Cars develop a personality with age. The early model Aston Martin DB9 and Vantages are reaching 10-15 years old now. For many the new car smell has begun to fade away. A ‘fresh’ DB9 is a terrific smell of leather. But what happens to the smell with age? Humans get into the space and mess it up. Masking the odor with air fresheners is a shame and compounds one problem with another. I learned how to get rid of the actual issue, and will share that with you here.
Organic materials get into the car. Leaves, dirt and gribbly bits make their way in on you shoes. Worse yet are all the unmentionable bits that humans leave:
- Finger prints and oils
Gross to mention, but the truth is ugly sometimes.
Organic materials break down and give off smells as they do. They distract from the smells we do enjoy.
Deep Clean the Car Interior
The first step in properly freshening the car is giving it a thorough cleaning. I won’t go over all the steps here in my usual in depth coverage, but essentially doing what a good detailer would do:
- Deep vacuum the carpets.
- Clean all the interior glass. All of it, front windshield, doors, side windows, rear window.
- Wipe down all the hard interior surfaces with a damp micro fiber to remove the dust, spittle, etc. Door panels, dash panels, etc. Crawl into the back seats and tackle those too.
- Use a mild leather cleaner/conditioner and wipe down all of the smooth leather surfaces.
Doing this level of deep cleaning will take 1-2 hours on a weekend, but a labor of love once every blue moon.
After doing that the car will feel fresher, but there are still surfaces you can’t really clean. The Alcantara Suede headliner for one. Getting to all the carpet is tough. And what about the internals of the vent system. The cure for these comes next….
Ozone to the Rescue
Ozone is the magic cure used by car dealer and detailers. An Ozone generator can be used to fill the cars interior space with Ozone overnight. The Ozone will chemically react with the unwanted (smelly) organic materials and neutralize them. Permanently.
Yes, this is the same Ozone that’s bad for the world in general, but you’re going to use it for good. Ozone is O^3 chemically, three oxygen molecules bonded together rather than two. As such, the extra Oxygen molecule is looking for something to bond to, and it will seek out and connect with the odors, oxidizing it. I’m not chemist, but that’s my simple understanding of how this works, and permanently resolves the issue. You can learn more about Ozone over on Wikipedia.
You need an ozone generator. Yes, they make these. My professional Aston detailer Daryl Williams of Lions Mobile Detailing (a rock star amongst detailers, he is the official Bugatti detailer in the USA) pointed me at the one he uses. The Odor Free Autel 1000.
This little magic box plugs into power and has a built in timer. You can use it in all of your cars, your friends cars, you home, etc.
You can source one of these online from Odor Free directly for $349 USD.
Although I haven’t tried it, most any ozone generator should be OK for this task. A look over Amazon.com finds this similar one from Odor Stop for about $100 USD on Amazon.com.
Once you have the machine you can help out those around you. If you have a few Cars & Coffee friends, you can all chip in and get an ozone machine to share.
Warning – Ozone is bad, bad, bad for your health. If you use it in your car (home, etc) you must follow the instructions and let the space vent out after using it. Just open the doors and windows and let the air in. Simple enough. Just don’t sit in the car with the device on – you’ll die.
An extension cord to power the ozone generator will be needed.
You might want a micro fiber towels to put under the ozone machine to protect the interior.
This is a run overnight kinda thing. It takes about 5 minutes to setup the system, and then you leave it overnight.
- FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS OF THE OZONE MACHINE. READ THEM!
- Fully open all the dash vents
- If you have extra floor mats in the car, you need to lift those up and maybe balance them on their sides in the footwell so both the floor mats and the carpet underneath are fully exposed.
- Place a microfiber on the passenger seat area
- Place the ozone machine ontop of the microfiber in the passenger seat, with it aimed to blow the ozone into the passenger footwell area.
- This is where the air inlet for the climate control system is.
- Plug the ozone machine into the extension cord and run the cord carefully out the door. A thinner cord is better, you will need to close the door over the cord.
- Open your Garage door if you are working inside a garage.
- Get in and start the car.
- Turn the climate control to Maximum fan speed on a mix of face and feet. Turn on recirculate. This will be moving the most air and ozone mix possible through the vent system.
- Set the ozone machine to maximum strength using the knob on the front.
- Turn on the Ozone machine using the timer. I set mine to run for 12 hours.
- The longer it runs, the more ozone it generates, the more smells it kills.
- Get out of the car and close both doors.
- Let the car idle for about 30 minutes, allowing the cars climate control system to circulate ozone into the vents.
- After 30 minutes, open the passenger and drivers doors (hold your breath if you are one for the dramatic) and reach in and turn off the car.
- Honestly its won’t kill you on contact, you just don’t want to be locked in a room with only Ozone. Remember, you are organic material, and its an oxidizer.
- Move the microfiber towel to the center armrest area.
- Relocate the ozone machine from the seat area to sit cross ways on the center console area (check out the video to see what I mean).
- With the car off, close both doors and leave the ozone machine running now until morning. The ozone machine will turn off based on its timer.
- In the morning, open both car doors fully and let sit for another 30-60 minutes to vent. Open your garage doors too if you are doing it in a garage. This will allow plenty of fresh air into the cabin.
- Remove the ozone machine.
You’re done! You will smell some residual ozone for a few days, but this is normal. Go for a brisk drive with the windows open and the fan blowing on full. Over the next few days the smell will dissipate to completely neutral. After a few weeks the only smell present again should be leather.
This worked like a charm on my DB9, and my daughters 2000 Beetle Turbo, and my son’s 2005 Mini Cooper S.
If you’d like to see how I did it and what the setup looks like, here is a short video on the process.