Blanca asked: How do I remove fish odor from back car seats? I put one of the shopping bags in the back car seat, not know it had fish defrosting during a 29 degree day. The car seat absorbed the liquid of the fish. The car now smells like a fishing boat. I tried baking soda, eucalyptus oil and oxy clean. They’re not working. Any suggestions.
When odors go deep into the car seat cushions, they can take time and repeated efforts to remove. Fortunately, there are a variety of odor-removing products and methods available that are safe to use on both leather and cloth upholstery.
Removing the Odor with Cleaners
The presence of odor indicates a presence of bacteria, so killing those bacteria will effectively eliminate the odor. Use one of the methods below to clean your car seats.
- One of the best ways to remove odors is by using white vinegar, which is a natural deodorizer available at most supermarket or grocery stores. (It is also a natural antibacterial and antifungal, which makes it extra effective to fight against food or mold odors.) It is safe to use on both cloth and leather car seats. Mix one part white vinegar with two parts water in a spray bottle and spray the solution onto the seats. For cloth seats, you can simple let the mixture dry. For leather seats, wait a few minutes, then wipe off the solution. Repeat the process as many times as needed for the odor to be removed.
- For cloth upholstery, you can also have the option of using an enzyme digester, such as Kids ‘N’ Pets or Nature’s Miracle Stain and Odor Remover. These cleaners can be found in the pet aisle of grocery stores. Be sure to choose one that specifically says it removes odor. Follow the instructions on the label of your selected cleaner. Usually you can just spray the cleaner on the surface, then let it dry. Some of these cleaners also suggest you to vacuum the area after they have dried. Do not use these cleaners on leather though, as the enzymes in them that will eat the odor-causing bacteria will also eat leather.
- For leather upholstery, you can try cleaning the seats with a leather cleaner, which should remove most of the surface odors.
- Another option for both cloth and leather upholstery is steam cleaning, which can kill the bacteria that causes odors.
Removing the Odor with Deodorizers
If you have already cleaned the seats, or if cleaning the seats isn’t an option, here are some general deodorizing solutions that can be extremely effective.
- Put a plate or bowl in the car next to the seat and fill it with one of these deodorizers: baking soda, white vinegar, activated charcoal, or coffee grounds. Leave the plate or bowl in the car overnight with all of the doors and windows closed, then remove it in the morning. Repeat the process as many times as needed using a fresh batch of deodorizer each time. Do not drive with the plate or bowl in the car as the A/C or open window (or even just a bump in the road) could put send the powders into the air.
- Baking soda is extremely inexpensive, available at most grocery stores, and works well against almost any odor. It is most effective in small spaces though like a refrigerator, so if you have a large van or SUV, you would need to use more plates/bowls.
- White vinegar works well for deodorizing a small room, so it is a great choice for large vehicles. It is very inexpensive and available at almost any grocery store or supermarket. Just be careful not to fill up the bowls so much that you risk spilling it.
- Activated charcoal works particularly well against organic odors like sweat, food, or mold, but it is more expensive. You can usually find activated charcoal in the aquarium section of most pet stores – PetCo in particular has a large tub available for a reasonable price, or you can find it in many commercial room deodorizers like the airBoss or DampRid. Charcoal grill briquettes can also be used as long as they don’t contain any lighter fluid.
- Zeolite is another natural deodorizer. It is a mineral in lava rock that you can buy in the aquarium section of pet stores. Whereas the other deodorizers listed here need to be replaced once they have absorbed all the odor they can, zeolite can be put on a tray in the sun to remove the odors or moisture that it has absorbed.
- Coffee grounds should be unused, and they will absorb the odors in the same way as baking soda or activated charcoal, but they will leave a coffee odor behind, so only use coffee grounds if you like the smell of coffee.
- If you have cloth upholstery, baking soda can be sprinkled directly over the seats and vacuumed up the next day. This method is even more effective than using a bowl, as the baking soda can completely cover the seat. Do not use activated charcoal or coffee grounds in this manner though, as they will likely stain the cloth. This method should also not be used on leather as leather is slightly acidic so an alkaline substance like baking soda could damage it.
Removing Skunk Odor
- First, clean the seats thoroughly using either a foam upholstery cleaner for cloth seats or a leather cleaner or leather degreaser for leather seats. A cleaning is needed to remove as much of the skunk oil as possible.
- After cleaning the seats, pour a good amount of vanilla extract on a cloth and set the cloth on a plate. Put the plate on the floor of the car next to the seat you need to deodorize.
- Leave the cloth in the car overnight, then remove it in the morning and air out the car.
Removing Cigar or Cigarette Odor
- Put Bounce dryer sheets on the seat or under the seat and leave them there as long as needed or until they stop working to absorb the odor.
- Another option is to fill a bowl with ammonia and put it in the car for a full 24 hours with the doors and windows closed. Let the car thoroughly air out after you remove the ammonia, and use extreme caution as ammonia is a dangerous chemical to breathe the fumes from or to touch.
- If smoke odors still linger in the padding of the seats, you may need to have the seats professionally fogged with a smoke odor remover.
- There are commercial deodorizers made for closets or other small areas that you can buy, such as the airBoss deodorizer or DampRid.
- If you are combating a mold or mildew odor, it is a good idea to invest in a commercial dehumidifier like DampRid or to make your own DIY dehumidifier to keep in the car as these fungi require moisture to grow.
- You can make an air freshener to hang from your rear-view mirror by slicing off a small piece of a sweet-smelling bar of soap and putting it in a small mesh bag.
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