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Vinegar Smell in Car? 10 Reasons + How To Fix It!

Vinegar Smell in Car? 10 Reasons + How To Fix It!

Whenever we smell something acidic, we think it smells like vinegar. Most of the time, it’s not actually vinegar, though.

Vinegar is one of the most common acids we encounter throughout our daily lives. Because of this, we tend to associate anything acidic with its smell!

If you’ve been smelling vinegar in your car, it’s probably because of something acidic. There are a lot of things that could cause that smell, though. Figuring out the cause will help you get rid of it.

10 Reasons Why Your Car Smells Like Vinegar

Cars shouldn’t smell like they’ve got vinegar in them. But, there are a lot of people who sweat they smell it in theirs.

Here are a couple of things that could be causing that smell!

1. You’ve Left Old Gym Clothes in the Car

Do you like going to the gym a lot? If so, you might’ve left some of your old clothes in the car. Whenever you’ve done that, they’ll start to smell a lot. You may not smell them right away, but they’ll start smelling stronger over time.

Old, sweaty clothes tend to smell a lot like vinegar, too. We’d suggest looking in the trunk to see if there are any clothes back there. If so, you’ve probably found your culprit.

2. There’s Old Food Left in the Car

Food can also smell a lot like vinegar once it begins decomposing. That’s because bacteria and fungi begin to grow on it. These release a lot of acidic compounds, creating a vinegar-like smell.

Look around your floorboards to see if there’s any old food down there. Don’t forget to check underneath your seats, too. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll find what you’re looking for there.

3. You Left the Windows Down While it Was Raining

Has it been raining in your area, recently? If so, you could’ve left the windows down during the storm without realizing it. If that happens, then you’d end up with a lot of water in the car.

Letting water soak into your seats creates the perfect environment for molds to grow. Usually, molds have a sort of acidic smell as well. As such, it might start smelling like vinegar has been spilled in your car.

4. You Spilled Water on the Floor

Even spilling a little water on the floor of your car could cause that smell. Just a little water won’t do much, usually. But, if you’ve spilled a whole bottle, molds might start growing.

Both molds and mildews tend to have very strong smells. You might not realize it at first. But, once they’ve been growing for a while, you’ll notice the smell every time you get in. Cars don’t get a lot of fresh air in them, either. So, the smells tend to get stronger over time.

5. There’s a Lot of Condensation in the Car

Another way water could be seeping into your car is through condensation. You don’t even have to use the air conditioner for condensation to become a problem. If it’s been cold lately, your car’s interior could attract condensation.

Then, as more condensation collects, everything gets wet. Without cleaning out the water, things could start to grow inside of your car. You’ll notice the scent of their byproducts most of the time.

6. Mold Is Growing in the Air Conditioning Unit

Molds and mildews are some of the most common things that cause vinegar-like smells. Let’s say you’ve searched inside of your car, thoroughly. But, you’ve never seen anything that looks like a mold. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any in there, though.

Molds could start growing inside of your air conditioning unit, too. They’ll grow pretty much anywhere that’s got lots of moisture. Pop open your hood and check out the air conditioning lines. If you spot any mold, that’s what’s causing the smell.

7. You’ve Got a Leaky Battery

Like we’ve mentioned, vinegar smells usually indicate there’s something acidic in the car. One of the most acidic things in your car would be its battery. Sometimes, these may start leaking. And, battery acid is relatively volatile.

Since it’s acidic and volatile, you’ll smell battery acidic pretty quickly. You don’t even need to have a lot to start noticing the smell. Take a look at your car’s battery to see if there’s anything leaking from it. If so, you’ll need to get a replacement.

8. There’s a Gas Leak

Hopefully, you’re not smelling a gas leak. However, from time to time, vehicles may develop holes somewhere in their fuel lines. Even a small hole can let out more gas than you’d think. And, gas has a very strong smell.

Most of the time, you won’t mistake it for vinegar, though. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, plenty of people discover they’ve got leaky fuel lines because of this smell. You could try getting a mechanic to take a look. They’ll be able to figure out if there’s a leak in your fuel lines rather fast.

9. You’re Air Filters Are Old

Air filters are an important component of any vehicle’s air conditioning system. Over time, they’ll get old, and they might start to smell. Then, you’ll notice the scent whenever the vents are blowing.

Usually, you can look at the air filter to see if something is wrong. A clean air filter won’t look like it’s got anything on it. But, if it doesn’t look spotless, it might be time for a replacement. Smell the air filter up close. If it’s got a strong scent, then you’ve probably isolated the problem.

10. You Left Groceries in the Trunk

Finally, you might’ve left groceries in the trunk of your car. Spoiled milk and rotten meat both have very strong acidic scents. They’ll penetrate through the car’s trunk and into its cabin within no time.

Pop open the trunk of your car to see if the smell gets any stronger. If so, then whatever is causing it should be in there. Guided by your nose, look around to see if you can spot the source. The closer you get to it, the stronger the smell should be.

Ways to Get Vinegar Smell Out

Getting rid of a vinegar-like smell isn’t all that tough, usually. First, you’ve got to identify its source. Then, you should be able to clean it up.

Use our list to see if you can find whatever is causing the smell. Once you’ve found it, get rid of it. If it’s a mold or mildew, use something to kill it.

If it’s old clothes, then just get rid of them! Or, if it’s old food, then throw it out!

Even after you’ve gotten rid of the smell’s source, you might still smell something. Totally cleaning out the smell takes a little time. You can do a few things to speed up this process, though.

We’d suggest grabbing a box of baking soda to get started. Then, sprinkle a little bit of it all around the car’s interior. Make sure you’ve got some of it on the upholstery and the floorboards. After you’ve done that, put a little baking soda in the car’s trunk as well.

To really kill the smell, you could try leaving a few boxes of baking soda inside of the car. Open them up and place them in a few different spots. Usually, you can put one upfront and another in the back. Remember to place one of them in the trunk, too.

Baking soda is great at absorbing foul odors. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. You should notice the scent dissipating after a few hours. But, it could take up to a week for it to totally disappear.

Using air fresheners could help in the meantime. Trying to drive around with a vinegar smell isn’t much fun. But, a few air fresheners could cover up the smell while you’re driving. Also, roll down the windows whenever you’re going somewhere.

Fresh air tends to help get rid of the smell, too. Going for a long drive with the windows down could help out a lot.

If you’re really desperate, you could even try cleaning out the car using bleach. Be careful, though. Bleach can evaporate into a harmful gas. It might be better if you got a professional to help you out with this.

Taking your car to a detailer might be the simplest option.

They’ve got a lot of experience removing foul odors from vehicles. So, they’ll know what to do if there’s a vinegar smell in yours.

Is the Vinegar Smell Dangerous?

If you’ve been smelling vinegar in your car, you might wonder whether it’s dangerous? Fortunately, vinegar odors don’t impact your health, usually. They’re mostly just an annoyance.

However, if the smell is from battery acid or gas, then it might be dangerous. You definitely want to identify its source to make sure it’s safe.

Getting Rid of Your Car’s Vinegar Smell for Good

Cleaning out a vinegar smell isn’t as hard as you might think. First, you’ve got to figure out what’s causing it. Then, once you’ve found your culprit, you’ll be able to devise a plan.

Most of the time, just putting a little baking soda in the car should do the trick. However, in some cases, you might want to hire a professional cleaning service.

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Zach Reed

Hi, I'm the founder of! Having owned a wide variety of vehicles in my life, I was astounded at how hard it can be to find answers to common automotive questions. Rather than sit idly, I decided to create this website to help others!