How to Clean Mold Out of Car Upholstery

by Jann SealUpdated July 21, 2017

You smell it immediately as you open your car door-- that musty, foul odor caused by mold. When you leave your car closed up in a garage during the hot summer months after rain penetrate its fabric seats -- or after a water bottle tipped over in the back seat without you knowing it -- provide the ideal conditions for mold to grow in your car’s upholstery.

Mildew, a fungi-like mold, also attaches itself to fabric, but only natural fabrics, not man-made. That lemon that rolled out of your grocery bag to find a home under your car seat developed a mildew coating with time, while the carpet beneath the lemon becomes moldy. Both are health hazards that you can eradicate with supplies you may already have at home.

Items you will need

  • Face mask

  • Latex gloves

  • Toothbrush

  • Spray bottle

  • Distilled white vinegar

  • Wet-dry vacuum

  • Borax powder

  • Cotton towel

Preclean Mold

Park the car in a sunny spot and open all the windows and doors to dissipate the odor. Put on the face mask and latex gloves before identifying the mold spots. Rub the bristles of the toothbrush gently over the mold to break it down without spreading mold spores. Vacuum the seats and floors thoroughly to capture the disturbed spores.

Attacking the Mold

Fill the spray bottle with white distilled vinegar and liberally soak the areas of the upholstery and the rug where you removed the mold spores. Spray beyond the mold spots to kill any wandering spores. Let the vinegar soak in for at least 10 minutes.


Vinegar is safe for leather, fabric, vinyl and man-made materials. Recondition leather after cleaning with vinegar to ensure it doesn't dry out.

Vacuum the Solution

Vacuum the vinegar from the seat, the floor and inside all the nooks and crannies around where the mold was found with a wet-dry vacuum. Let it dry for at least 10 minutes.

Team Borax

Sprinkle the borax, a natural fungicide, over the once-infected spots. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then vacuum it up.

Wipe it Away

Dampen the cotton towel and wipe it across the treated area. Leave the car doors and windows open to dissipate any lingering vinegar smell.

Mildew spores are dusty and fluffy, enabling them to travel more swiftly than mold spores. If your infestation smell lingers after the mold clean-up, mildew remediation beyond the car upholstery may be in order.

Items you will need

  • Face mask

  • Latex gloves

  • Cotton swabs

  • Vinegar

  • Air filter

  • Cotton towel

  • Wet Dry vacuum

  • Hair dryer

  • Baking Soda

Deeper Cleaning

Park the car in a sunny spot and open the doors and windows. Wearing the face mask and latex gloves, turn on the air conditioner and let it blast for a few seconds. If the smell intensifies, turn off the air conditioning and change the car's air filter. Use cotton swabs dipped in vinegar to clean the vents.

Mildew Removal

Apply a cotton towel dampened with vinegar to wipe away the dusty mildew. Dry vacuum any remaining spores.

Dry Cleaning

Turn on the hair dryer and face it toward the air-condition vents to dry them more thoroughly.

Air Freshening

Sprinkle baking soda on the upholstery and carpets and leave overnight. Vacuum in the morning until all the baking soda spots are gone.


Good air flow is essential in keeping mold at bay. Run your air conditioner, open the windows, air the car out and check that car mats are clean and dry at all times, especially after a heavy downpour.

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