A Sniff-Test for Car Interiors: How We Keep Our Cars Fresh

26th July 2019 BY
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Renting a car that smells of the previous occupant is not an option at Carlease. Here's how we keep our fleet smelling of roses.

Renting a car that smells of the previous occupant is not an option at Carlease. Here’s how we keep our fleet smelling of roses.

As a frequent flyer, you know that every commercial flight is a non-smoking one. Just about every hotel in the civilized world has banned smoking in its rooms. But few of us know that some years ago all car rental companies worldwide, Carlease included, made the shift to maintaining non-smoking fleets.

There’s probably more than one good reason why smoking bans have spread from aircraft to hotels to offices to cars. The dangers of inhaling second-hand smoke have been frequently documented. The other major reason is the stink. Smoking in an enclosed space leaves a smell that not just induces the gag reflex but also remains for an incredibly long period of time and is really tough to get rid of.

We often find customers performing the sniff test when selecting a vehicle.

We understand the high irritation of stinking interiors, particularly in the Middle East, where lingering odors in cars, rental or owned, are made worse by the heat. No one wants to be stuck in a car smelling of its previous occupant – food, cigarette smoke, and body odor can all combine to create a horrific experience.

Popular wisdom

Renters often rely on popular wisdom when attempting to remove odors before returning a car. This includes common solutions such as using deodorizers and setting the air-conditioner to external circulation. These usually fall short of the desired outcome.

Deodorizers often work by masking the odor and providing temporary relief.  Air-fresheners are simply not enough. Spraying your perfume into the AC vent is not the answer. Neither is relying on the air-conditioner to do the job. The smells of tobacco smoke or the greasy food consumed in the car while on a road trip leave their residue in the vents.

What’s needed is a rigorous and expensive method of deodorizing the vehicle. At Carlease, these are some of the methods we use to keep your ride smell-free:


If a car is returned smelling less than its best, it’s taken out of commission for up to 24 hours while it is professionally deodorized via an oxidation process. The cabin air filter is also cleaned and replaced where necessary.

Elbow grease

Dirty, smoky surfaces are often the cause of smells and cleaning involves detailing every surface touched by smoke or grease. Plastic surfaces tend to absorb smells and it takes a lot of scrubbing to remove the embedded pollutants. For cloth surfaces, multiple sessions with shampoo and a vacuum cleaner are required. Mats are washed with soap and bleach, then left in the sun to dry. The windshield goes through double cleaning because of nicotine residue.

Car deodorizing kit

Cleaning tools in this kit include everything from fingernail scrubbers, toothbrushes, cotton swabs, non-abrasive pot scrubbers, ‘magic erasers’, upholstery shampoos, vacuum cleaner… you don’t want to know how each one is used. Suffice to say that the job gets done and the car interior is ready for the next discerning nose.


Regardless of no-smoking signage in all cars, we may get the occasional violator. There are significant penalties – the international norm for car rentals is to charge anywhere between $100 and $250 for returning a stinky vehicle.

There is no way for a Carlease customer to get a vehicle that is riddled with any kind of odor. We pride ourselves on that.

How to Get Your Car Smelling Fresh

Since we have a wealth of experience taking cars from dank to fresh, here are some tips that we’ve put together that you can use at home.

1. Place a pack of dryer sheets under your seat

Dryer sheets naturally adsorb moisture and give your car a fresh laundry smell thats great. To make the release of the scent slower, keep the box sealed and poke a few holes in it. Wanna make the process super fast? Put the dryer sheets directly in to your AC vent

2. Keep your car trash and spill free

The best way to keep your car odour free is to prevent them from building up in the first place. Place silicone cupcake liners in your cup-holders to prevent spills from grime from getting stuck there.

You can either purchase a separate trash can, or use an old-faithful cereal container and placed in your door panel as a trash can. Make sure you clean it out regularly!

3. Sprinkle baking soda everywhere

Some odours get stuck in to every single crevice in the car. To get rid of these, sprinkle baking soda – the best do it all invention of all time. Don’t forget to sprinkle under the floor mats, the space between the back seats and the area near the bank window.

Leave the baking soda there for about 4 hours then use a handheld vacuum to suck it all up off the seats.

Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda, 1 lb - Walmart.com - Walmart.com

Further reading:

Carlease – How to Keep Your Car Germ Free

Travelers United on Car Rental Smoking Policies

WikiHow – How to Make Your Car Smell Good

Jiffy Lube – Keep Your Car Odour Free


Further Reading

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Get the Best Out of Your Long Term Car Rental

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A Carlease’ guide to make the most of driving for newbie drivers in the UAE.

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Carlease’ Driver’s Handbook for the UAE (pt2)

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