How to Get Rid of Mold in Your Car

A lot of things can go wrong with cars. Charging car batteries, corrosion, flat tires, and sun damage are just a few off the top of my head. And those are just the minor ones that don’t require a professional mechanic. Among these ‘small’ issues, the one people bring out the least is mold growth, which I intend to fix with this article.

To some, having mold in their car is not a big deal…at least not until they actually spot it. Not only is it disgusting to look at (or smell), but it can also have lasting negative effects on our health as well as our car’s performance.

How to get rid of mold in your car.

Defining Mold

Most people roughly know what mold is and what it looks like. After all, we’ve all had that day when we forgot to finish that casserole or didn’t pay attention to that peach in the fridge for over a week. I can safely say that nearly all of my readers have that icky image of a white, smelly substance growing on their old food, and it isn’t pretty.

Molds are a type of fungi that form on animal or vegetable matter. Their purpose is to decompose organic matter and initiate a decay process, which is common in nature and necessary for many different ecosystems. The closest ‘relative’ to mold is yeast.

Typically, mold needs moisture to grow. In optimal growth conditions, molds will release small spores into the air as part of their reproduction. These are the very same spores we inhale on a daily basis. However, they are so small that they have next to no effect on our bodies.

Of course, with the keyword being ‘moisture,’ you can pretty much tell what the cause of mold growth in cars is. But it’s not just as simple as ‘the car was wet,’ so let’s go over that quickly.

How Does Mold Grow in a Car?

There are different ways in which mold can grow inside of a vehicle. Obviously, the easiest way is getting water onto a surface by accident. Sometimes, it involves spilling a water bottle or some soda onto the carpets. Other times, it might be that you forgot to roll down the windows during the rain.

But there are other, less direct ways of getting mold from water. For example, if I were to drape a wet towel or a sweaty shirt over the car seat, there’s a chance that some fungi will start growing there. The same can happen if I leave a half-open bottle of water and it slowly evaporates over time.

Naturally, we can’t discount mother nature. Flooding and hurricanes produce enormous amounts of water, so any car that suffers damage during these events will have a high chance of mold growth. Moreover, it doesn’t even have to be as ‘active’ as a flood or a storm. Often, if you simply live in a humid environment, moisture can accumulate inside your car.

I’d like to point out that water isn’t the only source of car fungi out there. Leaving a car in a mildewy, damp garage would almost guarantee car mold. After all, mold spores tend to travel and the car inside of that garage is their nearest destination. But at other times, it’s as simple as leaving a piece of food on the floor; as that sandwich slowly decays, the fungi begin to take over and the car will need some serious help.

But do we need serious help from mold?

Potential Health Risks

For years, experts have been researching the effects of mold on the human body. As of 2020, we can safely say that fungi, in general, will only be a health risk to certain people. For instance, mold can cause harm to:

  • People with weak immune systems
  • Babies, infants, and children
  • Adults over 65
  • People with various allergies
  • People who suffer from asthma

Overall, mold can cause irritation and trigger allergies, though if you have a weak immune system, you can also get a fungal infection. Other serious issues will include aspergillosis, pneumonia, and pneumonitis. Of course, I would advise getting rid of any mold as soon as possible. Long-term exposure to it will affect anyone, even people with stable immune systems.

If you were to Google ‘mold health effects’ or anything similar, you would get hundreds of results related to black mold. According to popular articles, exposure to black mold can supposedly lead to fatigue, any number of lung diseases, or even cancer. Most commonly, these articles will state that black mold causes mycotoxicosis, also known as fungal poisoning.

I’ll say this in no uncertain terms — black mold will not lead to any of the conditions I listed above. Modern research shows that there is no evidence that conclusively connects inhaling black mold spores to cancer or lung diseases. More importantly, you are more likely to get mycotoxicosis from eating moldy food than inhaling the spores from the air.

How to Prevent Mold Allergy Symptoms?

Sometimes you just can’t avoid fungi — their spores will be in the air. In order to prevent any allergy symptoms while you’re outside, I suggest cleaning up your gutters and removing wet leaves. In addition, make sure to get rid of any standing water and get inside when the spore levels rise.

Inside the house, you might want to clean your bathroom from soap scum and open a window when showering. Moreover, plug up any leaks and dry any wet spots that you find. And though it might seem like a small step, make sure to take off your shoes at the door and leave them there. Finally, use a dehumidifier anywhere in your house where there’s lots of moisture.

Removing the Mold From the Car

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Once you spot mold in your car, you’ll need to take a few steps before actually removing it. As someone who has dealt with this problem before, I’ve compiled a handy list for you to peruse.

Preparation Steps

Step 1: Protection

Safety must always come first. Spores will continue to fly even while you’re cleaning the car. Therefore, you’ll need to protect your nose and mouth. In other words, you need a mask.

Usually, pharmacies and other specialized stores sell cheap surgical masks. If possible, make sure you get them in bulk. You won’t need more than one or two during mold removal, but they can come in handy later when the problem resurfaces.

However, you will also need to protect your hands. I personally suggest any household cleaning gloves. They are strong enough not to break or let any liquid through, but they’re also perfect because they don’t obstruct the movement of your fingers while you work.

Step 2: Sunlight & Airing Out

Sunlight dries out fungi, which is why they tend to grow in damp, dark places. With that in mind, I always get my car in direct sunlight when trying to get rid of mold. Moreover, I open all the doors to let as much sunlight inside as possible.

But there is a different reason for airing out the car. Namely, the few spores that survive the sunlight will disperse in the air. In addition, I get to air out my car from all of the musty smells that might linger.

Step 3: Complete Inspection

Checking for mold may not be easy, but it is a step that you don’t want to skip. In order to do a proper checkup, you need to look over everything inside your car, including:

  • Seats
  • Carpets
  • Undersides of seats
  • The steering wheel
  • Seat lining
  • Seatbelts
  • Side-seams of seat covers
  • (at crucial times) the dashboard

During the checkup, I make sure to note all of the different types of mold I run into. They differ in color: black, grey, brown, green, or white.

Step 4: Brush & Vacuum

I suggest trying this step only if you have a wet-dry vacuum handy. Though this step isn’t necessary, it will help you greatly in reducing the mold.

Using an old toothbrush, try to scrape off large patches of mold. However, don’t rush it; scraping too hard will make the spores fly off, and you don’t want that. Use slow, circular motions and gently scrub off large chunks of the fungus.

Once that’s done, you’ll need to clean it up using the wet-dry vacuum. Doing that will leave you with only the hardest-to-remove patches of mold. That’s when you start the cleaning process itself.

Car Mold Cleaning Solutions

Option 1: Vinegar and Water

Vinegar is a powerful acid that can kill mold efficiently. However, because of its strong smell, we need to distil it with water. There are no proper ratios, but you can try a 50/50 combination of the two. Personally, I always mix 4 parts vinegar with 1 part water to make it extra strong.

Once you have your vinegar mixture, remove the carpeting and the seat covers from the car. Spray the moldy areas and leave them to sit for at least 20 minutes. In addition, spray the mixture onto any spot inside of the car where there’s mold.

Once the time passes, use the wet-dry vacuum to soak up the vinegar solution from the seat covers and carpets. However, if you only have a regular vacuum, just wait until the items get dry and vacuum them up later. I must stress that, if your regular vacuum cleaner uses a bag, throw the bag away after vacuuming. If you don’t, it will be spreading the spores when you take the vacuum cleaner inside the house.

After you’ve done all that, simply use regular detergent and water to wash the items. Sometimes, stains will remain after the process, so I suggest using Borax to remove them. You can mix it in with a regular carpet detergent. Make sure that everything about your car is completely dry before you put the covers and carpeting back.

Option 2: Salt

To perform this method, you will need non-iodized salt and tap water. I’ve personally tried it and it works best on soft areas of the car, such as car seats, covers, and carpets. It’s also an extremely cost-efficient way to clean the mold from your car, since all you need to buy is the salt.

First, you need to mix the salt with the water. Once you’re done, you should use a soft brush to apply the mixture to the moldy area. You can also try spraying it if you don’t have the brush.

Whenever I use this method, I always make sure to cover more than just the stained area. In fact, I go around the stain up to 1–2 feet. This step is important since it eliminates any potential spores that started ‘expanding’ beyond the source.

The next step is to leave everything in direct sunlight with lots of air circulation. In time, small salt crusts will form on the area where you applied the mixture. Moreover, the air will disperse any lingering spores.

Finally, you’ll need a vacuum cleaner to remove the salt crusts. Of course, you can also use a brush and slowly scrape everything off.

Naturally, this method will not completely remove every hard-core stain at once. That’s why it’s important to repeat it as often as possible.

Option 3: Oil of Cloves

Oil of cloves is a potent antiseptic that kills both fully grown mold and any spores around it. Not only is it excellent with soft surfaces, but it works just as effectively on hard ones. In other words, we can use it equally on carpets and seat covers, as well as steering wheels and dashboards.

However, because of its potency, I must stress that you dilute it to less than 1% before use. If not, you risk severe skin irritation and other health issues. I suggest using a quarter of a teaspoon of oil mixed with a liter of tap water.

Cleaning with this mixture is similar to removing mold with salt. You spray the solution at least 1 foot in diameter around the stain. Next, you leave it on the surface for at least 20 minutes. However, don’t do anything until the area is completely dry; in fact, I’d even suggest leaving it to dry overnight for a better result.

After the mold spots are dry, wipe them off with a clean cloth and then throw the cloth away. Alternatively, use a wet-dry vacuum instead. Just like with the salt method, it’s important that you use the oil of cloves several times in order to get the deepest mold stains and spores out.

Removing Mold Odor

As I stated earlier, airing out the car will normally do the trick. But sometimes you need a little help to get rid of some stubborn lingering odors.

One easy method includes baking soda and the Innofresh odor eliminator. The steps are easy:

  • Sprinkle the baking soda over all of the carpets in the car (or anywhere that you can sense the smell)
  • Leave it all to sit for several hours
  • Vacuum the baking soda up
  • After repeating the first three steps for a few times, leave the Innofresh eliminator in the car. It will remove any remaining odors.

Another popular method is using activated charcoal. Thanks to how porous it is, activated charcoal can trap nasty odors and leave the area around them fresh and clean. More importantly, it’s a product that you don’t really waste. A single bag of activated charcoal can last for at least a month.

Some less popular methods include coffee beans, kitty litter, and essential oils. A full guide on how to use these methods can be found here. Personally, I’d suggest any of them, since they are natural and don’t involve any chemicals or artificial cleaning solutions.

Conclusion: Future Car Mold Prevention

Getting rid of the mold from your car is one thing, but keeping it mold-proof in the future is just as important. After all, you’ll want to avoid doing everything I listed for at least a year after the clean-up.

In order to prevent mold from reappearing in your car, I suggest following these simple steps:

  • Cover the vehicle with a waterproof cloth or car cover
  • Air out your garage and make sure it’s dry
  • Make sure that all the windows are down and all doors closed when the car is in the garage
  • Don’t eat or drink in your car unless you absolutely have to
  • Spray the interior of your car with an antimicrobial solution
  • Clean the car regularly
  • Make sure your heating and cooling systems work properly

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