How To Get Mildew Smell Out Of Your Car

With the return of warm weather, everyone is ready to get out on the open road, roll down the windows, and enjoy some good road trips.

However, that musty mildew smell in your car can ruin all your summer plans before they’ve even begun.

Mildew can come from anywhere—a partially opened window, a leaky seal, or a clogged AC drain, but luckily, it’s easy to fix.

We’ve done the research to help you learn how to get mildew smell out of your car so that you can get on with your summer.

What You’ll Need

You’ll need a few simple things to remove the mildew smell from your car.

Cleaning Cloth

It would be best if you had a cleaning rag to soak up any moisture you find as you are investigating the source of the mildew smell in your car.

Mildew thrives in moist environments, so use your cleaning rags to soak up any water or other liquid.

These microfiber cleaning cloths work really well on any cleaning job.

They can be reused hundreds of times and get excellent reviews on Amazon.

Wet/Dry Vacuum Cleaner

Wet/dry vacuum cleaners are great for cleaning up spills and drying out water in your carpets and upholstery that your cleaning rags can’t entirely remove.

In a pinch, you can use a hairdryer if the area you need to clean is small.

Nylon scrub pad

If you find mildew in your car, you will need a nylon scrub pad to remove it.

These Nylon Cleaning Scrub Pad 12 Pack that I found on Amazon get excellent reviews and are made with a scratch-free surface to protect the interior of your car.

Odor absorber or rug shampoo

If the mildew smell is coming from your carpets or upholstery, I recommend using an odor absorber or a rug shampoo to get that mildew smell out.

These products clean your carpet and upholstery while also getting rid of the smell.

If you find yourself in this situation, try Nature’s Miracle Deep-Cleaning Stain and Odor Remover

Nature’s Miracle can be used alone or with a carpet cleaner.

It’s phosphate-free and gets wonderful reviews on Amazon.

Baking soda

You can also use baking soda to get rid of the mildew smell on your upholstery.

Baking soda absorbs odors well and is used for many cleaning jobs. 

Continue reading for detailed instructions on how to get the mildew smell out of your car.

Step-By-Step Instructions For How To Get Mildew Smell Out Of Your Car

Getting mildew smell out of your car requires some investigative work, but if you follow these five easy steps, your vehicle will soon be free from that musty smell.

1. Identify where the smell originates

Once you notice a mildew smell in your car, investigate where it’s coming from.

The smell may be coming from your carpets, your trunk, or your air conditioning system.

Check your entire car for any sign of moisture, mold, or mildew.

There might be multiple places, so you’ll want to investigate carefully to make sure you identify them all.  

Pro tip: Don’t forget your storage areas, including the place where your spare tire is stored.

Condensation can develop there, leading to a mildew smell.

2. Dry up any moisture using your cleaning rags and wet/dry vacuum cleaner

If you find the mildew smell is coming from your air conditioning unit, remove the filter.

You can find the filter by opening the front cover of your air conditioning unit.

(If you are unsure, check your car instructions manual.)

Then, use your cleaning rags to remove any excess moisture.

You can also turn on your heat to eliminate excess moisture.

If you find signs of moisture in your carpet or trunk, use your cleaning rags and wet/dry vacuum to remove it.

I recommend first removing everything you can remove from your car: mats, upholstery, carpet, etc.

After you have wiped them down and cleaned them with your rug cleaner, set them aside to dry in the sun if possible because the sun has mildew-fighting properties.

Pro tip: Removing the mats, upholstery, and carpets allow you to clean these parts while also making it easier to clean other areas you cannot remove from your car.

3. Use the nylon scrub pad to clean out any mildew

If you find mildew anywhere in your car, you need to remove the mildew immediately.

Use your nylon scrub pad to scrub away the mildew.

Pro tip: Don’t press hard while you are scrubbing away the mildew.

To prevent scratching the surface, scrub only the area affected by the mildew gently. 

4. Treat the affected areas with the odor absorber

Once you have dried out the moisture in your car and removed any mildew, treat all affected areas with the odor absorber.

This helps to remove any leftover mildew smell in your car thoroughly.

5. Sprinkle baking soda on the carpet and upholstery

Finally, sprinkle baking soda on your carpets and upholstery as a final guard against mildew smell.

Let the baking soda sit for 24 hours, and then vacuum it off to remove any lingering hints of odor. 

Commonly Asked Questions

Could my sunroof be contributing to the mildew smell in my car?

Yes, your sunroof could be contributing to the mildew smell.

Sunroof drains can become clogged quite quickly, which causes the water to overflow and leak onto the seats or along the headliner.

Both can lead to a mildew smell.

To clean out your sunroof drain, use a vacuum cleaner or light air pressure.

This will remove the debris without damaging the tubing, which would lead to bigger leaks.

Please resist the temptation to use high air pressure because this can dislodge the tubing, and don’t use a clothes hanger to clean out your sunroof drain because it runs the risk of tearing the tubing.

A vacuum cleaner or light air pressure both work well and don’t run the risk of damaging the drain on your sunroof.

How can I prevent a mildew smell in my car?

Mildew smell is easy to prevent if you do regular maintenance and car cleaning.

The most crucial part is that you limit the amount of standing moisture in your car.

Clean up spills as quickly as possible.

Mildew thrives in moist environments, so the less moisture you have, the less chance you have of mildew smell developing in your car.


We hope you have enjoyed learning how to get the mildew smell out of your car.

There’s no reason to allow mildew smell to ruin your summer road trips.

With a bit of investigation and some routine cleaning, you will be able to enjoy all your summer plans with a clean smelling car free from any musty mildew smell.