On the scale of gross things that can happen to your car, mold ranks way up there.
But in order to deal with it, you need to understand what mold is. Mold refers to several types of fungus that can grow almost anywhere and spread quickly and easily. Not only is mold smelly and gross, but it can cause permanent damage and can be hazardous to your health. If you have mold in your car, you need to deal with it immediately.
Mold can be nasty stuff, especially the dangerous Stachybotrys chartarum and chlorohalonata species, also known as black mold. Black mold is toxic and has a large list of ugly health symptoms it can cause, too, including fatigue and weakness, headaches, poor memory, shortness of breath, abdominal pain and bloating, and can even cause some dangerous allergic reactions. In the worst case scenario, mold can even kill you, so if you have it growing on your car seats and interior, you need to deal with it immediately.
The main cause of mold is damp conditions mixed with a warm environment, which can easily occur in your car if you leave your window cracked or your sunroof open on a rainy day, or even spill some liquid on the floor. It only takes a small amount of moisture for mold to grow and it can only take a few days to colonize, but once you have mold in your car, it can be a real pain to get rid of and has the potential to ruin your car’s interior. Getting it professionally cleaned might be the only option in some cases, and can cost hundreds of dollars. There’s also times when the mold infestation is so bad the car interior might be a total write-off, if it’s completely covered in mold and has grown right into the seating foam, for example. But depending on how bad the situation is, there might be some things you can do to fight the mold yourself.
First off, move your car out of the shade and into direct sunlight, if possible, and open all the windows and doors. This will help dry and air out the car, which you need because mold can’t grow in dry conditions. You want to leave them open for at least 20 minutes to let the car air out. Not only does mold smell awful, its spores are hazardous to breathe.
Get yourself a dust mask, because even after letting the car air out, there still might be dangerous mold spores hanging around and you do not want to breathe any into your system. Now you need to assess the damage and find out exactly how much mold in your car there is and where exactly it is. Check anywhere there is a porous or absorbent surface like all the seats and behind and underneath them. Check the carpet and flooring, and in all the corners, and check the seat belts. If you can unzip your seat covers and check the foam inside, do so, because the mold might have grown right into them. Check everywhere you can think of. Make sure you know what you’re looking for as well. Mold can range from white to grayish-brown or green or black. Mold usually forms in large, circular clusters.
See if you can scrape off the large mold patches with a brush, but be careful not to spread the spores around any worse than they already have. Once you’ve broken up the mold clumps, clean up the loose mold. Next, get a bucket of warm water and a PH-neutral shampoo and scrub off as much of the remaining mold as you can. Make sure the car has airflow, though, to keep things drying. If it’s not windy enough, get some fans going.
Now it’s time to bust out the cleaner. Don’t ever use bleach or ammonia, because it won’t properly kill the mold, just stain it and possibly kill some surface mold. Even worse, mold can thrive in the presence of ammonia, so you could actually make the situation worse if you use it. Instead, get an enzyme eater. There are mold-eating enzyme cleaners you can buy that eat away at the mold at a microscopic level. These are available at most hardware stores and can be found at any Walmart for anywhere between $5 and $10. But not every car mold infestation is unique, however, and some may need different remedies.
“Each case is unique depending on the car’s upholstery,” said Enver C. from K.A. Car Care. “I’ve been here doing this work for 13 years, and I can say you just need to use common sense. Sometimes you need to steam clean and sometimes just some shampoo will do the trick.”
He said carpet upholstery makes the job a lot more difficult than leather or fabric because the mold seeps in deeper and is harder to remove. “We usually have to assess the damage beforehand to see if it’s even fixable,” he said. This next trick might work better on carpet if you’re desperate.
One of the most effective and cheapest, albeit smelliest, ways to get rid of the mold is by using white vinegar. This is also a natural, chemical-free way to get rid of the mold. If the vinegar is distilled it should work great. You’ll need some water, a spray bottle, and some rags. To make the best vinegar-water formula, mix eight parts vinegar to two parts water, and give it a good shake.
Don’t worry about using too much vinegar when spraying. You’re going to want to soak the surface in the mixture. Depending on how bad the infection is, you may be spraying the entire car, so be prepared to do so. Be advised that this method will leave a very strong vinegar smell in your vehicle that will be hard to get out. “How do you get the smell of vinegar out once you saturate it?” asked Enver. Even he wasn’t sure.
Once you’ve sprayed the vinegar solution, let it sit for another 20 minutes. This should give it enough time to eat away and kill the mold and for most of the vinegar to dry. If you have a wet-dry vacuum, use it to suck up any leftover vinegar from the seams. You can also sprinkle Borax on the moldy spots to eat away at them at this point and leave it for a few minutes. It’s going to smell terrible, but at least the mold should be gone.
Once most of the mold in your car is gone, you need to make sure you remove all of the moisture from the vehicle to make sure it doesn’t come back. If you have a dehumidifier, use this in the vehicle to eliminate extra moisture. If you don’t have a dehumidifier, sunshine and fresh air should do the trick, and if it’s too cold outside for this method to work, use fans and blowers. Worst case scenario, kitty litter or rice in a sock could help suck some moisture out, too.
Become an AutoGuide insider. Get the latest from the automotive world first by subscribing to our newsletter here.