How to get rid of vinegar smell in the car

How to Get Rid of Vinegar Smell in the Car: Easy Ways to Make Your Car Smelling Great Again!

When you get in your car, have you ever noticed an unpleasant smell, a sour smell? Well, if you have, you are not alone.

Many people notice this strange odor in their vehicles, but they may not know what it is.

If you smell vinegar in your car, it’s time to take action. It’s extremely harmful to your vehicle’s carpet, seats, and windows.

The worst part is, if you don’t act quickly it can start ruining the interior of your vehicle.

So why does the car smell like vinegar? There are several reasons this could happen, and we’ll discuss them in detail in this blog post.

If you want to know how to remove vinegar odors in your car, this article will help

Also of Interest: How to Remove Scratches From Car Windshield: 9 Easy and Quick Tips.

In a Hurry?

Here are the easiest ways to get rid of the vinegar smell in the car:

  • Open the windows.
  • Remove any leftover food from your car.
  • Spray the affected areas with a mixture of equal parts water and white household vinegar (make sure the windows are rolled down).
  • Let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes before vacuuming it up with a wet/dry vacuum.
  • Run your air conditioner for at least one hour (but keep the windows rolled up) to finish drying out your vehicle.
  • If you don’t have time to let the mixture sit, you can try using baking soda instead.
  • Sprinkle baking soda on all affected areas it could be on the seats, carpets, and floor mats, and allow it to sit overnight.
  • Vacuum everything up the next day and enjoy your fresh-smelling car


The list below covers some of the most common causes, but if none fit your case there could be other reasons.

Keep reading to find out how to remove or prevent that strong odor in your vehicle’s interior

Why Does My Car Smell Like Vinegar?

Here’s a list of the most common reasons:

  • Interior Mold

A vinegar smell might also be due to interior mold! If you have ever had a water leak inside of your car, then this is likely the cause.

These are places where water has collected and begun to grow mold so the only solution is to clean it thoroughly with soap and water and let everything dry completely.

An interior car mold is not uncommon, especially if anyone smokes in the car often.

  • Dead Small Animals in Vents

A dead animal in the car air vents/floors or walls can emit a very strong bad smell which can be difficult to get rid of! If they are stuck somewhere where you cannot remove them.

  • Wet Interior

Wet carpets can stink- they can get moldy odors or rot from being exposed to water long enough.

  • Rotting Fast Food

If there are rotting food items in the trunk/interior, even if wrapped well they can definitely cause a smell.

An enclosed space will lead to excess condensation and then the food item will begin to go bad quite quickly.

  • Spilled liquid

If you have spilled anything inside your car, be it soda or juice or any other liquid, then there’s a very good chance that this will cause the vinegar smell in your car.

If it is on the carpet, this could lead to mold growth. If possible, deal with spills immediately before they harden and become nearly impossible to remove from fabrics and carpets.

II. What could be the cause of the Vinegar smell in my car?

Below could be the main reason for the vinegar smell in your car.

  • Old Food

Everyone gets hungry while on the go so if there’s any food remaining in your vehicle at all, then chances are some of it might not have been completely disposed of in the trash!

This is a problem that almost always leads to an unpleasant-smelling cabin so make it a point to empty out anything left behind and dispose of it properly next time.

  • Spilled Drinks

If you smell something vinegary and find that there are liquid stains on your interior surfaces then you might have spilled some soda or fruit juice in your car!

Try cleaning up the mess with an appropriate cleaning product for carpets and seats. Let everything dry completely before allowing anybody back inside of your vehicle to prevent mold growth.

Afterward, make sure to air out the cabin by opening all of your windows until everything has dried satisfactorily.

  • Mold

Sometimes things get overlooked and mold happens.

It’s inevitable and once this occurs the only way to prevent any further damage is to remove said object so it can be thoroughly cleaned off by professionals.

Don’t put this off because mold becomes far worse over time and eats away at components until they’re nothing more than rust.  

This means every second counts in the event that you find anything resembling black stains inside your car.

  • Possible Car Fluids.
  • Auto Transmission Fluid 

A bad smell coming from under the hood is most likely your old transmission fluid.

It is an oil that helps shift gears, so if your car starts to make a whining noise this could be what’s causing that awful scent!

If you find yourself in this situation, then take your vehicle to a mechanic as soon as possible!

  • Antifreeze

An engine can give off a vinegary smoke smell when antifreeze isn’t circulating through it properly.

This can mean that your radiator fan is broken or that the antifreeze reservoir is running low.

When this happens, it’s best to take your car in to a mechanic as soon as possible so you don’t risk doing any damage to the engine!

E. Problem with an evaporator or any part of your AC system.

There’s a good chance that this is what’s causing the vinegar smell in your car your ac unit.

If your car air conditioner smells “vinegary”, It may be possible that these fumes have been from gas leaks from air handler onto your carpeting and upholstery and they have become trapped under your dashboard causing your car smells sour.

In some cases, it could even get into the ventilation ducts which then spreads throughout your entire vehicle resulting in that distinct odor of sour smell.

III. How To Eliminate Vinegar Smell From My Car?

Here are easy ways to eliminate vinegar smell in your car:

  • Clean your car.
  • Throw out any trash. 

The first thing throws out any trash. Thoroughly clean your car. You’ll need to throw out any trash that could be causing the mildew.

  • Air out the car.

If the interior of your car is wet (from you or a spilled drink) then you need to air it out as quickly as possible so that mold doesn’t have a chance to form and grow!

After airing it out, clean up spills with an appropriate cleaner for carpets and seats. Let the area dry completely so there isn’t any residual moisture left behind.

  • Clean any liquids spilled on carpet.

You can remove any spilled liquid by:

  • A wet rag or carpet cleaner
  • Allow for all wet surfaces to dry thoroughly before attempting to treat them with a cleaner/deodorizer.
  • When it gets dry, spray the interior with a mixture made up of equal parts dish soap and water.
  • Then wipe it down with a wet rag or paper towels until no more suds are left behind.
  • Allow for it to dry completely before replacing anything inside your vehicle.

B. Clean the vents.

If you find a dead animal in your car vents you will want to clean them out very well with a can of compressed air.

For this step, you might want to consider going to an auto parts store or mechanic as they will have access to better tools for cleaning out those hard-to-reach spaces!

Once the vents are as clean as possible, open all of your windows and leave your car running with the heat at full blast.

This will allow any dander from the dead animal carcass to circulate outside of your car and away from where you and other passengers sit!

C. Replace the cabin filter.

If you still have a vinegar smell after trying all these methods, it might be coming from the cabin filter.

The cabin filter cleanses and freshens incoming air so if it’s not working properly you will notice odors inside your vehicle!

D. Absorb odor with baking soda. 

Baking soda is very useful when it comes to eliminating odors because not only does it work quickly but it also has organic material that makes it safer for you to use as well as the environment.

There are two ways to do it:

  • Simply put 2 small baking soda boxes in your car overnight. It should absorb any of the remaining smells in the carpet or seats.
  • Use baking soda and water put some baking soda in a spray bottle and then add some warm water.

Once everything is mixed together, simply spray it on any materials or carpeting that might have been affected by bad odors.

But use it sparingly and avoid getting it directly on the carpeting if possible because this can damage/discolor car seats.

After making sure that everything has been sprayed down with the solution, leave the windows open so air can circulate throughout your car for quite some time so that things can air out of dry.

Keep an eye on the area where you used the solution because sometimes air fresheners and air freshener products can be absorbed into materials and make them less absorbent which will, in turn, cause foul odors to build up.

E. Replace the smell with a carpet odor neutralizer like Febreze.

Using Febreze and other similar products can easily eliminate those annoying odors that keep coming back.

Ultimately, it’s possible that all your efforts to eliminate the vinegar smell may not work.

If this is the case, then it’s best to leave your car alone for a few days so that the odor can dissipate on its own.

Alternatively, you can use one of the methods above to help eliminate the smell of vinegar.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q: What to do when your car smells like vinegar?

A: Check to see if there’s an open container of the same anywhere around your vehicle – be sure to dispose of them properly or else you might end up making a bigger mess out of things.

Also, don’t forget to change out your car’s air filter every now and then so that you can keep those nasty odors from entering your car.

Q: What is the best way to get rid of that vinegar smell in my car?

A: First, open your windows and turn on your air conditioner or heat.

Second, go find a box of baking soda.

Third, pour half of the box inside your car, preferably under or around where the food was spilled onto the floor mats or seat cushions.

Q: Can you remove the white vinegar smell from a car mat?

A: Yes, open up all your windows let some air in and pour the entire box of baking soda straight onto the smelly area.

Q: Can I Use Hydrogen Peroxide To Remove Odor From The Car?

A: Yes, simply pour some of this on a cloth or on some paper towel and apply it to problem areas before wiping them clean with a damp cloth.

Continue doing this until the odor has been completely eliminated.

Q: How can I prevent my car from smelling like rotten eggs or vinegar again?

A: Try not to keep any food in your car or anything that smells at all in the first place because it only attracts smells.

Q: What should I use to prevent the vinegar smell from coming back?

It is best to use an air freshener that you think smells good.

Also, try to avoid letting food or liquids sit in your car for too long. If you spill, clean it up as soon as possible to remove any bad odor.

After cleaning up the spill, leaving the windows open will help solve this issue faster.

Otherwise, try any of these methods above because they should help get rid of the smell. At the very least they can make your car smell less pungent and more pleasant.

Again, just remember that with time and patience, most vinegar smells will eventually go away.

Final Thoughts

Did any of these solve your problem? We really hope at least one of our tips worked for you and that your car ac smells great once again!

If not, consult a professional who might check if the problem is from drain lines, air handler, electric motor, catalytic converter, steam cleaning, or battery acid.

Also, if you have your own go-to cleaning tips for getting rid of that pesky vinegar smell in your car, please share them in the comments section below.

We’d love to hear from you!

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D. Hahn

DIY guru, dad, husband, blogger. When I'm not creating life hacks I'm teaching my kids how to fix stuff after their dad breaks it.

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