV4

toyota rav4

Find Local Discounts on the Toyota RAV4

2019 Hyundai Kona

2019 hyundai kona

Find Local Discounts on the Hyundai Kona