By Diane Schlindwein

August 20, 2010 5 min read

If that new-car aroma is long gone from your vehicle and not-so-nice smells are traveling right along with you, it's time to take action. Moreover, if your car smells less than sweet, chances are germs are behind those odd odors. One recent research study shows that an average vehicle has almost 300 different types of bacteria in every square centimeter. That's right -- millions of bacteria in the whole car. Though the gearshift usually has the largest gathering of bacteria, the dashboard -- where many people place their food while they are eating on the run -- has just about as many. Cup or change holders are also high in germs. Of course, if anyone ever has smoked in your car, that's bad for you, too. "The biggest problem I've seen is that the sources of odors are ignored until it's too late," says Ivan Rajic, owner of an auto detailing company. "Smoking is probably one of the most obvious odors that get overlooked. While smokers are enjoying a smoke, they are completely ignoring the fact that the smell is slowly but surely settling in the carpets, headliner and even the cloth seats. Over time, it gets to the point where the odor takes over and odor removal is necessary." Mold and mildew are great odor offenders, too, Rajic says. If that smell doesn't come from somewhere obvious -- such as a wet towel or coat that's been left on the floor or back seat -- it might be coming from the carpet. Because mold is a serious problem, removing the source of that odor is best left to a professional detailer. "Some drivers not only drive in snow but also walk in it. By walking in it, they bring water and snow and salt into the car, which over time stains the carpets and creates bad odors," Rajic says. He suggests buying quality rubber floor mats and making sure that both adults and kids keep the car's interior dry. "Simply sit in the car first, and then, as much as you can, kick your shoes together outside the car and bring in as little water and salt as possible." Rajic says it is important to keep ahead of odors by keeping your car as clean as you can. "As a general rule, I would say a thorough vacuuming, glass cleaning and wiping down of all the trim and vinyl leather should be done every two to three weeks -- every one or two weeks if possible -- on daily driven vehicles," he says. "A thorough detail -- consisting of shampooing carpets and headliner, cleaning and conditioning leather, trim and vinyl, cleaning glass and dusting vents -- should be done at least four times a year to keep the interior in shape and not let it deteriorate." Jennifer Taylor of global public affairs at SC Johnson says her company has two products that freshen the air and eliminate odors in cars. "My first recommendation is Glade fabric and air odor eliminator. It is designed to truly eliminate odors -- pet, smoke, sweaty stinky shoes -- at the source without just masking them," she says. "It will keep the cloth interior of your car and air itself smelling clean and fresh." When using the fabric and air odor eliminator, it's important to clean the area you'll be treating, Taylor says. Then spray the product onto surfaces that are being treated until the area is damp, and allow it to dry. For carpets, you'll want to spray on the odor eliminator, lightly scrub the area and then let it dry. "As always, be sure to read the directions on the packaging, as well," Taylor says. "You'll know when to use it again!" Taylor's second recommendation to help maintain freshness in the car is Glade's Car scented oil. "This product clips on your car vent and uses the airflow to circulate a constant light fragrance," she says. Glade products come in a number of scents, she adds. Rajic agrees that it's a good idea to use air fresheners in your car. "I highly recommend use of air fresheners, especially those with odor-killing abilities," he says. If you are a do-it-yourselfer and want to try a natural approach, lightly sprinkle baking soda on the carpet or cloth surfaces of your vehicle. Wait 30 minutes or so, and then vacuum. On a warm sunny day, you can try placing activated charcoal bags on your dashboard. Or, on dry sunny days, simply open the car windows wide and let some fresh air inside. "I think the most important thing people need to do is educate themselves and be aware of how their everyday driving actions affect the interior of the car," Rajic concludes. "Basically, people should do everything in their power to avoid polluting their interiors."COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

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