Can You Use Vinegar To Fix a Stinky Car?

We tested this hands-free TikTok hack to see if vinegar actually can remove bad smells from your car.

Is your car smelling a little … funky? It happens. Kids’ sports equipment, spilled drinks, forgotten food — there are any number of things that could be stinking up your car. Sometimes even after a thorough cleaning, the stench lingers. This simple TikTok hack (just one ingredient!) will help you get rid of it for good.

How It Works

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Small bowl.
  • Distilled white vinegar.

Pour about a cup or two of the distilled white vinegar into a bowl. Place the bowl in your car. If you know the source of the smell, like a spill in the back seat, place the bowl near the stinky source. If you’re not sure what’s causing the odor, place it in a central location, like on the middle console.

The next step is even easier — wait! Simply shut your car doors and let the vinegar work its magic. Leave it in the car for at least two hours. The worse the smell, the longer you should leave it.

@brightly.eco

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♬ Taste It – Ikson

Results

When getting in my SUV one day, I noticed a musty smell that seemed to be coming from the back seat. Sure enough, I discovered a leaky water bottle one of my kids must have left laying on its side. The entire bottle had leaked out onto the fabric seat, dried and left behind a stench.

I placed a bowl of vinegar on the back seat in the morning and left it for about four hours. When I returned, the smell was gone! If I put my nose right against the seat, I could still smell a faint musty odor. But for the most part, the vinegar seemed to have soaked it up.

To go a step further, I made a mixture of vinegar, water and a couple of drops of dish soap in a spray bottle, then sprayed it directly on the car seat. I scrubbed the area with a damp cloth. Afterward, the musty smell was completely gone.

So how does this hack work? The answer is a little scientific. White vinegar contains acetic acid, which neutralizes odors by killing the bacteria and mildew causing the bad smell.

Vinegar is so effective it’s recommended by the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors to get rid of tobacco smoke smell, and by the American Kennel Club to remove pet urine smell when combined with baking soda. Two of the worst smells and the hardest to eradicate, if you ask me!

Potential Problems

After I removed the bowl of vinegar from the car, the musty smell was almost gone, but a distinct vinegar smell took its place. Luckily, it was temporary. I left the doors open while I finished cleaning out my car, and the vinegar scent quickly faded.

If you really dislike the smell of vinegar, try adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the bowl before placing it in your car.

Another thing to note: Scrubbing the stain with vinegar seemed even more effective than leaving the bowl of vinegar nearby. It’s more work, of course, but elbow grease works!

If you know the source of the bad smell, it might be better just to tackle it immediately with a vinegar and soap solution, as I did. But if the bad small in your car is a mystery, the bowl of vinegar is a good solution — and less effort.

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Erica Young
Erica Young is a freelance writer and content creator, specializing in home and lifestyle pieces. She loves writing about home decor, organization, relationships, and pop culture. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication.