How to Remove Dog Stains and Smells From Your Car


Photo via orvis.com

There are three easy ways to remove dog stains and smells from your car, using supplies you probably already have in your home: baking soda, mild soap and water, or vinegar and water. Read on to learn how to keep a clean and sweet-smelling car, even with ‘dog’ as your constant copilot.

How to Remove Dog Odors From Your Car

Baking Soda

In the battle against car odors, baking soda is a cheap and effective ally. Depending upon the intensity of the smell, you’ll enlist this natural deodorizer in different ways.

For mild odors, simply set a rimmed plate or baking sheet filled with baking soda in your car overnight. Baking soda is made up of tiny crystals that attract microscopic molecules floating around the car, including the smelly ones your dog leaves behind. A rimmed plate is preferable to a bowl or open box of baking soda because it exposes more of the absorbent powder to the air. In the morning, simply dump the baking powder. Your nose will determine whether you need to repeat for several nights.

For stronger odors, create a paste by mixing baking soda with water and using it to clean the areas of the car where the smell is most intense—probably wherever your dog sits to take in the passing scenery. Rub the paste into the seat upholstery, let it dry completely, and then vacuum the area thoroughly. You can also use this method on the floor mats, though they’ll need a thorough washing to remove all of the dried powder that will cake in between the rug fibers.

Mild Soap and Water

Dip a large cloth into dish soap or other mild soap and water, ring it out, and rub down the area of the car where your dog sits. This will clean dirt, snack crumbs, and drool she’s left behind and remove the musty odors these organic substances can create.

Vinegar and Water

Like baking soda, vinegar neutralizes odors naturally. Dilute the vinegar (one part vinegar to two parts water) so its acidity won’t damage the upholstery, and use it to wipe down the car seats. Alternatively, you can fill a spray bottle with this solution and spritz the car upholstery and rugs. Let the solution dry and repeat until the smell is gone.

How to Remove Dog Stains From Your Car

All of the Above, Plus Elbow Grease

Baking soda paste. Vinegar and water. Mild soap and water. The ingredients that work on smells also remove dog stains, though you may have to work a bit harder. Cover the stained area of upholstery with the cleaning solution and rub with a towel until clean. For tougher stains, enlist the help of a hard bristle brush. Repeat as needed if remnants of the stain remain after the area dries.

Bio-Enzymatic Cleaners

Pet-safe enzyme cleaners work on dog stains and odors. These non-toxic solutions contain enzymes and bacteria, similar to the bacteria found in yogurt. When sprayed on stains—pet urine, drool spots, mud, or dog treats smooshed underpaw—the bacteria start ‘eating’ the organic material. Once the food is gone, the stain and smell are usually gone, too.

Erasing Pet Waste Stains

Enzyme cleaners are great for other doggy messes, too—like getting dog poop stains out of car seats and carpets. Clean up accidents right away, remove any solid waste, follow the directions on the cleaner’s label regarding soaking or scrubbing, and then blot away the mess. For ground-in or set stains, you may need to enlist a carpet cleaning machine to do the heavy lifting, and follow up with an enzyme cleaner. If there is any leftover odor after using an enzymatic cleaner, use a baking soda paste or vinegar mixture to tackle it.

Cleaning and Deodorizing Leather Car Seats

If you’ve spent extra for a leather interior, it’s wise to use another car for travels with your dog, or install a dog car seat protector. If cleanup is ever needed, use mild dish soap or castile soap diluted with water, or a special leather cleaner, to prevent damage. Additionally, dampen the leather only slightly when cleaning, and dry it completely after cleaning and deodorizing.

How to Remove Dog Saliva Stains From Car Leather

Drool: It’s a fact of life with dogs. Wipe up any stray slobber right away with leather wipes or a damp cloth to prevent staining. Removing dog saliva stains from your leather interior requires the same cleaning supplies: vinegar, mild soap, baking soda, and water, or a dedicated leather cleaner. Use cool water—not warm or hot—to prevent setting the stain.

After you’ve dabbed and blotted the stain away using your cleaning mixture, treat the seats with a conditioner to restore the leather’s luster.

How to Prevent Dog Odors and Stains in Your Car

Use a Dog Car Seat Protector

A car seat protector acts as a shield between your dog and your car’s interior. All the grunge, grime, and goop she brings into the car get trapped on the seat protector, leaving your car seats splatter-free. Then, when smells and stains build up, you can simply wash the seat protector.

The type of car seat protector you need depends on where your dog relaxes during rides—whether that’s secured with a dog harness or in a travel dog crate. There are specialized, water-resistant car seat covers for the front passenger seat, the back seat, and for the cargo area of an SUV. Hammock-style covers protect the entire back seat area, including the floors and the back of the driver and passenger seats.

You can reduce the mess by having your dog ride along in a crate or seat belt harness—some states even require you to restrain your dog in the car. Keeping your dog restrained not only keeps her safe, but also limits the mess to a designated area. Climb in, clip, and go—and enjoy the ride knowing your dog is safe and mud is contained.

Clean Your Car Seats After Every Ride

Spot check your car upholstery or seat protector after every ride. If you notice dirt, an abundance of dog fur, drool spots, or dog treat crumbs, give the area a quick wipe down. This will prevent the buildup of unpleasant smells and odors.

Keep a Cleaning Kit in the Car

If you routinely go hunting or hiking with your dog, it’s smart to keep a cleaning kit in your car at all times. A caddy containing a spray bottle filled with water, a few towels, and a small brush will do the trick for small, post-adventure cleanups.

Wipe off Your Dog

Keep water and mud outside of the car by giving your dog a quick wipe down after your adventures—especially those in the rain, snow, or mud—or opt for a portable dog wash or shower; keep clean, dry, washable, and water-absorbent towels in the car for this purpose.

Crack the Windows

With fresh air flowing through the car, mild odors won’t stay trapped and set in over time. If it isn’t freezing cold, open the front and rear windows of your car to usher out the stink.

How to Wash a Dog Car Seat Cover

Brush off crumbs and dirt after every ride and spot clean minor stains, mud prints, and drool. If there’s a wet spot after cleaning and it’s a warm day, leave the car doors open to help it dry quickly.

When dirt and odors build up, it’s time to toss the cover into the wash. Take the car seat protector out of the car and remove large pieces of dirt and grime. Wash in cool water on a gentle cycle and dry on a low heat setting. After you remove the seat cover from the dryer, reshape and reinstall it in your car.

Leather vs. Upholstery Car Seats

Whether leather or upholstery is a better choice for dog owners depends on how often your dog travels with you—and what you do at your destination. Mud- and water-loving canines are likely to haul in dirt and debris after a dip, no matter how much you’ve rinsed and toweled post-adventure. Even if your trip isn’t a soggy one, dog hair, nails, and drool are concerns.

Leather can be a great option for dog owners. It doesn’t absorb odors, stains, or hold dirt and hair as other types of upholstery can. It’s easier to wipe away grime from leather with a damp cloth and mild soap. While damage is possible, because seat leather is made more durable than jacket leather, many dog owners prefer it. Containing your canine during the drive or using seat protectors and keeping your dog’s nails trimmed can save your interior from scratching, punctures, and tearing. Give it a quick wipe between rides and a more thorough cleaning when necessary using mild dish soap or leather cleaner.

Cloth upholstered car seats are often less expensive than the leather upgrade, so if you’re worried about damaging a leather interior, cloth may be the better option. But cloth upholstery can soak up odors, and dog hair can weave itself into the material and refuse to let go. While it’s less likely to scratch or scuff than leather, cloth is still vulnerable to damage or puncturing from dog nails. Vacuuming, spot cleaning with vinegar or mild soap, and odor-absorbing treatments can keep your cloth car interior looking and smelling fresh. Using car seat protectors can keep the worst of the stains on the cover and off the seats.

There are few downsides to driving with your furry bestie, but tops among them are dog stains and smells in your car. Prevent the stains and odors when you can, clean up the occasional mishap quickly, and you’ll keep your car free of unpleasant whiffs and blotches. Reminders of your adventures will stay where they belong—on your phone and social media posts—and not on your car upholstery.

One thought on “How to Remove Dog Stains and Smells From Your Car”

  1. My hammock-style rear seat protector was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Zeppelin’s favorite thing in the world (second to dinner, of course) is riding in the truck. Having him along makes it fun for both of us and my leather seats have survived 250K miles, unmarked. Win-win.

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