Car ashtrays

Tools & Technique:
To clean the ashtray in your car, remove the tray, or vacuum it out at a service station.

Do not use your home vacuum or everything else that you clean with it will smell like cigarette smoke. Wipe the tray with a solution of a half a cup of water and 10 drops of peppermint extract to get rid of the smell.

Cleaning instrument cluster

The following question was aked by Rachel: I accidentally got some of the interior cleaner on the glass/clear surface where my clock is. Of course, it is very hard to see now. A car wash was able to clean it once, but I don’t want to have to pay them to get it clean again. Also, my gear shift appears to be extra soiled? It is very smooth and sticky when you try to clean it.

Any advice on getting it back to it’s original condition? The display where your clock is, is likely made from clear plastic or plexiglass/lexan. Using a harsh cleaner like fantastic can actually damage the finish and will leave a clouded appearance. If it is an armour all type cleaner that has smeared it, just wipe it with water mixed with some dish soap. Then wipe it off with a clean dry cotton cloth. As for the gear shift, it depends on if it is vinyl or leather.

For leather use a proper leather cleaner, and follow the manufacturers directions. As for vinyl try your regular car interior cleaner/treatment like armour all, and get a scotch brite pad to gently scrub the surface. The green pad found in most drug stores in the dishwashing scrubber section works great. Don’t be too aggresive or you will remove the color and the top finish from the gear shifter. Good luck!

Dead Mouse Smell from Vents

This question was submitted from Bob B.

“How do you remove smell of a dead mouse from the car air conditioning system?”

A professional disaster restoration company would fog the affected area with a mal-odor neutralizer (which can be bought at any janitorial supply store).

Basically the fog is a way to transport the odor neutralizer to all areas of the ventilation system.

Try these techniques :

If you were doing it your self, you would place the odor neutralizer in front of the intake vents of the car where the air goes into the system (you may have to consult with your car dealership).

You can likely rent a fogger from a larger janitorial supply store or a equipment rental shop – especially one that would service the film industry.

Infant car seats

General Information:
To clean children’s car seats, give your self a day when you’re not likely to require the use of the car seat. Remove the seat from your vehicle, as you will need all restraining belts undone to remove the fabric cover. Most manufacturers are aware that young children can expel a number of smelly, gooey, protein rich substances, in addition to misdirected cookie, juice, crackers, and milk snacks. For this reason almost all car seats have washable covers.

Tools & Technique
Start by brushing off or vacuuming the entire seat. Remove the cover, watching carefully how it re-attaches to the car. A quick video tape or Polaroid picture will help things go together correctly. Be sure to follow washing instructions, as some covers cannot be put in the dryer. If in doubt, wash in cold water with an enzyme digester, and allow to air dry.

Tobacco smell from auto interior

We just recently purchased a station wagon that was owned by an elderly woman who smoked like a chimney. The car is in immaculate condition, with extremely low miles but I cannot seem to shake that nasty cigarette smell. I have shampooed the carpets and doors with an odor reducing commercial solution, but it is still there.
Can you help?

Tobacco smoke is one of the most difficult smells to remove from a car. The smoke permeates everything, including the foam rubber used in seat cushions.
You can successfully remove most of the tobacco smell by shampooing the carpets and upholstery with Kids & Pets Brand ( Stain & Odor Remover, and wiping down all other surfaces with a sponge and Kids & Pets Brand Stain & Odor Remover. After the carpet has dried for 24 hours, sprinkle baking soda on the carpet, rub it in with your hands, and leave it for a week. After a week, vacuum your carpets.
The baking soda will absorb the remaining odor in the carpet. Don’t forget to scrub the headliner, as this is the source of a lot of the smell.

You might need to repeat the baking soda deal a couple of times, and I have even heard of cutting open the side of a box of baking soda, and with double sided tape, taping the box to the carpet under the front seats.

Info provided by

Boat bilges

General Information:
The bilge of a boat collects the water from small leaks on the hull and from the inside of the boat. The water collects on the bottom of the hull, where on larger boats, it is pumped out, and on smaller boats it remains until the boat is landed and drain plugs are removed to empty the bilge water

Tools & Technique
To clean the bilge of your boat, use a strong formula of trisodium-phosphate. Remove drain plugs and pour in the solution. On smaller boats rock the boats to allow the TSP solution to run up the hull as far as the bilge water would have reached. On larger boats that can not be rocked, replace drain plug and launch boat as normal, and drain the next time the craft is dry docked. Rinse the bilge with fresh water if possible.

Boat Hulls

General Information:
To clean the bottom of a fiberglass boat, wash it as soon as boat is removed from the water. If residue is allowed to dry on hull, it becomes very difficult to remove. Most marine stores have cleaning compounds to help remove this scum, however effective chemicals can vary from harbor to harbor.

Tools & Technique
Hose the hull to loosen any surface growths, using a metal scraper remove barnacles – a palm sander is effective on difficult areas. Be sure to hose off hull as you work to avoid breathing in harmful dust. Areas where the gel coat or paint have been damaged in must be repainted, or repaired and waxed.

Fiberglass Boats

General Information:
Fiberglass boats are the most common pleasure crafts. The fiberglass is strong, durable, and low maintenance as long as it is kept in good repair.
The most important aspect of any kind of fiberglass is the top gel coat. This topcoat is the glossy protective layer that keeps the whole fiberglass construction system cohesive, and its failure will breach the integrity of subsequent layers.

The most common causes of failure are minute scratches left by particles of grit or sand. These scratches allow penetration of water, UV rays, and ozone, and will contribute to the deterioration of the layers of laminate under the gel coat.

Tools & Technique
It is crucial to wash the surfaces regularly with soap and warm water, rinse thoroughly and then restore the finish with a fiberglass cleaner/polish. This polishing should restore the shine, which should then be protected by a carnauba wax designed for fiberglass.
If polishing does not restore the chalky appearance of the gel coat, a stronger, more abrasive rubbing compound designed for fiberglass. This should remove all small scratches and stains, however it is imperative that this surface be protected with wax. This will prevent further discoloration and offer more protection from the elements.

Inboard marine engines

General Information:
In board engines are contained within the hull of the craft, and the propeller is driven by a shaft that protrudes through the stern or hull.

Tools & Technique
To clean inboard engines, use an automotive cleaner such as GUNK, to remove grease and caked on dirt. Allow the hold to air for five minutes before doing any work within the engine compartment. Spray generously onto a cool engine, allow degreasers to work, then hose off sparingly with water, avoiding electrical wires, connections, and boxes. It is especially important on your boat to insure that visual signs of required maintenance such as paint, linkages, hoses, excessive rust can be seen. If a significant amount of water was used to rinse off the engine, be sure to run the bilge pump or pull the bilge plugs to drain excess water from the hull.

Auto Interiors

With our active lifestyles and the amount of time we spend in our cars, the average car interior is easy prey for a myriad of stains and odors.  Stain and odor removal is almost a science into itself.  Upholstery fabrics and carpets widely vary, as do the composition of stains.  However, in my experience, there is a correct method and a suitable cleaner for most car interior problems.

Protection is Worth a Pound of Cure
Common upholstery fabrics are more likely to stain than vinyl or leather.  To best prevent stains altogether, it is necessary to properly treat upholstery, carpet, vinyl and leather.  The best treatment for carpet and fabric is a spray on fabric guard product.  The Scotch Guard™ brand products are the best know, and most widely available.  Other products, like 303 Hi Tech Fabric Guard, offer newer fabric protection formulas.  To protect vinyl and leather, simply use your favorite cleaner and protectant on a regular basis.  Some leather protectant products, like Eagle One Leather Conditioner, contain mink oil, which is excellent for protecting against stains.

When the inevitable happens, and your three-year-old drops (or barfs!) his mustard-loaded hotdog on your brand new velour upholstery, stay calm, and remove as much of the spill as possible (by blotting, not wiping, with paper napkins, paper towels, etc).  Then, don’t let the stain sit too long before you get to work on it.  Within a day or two, most spills will set and permanently stain your upholstery or become very difficult to remove.  It will only take one such incident for you to realize that a  $15 investment in fabric and carpet protection is worth every penny.

Stain Removal Basics
Even without protection, you would be amazed at how easy it is to clean up most stains with nothing more than a neutral detergent and water.  A neutral detergent has a pH of 7 (on a scale of 0 to 14).  A detergent with a pH less than 7 means it is acidic, whereas a pH higher than 7 is alkaline.  Neutral detergents will not bleach fabric or remove fabric protection.

When cleaning a stain, try detergent and water first.  If this does not remove the stain, then go for a cleaner with a little more oomph!

Common cleaning agents for interior stains include:

Neutral detergent (Ivory Liquid) & water (1:20)
Mild ammonia & water solution (1:5)
Distilled white vinegar & water (1:1)
Dry-cleaning fluid (Carbona, Renuzit, Perk)

Tools you’ll need to remove interior stains include:

  • Spatula or putty knife
  • Clean, white terry cloth towels
  • Soft bristle scrub brush
  • Wet-dry vacuum

Some stains, no matter what you try, will be permanent.  If an indelible stain has penetrated the fibers of a material, they will not come out.  You might be able to make the stain less noticeable, but no cleaner or method will remove all of the stain.  You will have to live with it or have the section of carpet or upholstery replaced.  In some cases, leather and vinyl stains can be fixed by color matching the area with a leather or vinyl repair system (a job for a professional).

Removing Odors
I get a lot of questions about removing smells.  The most common questions are “How do I remove the smell of cigarette smoke?” and “My child vomited, how do I get rid of the smell?”  Most bad smells in cars are organic (i.e., food, urine, vomit, tobacco, grass, mold, mildew, etc.).  I recently had a professional detailer tell me a client had spilled fish in his car, which I know from experience is not pleasant.  As a teen I hid an open can of sardines under the seat of a neighbor’s car.  They had to sell the car to get rid of the smell!

Smell problems are pretty easy to take care of with some of the new cleaners on the market.  My favorite is called “Kids & Pets Brand Stain & Odor Remover,” by Paramount Chemical Specialties (  This cleaner, and others like it, use enzymes, a surfactant, and denatured alcohol to remove stains and kill odors.  The enzymes kill odors in their tracks by stopping the organic material from decomposing.  So, spray this stuff where your girlfriend just heaved her guts all over the front seat, and the mess and stain are gone.  Don’t use it, and you’ll be smelling that night for a long time.  Other products that also work okay for dealing with organic smells and stains include Febreze (Proter & Gamble) and FreshCare (Clorox).

Tobacco smoke is one of the most difficult smells to remove from a car.  The smoke permeates everything, including the foam rubber used in seat cushions.  You can successfully remove most of the tobacco smell by shampooing the carpets and upholstery with Kids & Pets Brand Stain & Odor Remover, and wiping down all other surfaces with a sponge and Kids & Pets Brand Stain & Odor Remover.  After the carpet has dried for 24 hours, sprinkle baking soda on the carpet, rub it in with your hands, and leave it for a week.  After a week, vacuum your carpets.  The baking soda will absorb the remaining odor in the carpet.  Don’t forget to scrub the headliner, as this is the source of a lot of the smell.

by David W. Bynon Copyright (c), 2000, Autopia Car Care — All Rights Reserved