LAST UPDATED: October 13, 2019
Best Car Odor Eliminators: Make Your Vehicle Smell Better
Help your car stay fresh and clean with these top car odor eliminators
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON October 13, 2019
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.
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All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
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 2020
Zero Odor features a powerful odor eliminator you can use all around the house as well as in your vehicle. It's an efficient product that permanently removes odors rather than masking and covering them up. It doesn't leave a scent behind, so you get to enjoy the fresh air during every ride.
The formula is non-toxic, non-allergenic, and biodegradable. Still, it's extremely powerful and works on the worst odors. The product even manages to prevent new odors from building up, so it's very convenient in the long run. It comes in a 16-ounce bottle, applies in a breeze, and lasts for a while.
The main drawback of this product is the bottle design. The trigger feels flimsy, and it might cause accidental leaks. Also, some buyers complain about the product producing a strong smell despite it claiming to leave no scent behind. It takes some time for it to fully disappear, so you might need to ventilate your vehicle overnight.
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.
Chemical Guys is a reliable and popular company that makes high-quality car care products, and its odor eliminator is highly rated among customers. The reasons why it’s so popular are various, starting with the product's high efficiency in removing odors and preventing new ones from building up in the vehicle.
The product features a powerful concentrated formula you can dilute with water. The water-based formula won't stain surfaces, and you'll enjoy the powerful scent for weeks. You can use the product for the entire car interior, including carpets, seats, and plastic parts. Even better, the combo pack of two bottles comes at an attractive price: one of them has a new car smell and the other one has a leather scent. A little bit of the liquid goes a long way, so you'll definitely use the product for a while.
What can be an issue with this product is that it leaves an oily residue behind. Your interior might feel a bit sticky, so you'll probably need to wipe it off with the clean cloth. Additionally, this product has a strong fragrance. If you're too sensitive to strong smells, this probably isn’t the best option.
Purggo sells a convenient air freshener you can transport from your home to your vehicle and more. It's made from bamboo charcoal that efficiently absorbs odors and doesn't leave any strong smells behind. Even better, the product is free of chemicals and plastic.
The air freshener is safe for humans and ideal for people who suffer from allergies, asthma, and other respiratory conditions. By eliminating odors, the product allows you to breathe fresh and clean air at all times. What also makes it unique is its longevity. The freshener lasts for an entire year, which means it will save you the money you would otherwise spend on sprayers and other types of cleaners.
Keep in mind that the freshener might take some time to work. It will eliminate odors slowly over time, so if you're looking for a quick solution, this might not be a perfect option. Also, the item needs to be recharged under the sunlight, which can be inconvenient for some people.
If you're looking for a car odor eliminator that helps get rid of tobacco and burnt wood smells, this is an excellent choice. The product is cost-efficient, durable, and safe to use on all kinds of surfaces. It is quite handy around the house and in your vehicle.
The Zep Smoke odor eliminator features a powerful formula that lasts for quite a while, so you'll have fresh air in your car and home for a long time. Although very efficient in eliminating smoke, the product also works to remove other unpleasant odors. All you need to do is to spray the product lightly on the surface and let it do its magic.
One potential issue with this product is that it has a strong smell. It's thick and it lingers, so you'll need to ventilate your room or vehicle. Another drawback involves shipping issues. Some buyers have complained about receiving damaged packages, which is quite inconvenient even if the manufacturer is quick to resolve the issue.
If you're searching for a multi-purpose product you can use for different applications, the Fresh Wave odor removing gel is a perfect option. Thanks to the unique and powerful formula, the product is super efficient in removing odors from your bathroom, kitchen, and pet areas. It's also able to make your vehicle smell as good as new rather quickly.
The Fresh Wave gel absorbs and neutralizes odors that come from cooking, trash, mildew, cigarettes, and more. The application is as easy as it gets. All you need to do is to put the container in the desired area and let it do its thing.
What users also like about this product is the powerful yet safe formula that doesn't contain any toxins, chemicals, or alcohol. It's safe to use around humans, pets, and on all types of materials. Furthermore, the gel leaves a fresh scent that is not too overwhelming and makes the area fully pleasant.
However, the gel doesn't work very well in large spaces. It’s not really strong enough to eliminate strong odors in big areas, and it might stop showing results after a week or two. Some people also don't like the citrus smell.
Armor All has a car air freshener that works to eliminate smoke and other strong and persistent odors. It's a handy product to keep within hand's reach, allowing you to keep the air fresh wherever you go. Even better, the freshener is easy to apply and works quickly to remove unpleasant smells.
The Armor All car air freshener features a powerful formula that leaves a fresh smell in your vehicle. It's a beautiful mixture of verbena, leather, patchouli, and warm woods that will make every ride more enjoyable.
However, some buyers don't like how strong the smell turns out to be. It tends to linger for a while as well. If you're not a fan of strong fragrances, this might not be the right option. Also, the product might take some time to work, especially when used against strong odors.
The Basic Concept air purifying bags are a convenient solution to unpleasant smells. They are designed to freshen up your home and car, leaving behind a natural scent that lingers. You'll enjoy clean and fresh air in all your favorite places when you use them.
The bags contain bamboo charcoal that absorbs and neutralizes odors. They are safe and free of additives, which means you can use them wherever you want. Just take a bag, put it in the problematic area, and let it do its job. It's as simple as that. The bags are lightweight and compact, so you get to keep them within hand's reach all the time.
The main drawback of this product is the price. The bags are more expensive than many rival car air fresheners. They may also be less efficient in eliminating strong odors. If you need the freshener for covering up persistent smells in large areas, this might not be the best option.
This odor eliminator is a highly-efficient and inexpensive option suitable for your home and your vehicle. You can use it everywhere, from your car and RV to your office, gym, and bathroom. The product works to eliminate all kinds of odors, including those coming from cigarettes, pets, trash, and more.
The charcoal-enhanced formula is the secret ingredient that makes this odor eliminator so efficient. It's quite powerful yet safe for all kinds of surfaces. You can enjoy a fresh fragrance and clean air around you when you use it. Additionally, the product is easy to use and long-lasting.
However, while the air freshener is quite efficient, it’s not powerful enough to eliminate super strong smells. In demanding situations, you might need to replace it with the new container rather quickly. Also, the smell might be too overwhelming for those sensitive to strong fragrances.
Turtle Wax never fails to deliver quality car care products. The company's odor eliminator resolves smelly problems related to cigarettes, pets, coffee, food, and more. It's a handy spray that works quickly and ensures excellent results.
The Turtle Wax odor eliminator is suitable for all types of surfaces, including car seats, air vents, and carpets. It features a strong yet safe formula that applies in a breeze. The product comes in a well-designed bottle with a convenient sprayer. In fact, the package includes two bottles that are enough for many applications. That makes the Turtle Wax odor eliminator a cost-efficient option.
The main drawback of this odor eliminator is the strong smell. Although it will eventually go away, you'll have to ventilate the area and wait for the fragrance to disappear. Another inconvenience is the type of scent it emits. Some buyers think it's more like a cologne than a new car smell.
- 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 Zero Odor Multi-Purpose Odor Eliminator as our top pick for the best car odor eliminator because it’s a versatile product.
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.