Dear Tom and Ray:
When my daughter arrived home from college, she came home with a terrible odor in her car. She said that the week before school was out, she went to class and when she came out and got into her car, she smelled a terrible odor. It was a 90-degree day. We have cleaned out the car, taken it to our mechanic, who has pretty much taken out everything he could to check out the car. We've tried everything from baking soda, Oust and Febreze to Oxium, but the car still stinks. There is really no other description to describe the smell except to say that it smells like vomit. She said the car was locked when she went to class, no one was in her car, and she didn't spill any food or drinks in the car. Any suggestions? We are desperate! -- Linda
TOM: I think three of her sorority sisters barfed in it after a long night of post-final-exam partying, Linda.
RAY: Actually, it sounds like mold. That's exactly how it presents. First water gets into the car. It could be from a window left open, a leak in a windshield, door or sunroof, or from a plugged-up air-conditioner drain. And once water gets into the carpet, mold spores start to grow.
TOM: Having the car closed up in the heat creates a perfect breeding environment for the mold. And pretty soon, the spores are multiplying like Osmonds. And then one day, they reach a critical mass, and you open the door and you're bowled over. The smell is suddenly unbelievably awful.
RAY: And almost nothing can cover it up. I once tried three bottles of English Leather cologne. And that worked for about a week, until the mold smell came piercing through again.
TOM: If you want to try to attack it yourself, pull the carpet out, including the pad underneath, and put it all out in the sun. Vacuum both sides as best you can, and then toss out the vacuum bag.
RAY: Then turn the carpet over, and spray the back side of it with bleach, or some other fungicide specifically made to kill mold spores. Then let it sit in the sun as long as you can. Days would be good. And you might want to use the fungicide spray several times while it bakes.
TOM: And while you're doing that, be sure to find the source of the water that got into the carpet. If your daughter can't remember leaving a window open one day (ask her to think hard), there's a leak somewhere else. And your mechanic needs to find it and fix it so you don't start another mold crop all over again.