How to properly remove a variety of odors within any vehicle!

by Richard C. Weichand

Our suggestion is to only offer odor removal with a full interior detail!

When I started my mobile auto detailing business during my college days, a frequently requested interior service was odor removal. Most complaints were related to vehicles having a smoke odor, mildew odor or as the customer would put it " It smells horrible". I only offered odor removal with the full interior cleaning package and I suggest you do the same for some of the following reasons.

The hardest part of removing the odor within the interior of the vehicle is actually finding the source of the odor. If a customer informed you that the car smells like cigarette smoke and you are able to confirm this, where is the odor actually coming from? I have seen many auto detailers think that you can simply use an ozone machine, odor eliminator chemicals, coffee beans, dryer sheets, baking soda and many other products to remove the odor. The odor cannot be removed if the source odor is not located and then removed. Running an ozone machine, using costly sprays, dryer sheets, or coffee beans is just going to mask the odor, not remove it!

Before purchasing unnecessary items first, do a full interior cleaning. Since cigarette smoke is a very common complaint we will use this odor as an example. As the occupant of the vehicle smokes a cigarette the nicotine will be transferred to the headliner, windows, plastic panels, throughout the circulation system, upholstery seating and all other areas within the interior. If these areas are not thoroughly cleaned first, all other odor eliminator items are essentially going to act as a cover up. The interior might smell good after the odor removal treatment, but this pleasant scent will quickly vanish and the cigarette smoke smell will reappear. As the smell returns, you will then have an upset customer which will cost you more time and money to correct the problem.

Proper steps in order to remove the odor

So what steps should you take to remove the smell? Do a thorough interior cleaning of all the areas including the headliner. Pay special attention to the headliner as much of the nicotine is going to be embedded in this area. Make sure you are familiar with cleaning the headliner as some of the headliners are more delicate than others, and you do not want to make a costly mistake by having a headliner sag from over saturating it. The safest way I have found to clean a headliner is to spray Greenway's Kleen It All or your cleaner of choice directly onto a soft absorbent towel. Gently wipe each area of the headliner while constantly turning the towel to a clean side. Never spray the headliner directly with any type of cleaner as this might over saturate the headliner and cause it to separate. This is a great time to use some light colored towels to see when the nicotine is completely removed as this process can take some time and plenty of towels.

Once the headliner is complete, clean all the upholstery, carpets, plastic and vinyl panels within the car. Look in the owners manual or search the internet to see if the particular vehicle you are cleaning is equipped with a cabin air filter. If the vehicle is equipped with a cabin air filter, this filter should be changed as they are inexpensive and typically very easy to replace. Much of the cigarette smoke smell will be captured within the cabin air filter along with many other odors. Each time the vehicles conditioning system is activated, a dirty filter will allow the smell to continue to be dispersed into the vehicle. Let the customer know that the filter has to be changed and offer to pick one up if a store is nearby. It is also a great idea to ask ahead of time the exact year, make and model of the vehicle prior to the appointment so you can already have the filter on hand if needed. This not only saves you time but also allows you to get the customers vehicle back to them faster.

Deodorizing the Conditioning Air Ducts

How do you clean the actual ducts within the vehicle? Locate the cowl vent (Air Intake Vent) which are usually placed directly below the windshield. You will usually see a plastic or metal grille that sits on top of a screen. This is where the outside air is being pulled through this intake and into the ducting of the vehicle. After locating this vent you can then start the vehicle and place the air conditioning on and set the blower fan to the highest speed. If your vehicle is equipped with the fresh air/recirculate setting, this is the setting that should be utilized.

Exit the vehicle and make sure all the doors, sunroof, windows and any other openings are closed. Be sure to not to lock the key in the vehicle by accident. All Greenway's Car Care Scents are concentrated and fortified with odor removing proteins. Greenway's scents will not only make the interior smell great but will remove any lingering odors. Pick your scent of choice and liberally spray the intake area on the vehicle. Greenway's odor eliminating scent will begin to travel throughout the ducting of the vehicle and thus eliminating the odors. Once this application is complete simply enter the vehicle to see if you can smell the odor eliminating scent being pulled throughout the ducting. If you do this step is complete. Now simply turn the air conditioning off and turn on the heat to high with the fan setting remaining on high as well. Repeat the process of spraying the intake with your choice of the odor removal scent. Enter the vehicle again to make sure you can still smell the scent being pulled throughout the ducts. After this step is complete you have completed the odor eliminating process.

Recap of Procedure

Make sure when you are completing these steps that the old cabin filter is removed. After all the above steps are complete, a new cabin filter can be inserted if the vehicle is equipped with one.

Since you are allowing the vehicle to run for several minutes, ensure that you are in a well-ventilated area or completing this process outdoors.

Attempt to locate the source of the odor and do a full interior cleaning before attempting to remove the odor. If a thorough interior cleaning is not completed any odor eliminating techniques used with be ineffective and simply mask the odor for many common source odors.

If you are completing a full detail on the vehicle it is best to complete the interior detail first as the above steps can be done while working on the exterior correction and protection process.

Be sure to always remove the cabin filter prior to the odor eliminating process. A new cabin filter should be inserted once the process is complete.

If using an ozone machine it is best to dress the interior components prior to running the machine. Greenway's Dress It All leaves a low sheen finish and will help protect any of the interior pieces from drying out as an ozone machine can have this effect.

Allow fresh air to enter the vehicle after all processes are complete by simply opening the doors or windows.

Hopefully, after reading this article you are able to use this information when you encounter an odor problem. Remember the most important step to any detail process is the preparation. With odor removal, it is essential to first identify the odor source, clean the source and then proceed to further treatment if necessary. It does not matter if you have the best odor removal chemical, ozone machine or fogger machine, the above steps should be completed to ensure that the odors are being eliminated permanently and not masked temporarily.