Four Steps to Making Your Car Smell Brand New!

Often overlooked, how your car smells is one of the first things your passengers will notice. While it may be easy to cover up the smell, it will always creep back unless removed. As a detailer, here are four key steps to removing any odors in your car making it smell brand new. 

To make your car smell brand new you must remove all bad odors. Unpleasant odors come from crumbs, pet hair, as well as any other dirt and debris that may be hiding in your car. To remove an unpleasant odor, you should deep clean your car and change your cabin air filter; making sure you remove unwanted debris, followed up using an ozone-containing air freshener.

Let’s look at how to do this, as well as some further steps you can take to make your car smell brand new.


When it comes to removing bad smells, you will need a few things.  

  1. Upholstery cleaner/wet vac   
  2. Dish soap/laundry detergent/carpet shampoo 
  3. Drill Brush (optional) 
  4. Ozone (machine or aerosol) 
  5. Air freshener  
  6. New cabin air filter

Ozone aerosol cans can be found at most places that carry car air fresheners; Walmart, Auto Zone, etc.

Step One: Removing the Culprit  

To remove any foul odors from your car, you must first remove the object creating the smell. This may be as simple as removing a dirty gym sock, or as annoying as dog hair that is embedded in the upholstery. For the best results, I recommend fully detailing the interior and removing any debris that could have an odor. This includes a vigorous Vacuum, as well as removing all grime on and in the cracks of panels. For best results, this step can be followed by a full carpet and upholstery shampoo.  

Once the interior is clean, it is important to change the cabin air filter. This filter may hold debris and bad odors, as its purpose is to filter them out. Cabin air filters are often located behind the glove box, or in the engine bay near the dash; refer to the owner’s manual for the exact location. Once located remove the old air filter and replace it with the new one. For extra freshness, air fresheners can be sprayed on the new cabin air filter before installation.

Carpet with dog hair

Step Two (optional): Shampoo  

Depending on the condition of your seats and carpets, a deep shampoo can help ensure freshness throughout your car.  I recommend using dish soap, laundry detergent, or carpet shampoo mixed with warm water as your shampoo solution. Once mixed, generously apply the solution to the carpet or seats, typically a seat or carpet section at a time. Once damp, use a drill brush, brush, or microfiber to agitate the carpet and work the solution in. After working in, suck out as much liquid as you can using your wet vac or upholstery cleaner. Repeat this process until the soap foams fully white. Once finished, I recommend leaving the windows cracked while in sunlight until dry. 

Step Three: Odor Elimination   

Once cleaned, there may still be some slight lingering odors. To fully remove smells, you must use some form of odor oxidation. For this, I recommend ozone, either in the form of an ozone machine, or an aerosol. In a well-ventilated area, start your car and run full A/C on recirculation to fully clean the system.

With all doors closed, crack the driver door, and spray ozone for 3-5 seconds, not breathing any ozone in (refer to manufacturing instructions if using a machine). Once done spraying, close the door and allow it to circulate in the car for thirty minutes. After thirty minutes, with a mask on or holding your breath, quickly turn your vehicle off and allow it to sit for at least another thirty minutes. I have found it best to sit overnight if possible. Before entering the vehicle again, open all doors, and allow it to air out for another thirty minutes.  

Step Four: Air Fresheners 

When it comes to choosing an air freshener, there are several different options. If you don’t mind having an air freshener visible, vent clips and hangable air fresheners are an option. There are sprayable air fresheners that typically last 2-7 days if you want a sleeker look. My favorite sprayable air freshener is Chemical Guys Signature Scent. I typically keep a four-ounce bottle in my car, allowing me to spray a little bit before I have passengers. For the best results, apply a generous amount of product under seats, on the carpet, and on the cabin air filter.  If you are looking for a longer-lasting spray air freshener, there are a variety of scent bombs. These scent bombs should be set off with the air conditioner on and the air recirculating; similar to the process for ozone.  

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