Best Car Odor Eliminators: Make Your Vehicle Smell Better
Help your car stay fresh and clean with these top car odor eliminators
TheDrive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
Nothing puts off your friends or family more than a smelly car. Fortunately, you can refresh the air in your vehicle with our top picks for the best car odor eliminator. We’ve gathered all you need to know in the following informative guide, from types and key features to tips and tricks for making your car smell like new.
- Best OverallMini Portable Ozone GeneratorSummarySummarySmall and compact, this tiny ozone generating car odor eliminator is versatile and portable, which makes it a great multi-use solution for your life.ProsProsOne charge from the included USB charger and you should be set to use this product for up to seven days before charging it again.ConsConsOzone smell isn’t for everyone. It can also cause adverse reactions in some people, which could stem from the smell or simply the ozone-generating process.
- Best ValueMeguiar’s Whole Air Re-FresherSummarySummaryPacking mighty odor-fighting power into one tiny can, this car odor eliminator from Meguiar’s works over every surface of your vehicle to remove every last trace of odor.ProsProsMeguiar’s offers this product in a variety of scents, and it only takes about a half-hour to get your car smelling great once more.ConsConsIf the smell doesn’t go away the first time, you’ll have to wait to use another dose due to the potency of this product.
- Honorable MentionBamboo Charcoal Odor Eliminator BagsSummarySummarySupplied in two different sizes, the bamboo charcoal bags help suck up odors and remove bad smells from the surrounding area, leaving you breathing fresh without fake cover-up scents.ProsProsThese bamboo charcoal bags last for up to two years and only need about an hour in the sunlight to recharge. You can use them anywhere in the house, too.ConsConsIf it gets wet, the bamboo charcoal won’t be as effective as it is when dry. Sharp edges can puncture the bag and allow the bamboo charcoal to spill.
Benefits of Car Odor Eliminators
- A clean-smelling vehicle. A clean-smelling car can make the difference between a fun ride to work or around town and miserable experience that ends up with your face permanently fixed in a scowl due to the smell of cigarette smoke or wet dog.
- Higher resale value. Cleaner-smelling cars sell faster than those infested with a smoke smell or any other off-putting scent. Get more for your trade-in or private party sale by taking the time to invest in car odor eliminators.
- An easy, affordable solution. Purchasing a car odor eliminator won’t break your monthly budget. It’s a simple solution to disgusted faces and comments of “ugh!” anytime someone gets in your car. You only have to spend a few dollars to enjoy a better-smelling car.
- Long-lasting results. Most car odor eliminators last quite a long time. Whatever type you choose, you should experience better smells while in your car for at least a few weeks, sometimes even longer.
- No special skills or tools required. This is one job where you don’t have to use the family toolbox. Car odor eliminators install quickly, no matter which type you choose to use.
Types of Car Odor Eliminators
Bamboo Charcoal Bags
The most “natural” of the various types of car odor eliminators are probably bamboo charcoal bags, which filter the air and remove any noxious fumes that are present. Bamboo charcoal bags come in a variety of sizes, and it’s often best to install a few at a time to clear up bad smells quickly. Often packaged in burlap sacks, bamboo charcoal bags simply sit in your vehicle in an unobtrusive spot while cleaning the air inside your car.
Gel car odor eliminators work in a similar way to charcoal bags but with a gel compound instead. The gel itself is scented, but it also absorbs any toxins in the air surrounding it. Most gel car odor eliminators come in small jars that can be placed upright anywhere inside your vehicle. Just make sure you don’t knock them over and release the gel into your carpets.
Cigarette Lighter and Plug-In Devices
Some cars still come equipped with cigarette lighters, which ironically can help purify your air rather than contaminate your lungs. Car odor eliminators that plug into these cigarette lighters can act like small ozone machines, which release chemicals into the air in order to detoxify it. However, unlike other car odor eliminating types, these plug-in devices will shut down once your vehicle is turned off.
Charged via USB, these small devices are much like those you’d plug into your cigarette lighter. Instead of working off the car’s power, however, they work off a rechargeable battery. These devices fill the gap between those products that simply sit in your vehicle and passively purify the air and those that harness the power of your vehicle to complete the same task.
Aerosol sprays are used in a variety of non-automotive situations, from the bathroom to the bedroom. Aerosolized car odor eliminators are perhaps one of the cheaper options to consider, especially since they come in a variety of scents. Better yet, you can control the strength of the odor eliminator with a quick press of the trigger. At the same time, aerosol odor eliminators aren’t the most efficient option out there.
Typically, spray bottle car odor eliminators contain a liquid or enzyme that will take care of the source of the bad smell. This type of car odor eliminator works well on cloth seats because the liquid seeps down into the threads of the seat to make it smell better. Using a spray bottle car odor eliminator, paired with a good, deep cleaning and vacuuming. works well on mildew, too.
We won’t get into too much detail here about the various types of inserts you can purchase. While they may work well at masking the bad scent, they don’t eliminate the odor completely. Many of these inserts include scented cardboard that hangs from your rearview mirror, filled capsules of scented liquid, and clip-on fresheners that install on your vents.
Established in 1980 and headquartered in Georgia, OdoBan is known for creating above-average disinfectant solutions you can depend on. If you like a bit of aromatherapy, try the OdoBan Disinfectant Laundry + Air Freshener with Eucalyptus. It’s a great solution for mold and mildew as well.
Based out of California and founded in the late 1960s, Chemical Guys offers its own take on the New Car Smell paired with a Leather Scent. These two products are just a couple of examples of the many car care products you can purchase from Chemical Guys
If there’s one well-known name in the car care industry, it’s Meguiar’s. Based out of California and founded back in 1901, Meguiar’s has a product for everything and anything you want to do to your vehicle. We recommend the Carpet & Cloth Re-Fresher Odor Eliminator Spray if you want to eliminate all those bad smells. Check out the rest of Meguiar’s inventory for more easy, affordable solutions.
Another well-known name, Armor All is based out of Connecticut. With over 50 years in the business, the experts at Armor All have built the following product for DIY car cleaners. The Armor All 2.5 Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum features a long hose and innovative design. This vacuum is a must if you want to clean your own vehicle and have it smelling fresh.
Car Odor Eliminator Pricing
- Under $10: There are a variety of car odor eliminator types you can pick up in this price range. These types of odor eliminators include gels, aerosols, scented hanging cutouts, and more. While each of these products has its own unique scent and application, you’ll likely be replacing them more often than you would products at a slightly higher price point.
- $15-$25: Here you can pick up USB charger-style car odor eliminators as well as different bagged solutions. They typically last a few months before they stop working. Unfortunately, they may not work well at removing smoke smells.
- $30 and up: If you’re looking for industrial-strength car odor eliminators, chances are you’re going to have to spend a bit more than $20 for a simple solution. Though you are paying more for these powerful odor eliminators, these strong formulas will get the job done right.
The varying temperatures in your vehicle can be potentially hazardous to the chemicals stored within car odor eliminators. The best car odor eliminators are non-toxic, meaning they won’t poison the air within the car and cause potential damage to you and your passengers. Non-toxic can sometimes mean natural; however, non-toxic and natural are not necessarily the same thing.
There are many natural odor eliminators you can use in your vehicle as well as your home. Typically, natural car odor eliminators include an element of charcoal, which neutralizes the pungent scent rather than masking it. Most often, natural odor eliminators are packaged inside a burlap sack or other breathable material that will allow air to pass through freely.
Safe for All Surfaces
There are various materials in your vehicle, from your cloth or leather seats to the plastic and vinyl components scattered throughout. The best car odor eliminators aren’t toxic or damaging to any of these surfaces, whether they come into contact with them or not. If a good product spills on any of these surfaces it shouldn’t stain or cause any lasting damage.
Like bubblegum and fresh breath, you want your car odor eliminator solution to last as long as possible. The best car odor eliminators should refresh your air for quite some time, and you shouldn’t have to replace them very often, depending on the strength of the unwanted smell in your vehicle. A long-lasting car odor eliminator typically lasts anywhere from one to three months.
- Strength of Smell: Depending on the type of scent you purchase, you may notice the smell of the car odor eliminator. Some scents tend to be more pungent than others. If you’re considering different scents, make sure you’re okay with smelling that particular scent for quite some time—or as long as you’re in the car.
- Personal Scent Preferences: People tend to gravitate more towards certain smells rather than others. We also avoid particular scents. Keep these preferences in mind as you shop. Any scents that cause adverse reactions should be avoided, too. You should be able to focus on the road ahead—not the sneezing attack you’re experiencing from your car odor eliminator.
Best Car Odor Eliminator Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Car Odor Eliminator Overall: Mini Portable Ozone Generator
We chose the Mini Portable Ozone Generator as our top pick for the best car odor eliminator because it’s a simple, effective solution. Measuring 20.5mm by 70.7mm, this unit is small and compact and only weighs about five ounces. Let’s dig in further to see why we chose this product as our top pick for the best value car odor eliminator.
This ozone generator deodorizes and sterilizes as it works, and you can use it in just about any small space. The compact design allows the unit to be hidden even while in plain sight. This ozone generator has two modes: blue and green. The blue mode instructs the generator to work for 30 minutes, pause for 20 minutes, and then begin again for 30 minutes. The green mode is more energy-efficient and shortens that second 30 minutes into five minutes. Altogether, this ozone generator comes with a USB charging cable, owner’s manual, suction cup mount, and storage rope. One charge will last you seven days, and you’ll hopefully never have to take advantage of its three-year warranty.
There are a few things we don’t like about this ozone generator. You may have an adverse reaction to this product, especially if exposed to it for long periods of time. The ozone smell isn’t for everyone as it’s more of a chemical smell than any sort of flowery, aromatic scent. That being said, nearly every car on the road could benefit from this ozone generating car odor eliminator.
Best Car Odor Eliminator Value: Meguiar’s Whole Air Re-Fresher
Some of us don’t have a lot of money lying around to invest in car odor eliminators, which is why this product from Meguiar’s is such a hit. It’s also the reason we chose the Whole Air Re-Fresher as our value pick. Overall, you’ll get great use out of this small can without the burn of a high-dollar investment.
Meguiar’s packages this Air Re-Fresher in a small can that’s designed for one-time use. Simply place the product at the center of your vehicle’s interior (the center console cover is often the best spot). Once the air conditioning is on high and your fans are set to recirculation, simply press down on the tab and close the Whole Air Re-Fresher inside your vehicle for about 10-15 minutes. Allow the same amount of time for airing out your vehicle afterward, and you should enjoy a fresher-smelling car in no time.
One of the biggest concerns we have with this product is that you can only use it one time, so you can’t repeatedly use it to remove bad smells. Once you’ve used the product in your vehicle, you’ll have to wait sometime before you can use another one to remove more odor if it doesn’t completely go away. The potency of this product can make it hazardous if you use one right after the other. At the same time, this Whole Air Re-Fresher is a great solution most drivers would be happy with.
Best Car Odor Eliminator Honorable Mention: Bamboo Charcoal Odor Eliminator Bags
As an alternative to the more popular methods of removing odor from your vehicle, we included the eight-pack Bamboo Odor Eliminator Bags. Packaged in individual, multi-shaped bags, the bamboo charcoal within soaks up the bad smells in your car so all you have to do is pitch the bag once the smell is gone. Let’s take a closer look at how this works.
These bamboo charcoal bags can be placed anywhere within your car—or any other stinky place for that matter—and you leave them there to soak up the bad smells. There aren’t any power buttons to worry about, batteries to recharge, or liquids and solids to worry about staining your vehicle’s interior. The bamboo purifies the air as you go about your daily life, and better yet, it’s fragrance-free, so if you’re sensitive to flowery scents you won’t have to worry about a runny nose and itchy throat. Each bag comes with a single grommet, so you can hang them as well.
Despite being all-natural, there are some drawbacks to the bamboo charcoal air-purifying bags. For instance, if the bags are beneath your seat and get punctured, the bamboo charcoal can spill out. If the bags get wet, they lose their air purifying ability. However, anyone looking for a natural alternative to other car odor eliminators may find this product useful.
- Before you tackle any tough smells in your vehicle, consider getting it detailed by a professional. Detail shops typically have what’s called an extractor that’s essentially a large carpet cleaner. Steam, hot water, and suction break down stains and smells and suck them up and away from your car.
- Though there are many scents that can help your car smell better, you can always resort to using your personal scent as well. If there’s a particular cologne/perfume you enjoy, spritz a bit of it around the interior of your vehicle.
- Many car care manufacturers include enzymes in their products. These enzymes work on mostly carpets and cloth upholstery to remove mold, mildew, and any other bad smells that might be contaminating your vehicle. Enzymes are best used with an extractor.
- Give any car odor eliminator about a week to take effect. You may not notice the difference immediately, but after a few days you should be able to tell if there’s less smell in your car than normal.
- Pets can be a huge source of unwanted scents. If you bring your pet into your car, consider investing in removable seat covers and mats that you can wash separately. This will easily cut down on bad smells and improve/maintain the interior of your vehicle.
Q: How many times do I need to apply a car odor eliminator for the smell to go away?
A: It depends on the situation. The biggest factors include what type of smell you have and how long it’s been in the car. A good rule of thumb is to reapply the odor eliminator when you no longer notice the odor eliminator’s smell.
Q: Will car odor eliminators stain my carpet, upholstery, or plastics?
A: Yes, some types of car odor eliminators can stain your vehicle’s interior. If this is something you’re concerned about, consider investing in non-spill solutions, such as bamboo charcoal bags, portable USB-rechargeable devices, and cigarette lighter plug-in products.
Q: What’s the best car air freshener for cigarette smoke?
A: Many people swear by coffee beans; they simply allow the beans to sit in a container in the center of the vehicle’s interior and soak up the smoke smell that has permeated headliners, cloth seats, and carpets.
Q: Will products like Febreze work to deodorize a vehicle?
A: Yes, household products like Febreze could be useful in eliminating odors from your vehicle. When you think about it, the seats in your car and the couch you watch TV from aren’t very different. Both can benefit from a spritz of deodorizer.
Q: Can I spray something down my car's air vents to make it smell better?
A: Bad odors can often linger in your car’s ventilation system. For overall odor elimination of nasty smells, spray a cleaner down any vents in your car’s interior. Allow the cleaner to sit for a few minutes and then clean them out with an air hose or compressed air. Turn your car on and the air to full blast, making sure all the vents are open all the way. This should improve the car interior’s smell.
Q: What's the best way to get rid of wet dog smell?
A: Pet odors can linger in car seats, floor mats, and anywhere else your dog frequents inside the vehicle. For a whole car air refresher, remove any items you can and clean and dry them thoroughly before placing them back in the car. Foul smells like wet dog are hard to cover up, so you may have to repeat the process a few times.
We chose the Mini Portable Ozone Generator as our top pick for the best car odor eliminator because it’s the one product that will quickly and efficiently purify the air.
Our value pick for the best car odor eliminator is the Meguiar’s Whole Air Re-Fresher. One small investment can make a huge difference
Which car odor eliminators have you found to be successful? Share your favorites with us in the comments below.
- RELATEDBest Car Diffusers and Essential Oils: Keep Your Car Smelling FreshHere are some car aromatherapy diffusers that are great for freshening up your car's interiorREAD NOW
- RELATEDBest Dehumidifiers for RVs: Prevent Musty Odors and Control Humidity LevelsGet rid of excess moisture and improve the air quality in your RV with these highly efficient and quiet RV dehumidifiersREAD NOW
- RELATEDBest Cabin Air Filters: Keep Musty Odors and Dust at BayOur top picks for the best cabin air filter will ensure that you constantly breathe fresh air in your carREAD NOW
- RELATEDBest Car Carpet Cleaners: Good, Clean Fun Beneath Your FeetSanitize your ride with our top picks for the best car carpet cleanerREAD NOW
- RELATEDBest Steam Cleaners for Cars: Leave Your Car Spotless and Stain-FreeClean away old stains, dirt, and gunk and leave the inside of your car looking fresh with these steam cleaners for carsREAD NOW