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

BY - 26th June 2016
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:


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.


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.

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.


Further reading:

Travelers United on Car Rental Smoking Policies


Further Reading

Designed by luis_molinero / Freepik

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