We have had a lot of calls this summer to assist customers with foul odors in cars. Three of these stand out as great examples of what to do, and what not to do to address smelly cars.
One customer had gone away for a long weekend and didn't realize that a container of yogurt was left in the back seat of the car (don't do this). They returned to a smelly car with yogurt all over the floor. They called us immediately (do this) and we steam cleaned the carpet and surrounding seats to kill any of the odors. We also ran an ozone generator to remove any odors we could not get at with steam cleaning. The smell went away for a short while but came back. We returned again and ran the same process with more steam, more cleaner, and covered a larger area to be sure we didn't miss anything. Again, the smell came back.
Unfortunately the yogurt had seeped thru the carpet into the very thick carpet pad below. We finally had to resort to removing the drivers seat and cutting out the "infected" carpet padding.
The customer did the right thing by calling us immediately once the issue was identified. Chalk this one up to life with kids!
Next, a customer called with the same complaint - my car smells!
This customer had recently taken the car to a detailer to get rid of the odor and thought the smell was back. We went out investigate and this is what we found:
Spilled protein shake...
... mold growing under a floor mat...
... and a protein shake with liquid still in it (don't do this). Yes, I smelled it to see if it was one of the culprits (don't do this). Yes it was. No I do not recommend smelling a protein shake that has been under the seat of your car for who knows how long.
This customer issue can be minimized. Many of us like to take drinks with us when we hit the road. And they are going to spill. But when they do, address it ASAP (do this).
And the final call I would like to highlight is what you should do.
I got a call from someone that spilled their protein shake moments after it happened. He wasn't a regular customer and he was just looking for our advice on that to do (do this).
Our recommendation? Clean up any solids without scrubbing. Soak with hot water and almost any household cleaner, and vacuum up with wet vac.
So whether you call a detailer or do it yourself, the most important thing to do is do it immediately. And most detailers will prioritize a call like this.