Why Does My Car Smell Like Mildew: 2 Easy Removal Steps

Spraying perfume is not enough when you start to ask the question, “why does my car smell like mildew?” There could be a few reasons why but one thing is for sure, if it smells like mildew, there’s probably mold lurking around the car. 


Breeding Grounds Of Mold And Mildew

Mold and mildew do not just grow out of nowhere. There must be a potential breeding ground to contribute to their infestation.

In this case, a few possible factors may have led to the formation of mold. 


1. Forgotten food

Maybe you were too busy to clean your car, and so, the next thing you know, you have a five-day-old food sitting in a specific part of your car. As food dries out and water evaporates, humidity levels will rise, thus creating the perfect breeding ground for mold. 

Not only does this affect your cleanliness, but the odor of forgotten food may also stick in your clothes, letting those sprays of perfume go to complete waste. 

You do not need to be a highly organized person to prevent this scenario from happening. However, you can do small preventive measures, such as allocating time to clean up your car each day.

A minor cleanup each day will make the potential mold and mildew go away!


2. Spilled drinks

Spilled drinks are indeed one of the mishaps you want to avoid. However, you can simply end this klutz moment by merely drying out the wet area.

Just grab an old and clean towel or a tissue and gently pat the site not to damage it. You can also opt for hair blowers or anything that might make the work a little easier.

This is why, when drying out the affected part, make sure to check the hard-to-reach areas as spilled drinks can not only soak into the seat cushions and carpet padding. Remember not to allow moisture to build up in your car, as this will be taken as an opportunity for molds to grow.

However, if it is too late for you and the mold is already visible, try the tips on this article about how to clean mold off leather seats.  


3. Spoiled clothes

Without taking into account his or her exercise habits, an average person sweats about 20 oz per day. Performing a strenuous exercise can add 1 quart of sweat per hour.

However, either way, this amount of sweat can soak into one’s clothing. 

The water from these sweaty clothes will evaporate and cause the humidity levels to rise, thus encouraging the molds to grow. The same case also applies to a towel used after dipping off in the pool. 


4. Water leaks

Water leaks can be caused by numerous factors and eventually lead to the damage and aging of a car. Bodywork or body panels that are not correctly sealed can leak.

Many vehicles have aged, loose, or cracked door or trunk seals, a common issue. Blocked-up sunroof drains are another frequent concern, and leaving the window or sunroof open in the rain may cause your carpets and seats to soak. 


5. Weather

Another supply of water and new mold spores is rain, snow, and mud. If it gets on your shoes, it will soak into the floor mats and carpet, where it will take a long time to evaporate.


6. Evaporator

When a vehicle has air conditioning, the evaporator is essentially wet because it compels water out of the air. This water typically drips through a tube outside the car.

A clogged drain tube could cause this water to pool or overflow into the vehicle, soaking the carpets. If the evaporator is left in recirculate mode, it may not dry totally, allowing mildew to grow on the evaporator and in the airbox.

Musty and mildew odors are caused by fungus colonies distributing procreative spores into the air. More than 50% relative humidity, excess moisture provides the ideal environment for these microorganisms and is usually the source of such car odors.

Add heat (mold grows best between 77 °F and 120 °F), and your car is the ideal environment for mold and mildew colonies to thrive. Mold thrives in porous materials such as leather, foam, felt, and paper, whereas mildew thrives on non-porous surfaces such as vinyl and plastic.


Removing The Mold And Mildew

Now that you have identified the circumstances that lead to mold, you need to learn the basic steps to get rid of that musty smell quickly. 


Step #1. Removing visible mold

Begin by eliminating any noticeable mold and mildew, as well as any potential sources, such as old food or clothing. Because mold cannot survive above 140 °F, steam cleaners are an excellent non-chemical method for killing visible and unseen mold. 

A mixture of white vinegar and water is a good substitute for chemical additives. On a warm day, leaving your car outside with the windows open helps to dry everything out, and it’s even preferable if it’s light and airy.


Step #2. Deodorize

Use Turtle Wax Power Out! on rigid and seamless surfaces such as door panels and dashboards. To remove musty odors from the air conditioning system, spray Odor-X Spray into the air conditioning vents or airbox.

Turtle Wax Power Out! is ideal for porous surfaces such as seats and carpets. The Upholstery Cleaner and its built-in brush effectively removes blotches and bad smells.

If the mold is found on your car paint, check out this article on how to get mold off car paint with ease



Asking yourself the question, “why does my car smell like a mildew” is the first step towards getting rid of mold. Thus, the primary step is being aware of the smell of mold and being curious about how to solve it, not to create further problems.

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