Owning a car or other vehicle can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have the freedom to go wherever you want, without having to rely on public transit, or your own two feet—something that has made them especially coveted during the pandemic. But on the other hand, their expenses can add up quickly, between insurance, gas, tolls and regular maintenance.
And then there are those other situations that arise unexpectedly: like opening your car door one morning and being greeted by the sight and/or smell of mold. If you have the financial resources to turn your vehicle over to a professional and let them take care of the mold situation—that’s great. But if that’s not an expense you had in your monthly budget, it is something you can do yourself at home. Here’s how.
Why do cars get moldy?
The most common reason vehicles get moldy inside is because moisture is getting into your interior somehow. This could be from leaving your windows or sunroof open when it’s raining, or spilling a large amount of liquid that then gets soaked into the upholstery. Mold will grow and spread even faster if your vehicle with a damp interior is kept someplace warm.
We should note that we’ll be talking about vehicles with relatively mild mold problems, resulting from a spill or water getting in during a few hours of rain—not the kind you might see in a car that has been abandoned or sitting outdoors for years (or even decades). If that’s the case, you’re going to need a lot more help than this.
How to remove mold from a vehicle’s interior
First, a word about why putting the time and effort into getting rid of mold in your car is so important. While there are different types of mold—with some being more harmful to our health than others—in general, it’s not something you want around you at any point (especially if you have allergies).
Fortunately, Chris Teague over at The Drive, has put together a handy guide to DIY vehicle mold removal.
What you’ll need:
Towels or rags
White distilled vinegar
Automotive cleaning wipes
Spray carpet or vehicle interior cleaner
What to do:
Prepare the car for cleaning:
Before you can start scrubbing or cleaning the mold, you’ll want to be sure that the interior of the car is at least partially cleaned.
Remove trash, personal belongings, paperwork, and other items from the interior. Throw away anything that has mold growth on it.
Thoroughly vacuum the carpets, seats, and other soft finishes.
Inspect the car for leaks and damaged seals. Moisture that enters the vehicle will help the mold continue to grow. If there is a leak and you do not repair it, you’ll likely be cleaning mold out of your car again in the future.
Removing the mold:
Fill your spray bottle with white distilled vinegar. It’s essential to use a new spray bottle, if at all possible because any residue left inside the bottle from previous use can cause issues. If you don’t like vinegar, you can use bleach diluted in water, but you’ll need to test it out on a hidden spot of your car to make sure you’re not killing the colors
Spray the solution directly onto carpeting, seats, and any other surface where there is mold. Saturate the area thoroughly.
Use a scrub brush to work the vinegar solution into the affected area, spraying more if needed.
Let the surfaces dry. If you have a garage where the car can be parked safely indoors, it’s best to leave the windows down to allow fresh air to circulate in and out.
There is a lot more information in Teague’s guide, so check that out for additional tips.
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, CNN & Playboy.