How to Remove and Prevent Mold From Growing in Your Vehicle’s Carpet, Seats, and Door Panels
Whether you keep a tidy vehicle or not, mold is a persistent threat. Owners must be vigilant in the upkeep of their vehicles, in order to avoid what could become a costly issue, both financially and health-wise. The key is prevention—a routine defense strategy—but if mold is already present, salvageable remediation may still be possible.
The first step to all-around fabric and fiber mold prevention is to keep a clean car interior. Avoiding bad habits, such as eating in the car or using it as a mobile storage or trash receptacle, is the best line of defense. Cleaning the vehicle inside-and-out regularly—perhaps at the end of each work week—is the second best defensive move against mold.
With a routinely tidied car, the possibility of moisture build-up can be addressed next. Even if moisture is not detected, the owner should concede to regularly practicing the following routine(s):
- Sprinkle baking soda on all carpeted or upholstered areas, such as the floors and seats.
- Let the baking soda sit for 2 or more hours—for maximum absorption of moisture and smell.
- Vacuum up the baking soda.
- Repeat at least once a month for low-risk moisture situations and once a week for high-risk moisture situations.
- Fill a small, natural-fiber bag or sock with rice.
- If there exists a severe moisture concern, then fill more than one rice bag.
- Place the rice bag(s) in the door panel(s) of the vehicle, or lay it beneath the front seats if the car has no door panel pockets.
- Discard and replace it once or twice a year for low-risk moisture situations and once every one to three months for high-risk moisture situations.
Baking soda and rice are naturally absorbent when it comes to moisture, and baking soda acts as a smell neutralizer. These drying techniques should be used together, as both a preventative measure against mold-encouraging moisture and as a means to control moisture after mold remediation.
Vehicle mold remediation begins with detection. The earliest signs of a possible mold infiltration involve the presence of excessive moisture. The three main moisture sources are: 1. Beverage spills, 2. Snow, rain, slush, or mud stampings from shoes, 3. Issues with weather stripping—the rubber lining on the doors and windows, which can often be made brittle and useless by harsh soaps, road salt, or long-term exposure to the sun. Excessive moisture issues will be apparent by the feeling of dampness in the carpet or seats or by the formation of window fog or condensation after a rain or an exterior washing.
If there is any indication of moisture, then mold is now attempting to take root and grow—if it hasn’t already. Action must be taken immediately. Use the baking soda and rice bag technique right away; but if the moisture issue is well-beyond dampness and condensation, then purchase, rent, or borrow a carpet cleaner/steam cleaner (with a hose) or a “wet vac” and remove the majority of the moisture as quickly as possible.
It is also possible to use a small dehumidifier—as a final step of moisture control—in the car if you have a garage. Set the dehumidifier evenly on the floor in the front or back seat, crack a window just enough for the cord to run through it and plug into a wall outlet in the garage. The run-time depends on the starting moisture status, but be sure to drain or dump out the water that accumulates in the dehumidifier’s catch-container every hour or so.
Once the spill or detectable moisture has been removed, consider the following methods for cleansing away mold growth and spores:
- Use only the soap suds—to avoid adding moisture back into the vehicle.
- Fill a bowl with hot water and plenty of dish soap. Mix fast and well, then scoop up the soap suds that rise to the top and place them in a new, separate bowl. (Repeat this process until you have enough suds to cover the affected area.)
- Use the soap suds to scrub the carpet and upholstery—wherever there is fabric or fibers, mold can sprout up.
- Use a dry towel afterward and scrub the carpet and upholstery again. (If the towel becomes damp, get a fresh, dry towel and do it again.)
- Warning: hydrogen peroxide is known to lift the color out of medium-to-dark fabrics and fibers. It can also significantly lighten—in comparison to surrounding regions—areas that have stains or sections that have mold growth.
- Hydrogen peroxide is anti-fungal and safe to use in a confined space, such as a vehicle.
- Pour 3% concentration hydrogen peroxide into a spray bottle. Do not add water.
- Spray the mold-affected area, saturate it well, and let it sit for 10 minutes.
- Scrub the area and really dig into the base of the carpet. (Use a bristle brush, especially for upholstery, then wash and sanitize the brush afterward.)
- Towel-dry the area with a towel you wouldn’t mind possibly being discolored by the hydrogen peroxide.
Baking Soda (as a mold-cleaner)
- Mix ¼ tablespoon baking soda per 8oz. water (double or triple the mix, if needed) in a spray bottle, and shake until the baking soda dissolves.
- Fill another spray bottle with very hot water.
- Spray the mold-affected area with the baking soda mixture and then use a rag, sponge, or bristle brush for scrubbing. (Throw away the cleaning material or tool after using it on mold, unless it can be washed of mold and sanitized.)
- Take time scrubbing and then spray just enough hot water to lightly dampen the same surface (after scrubbing). If necessary, repeat the baking soda wash and hot water rinse.
- Use a clean, dry towel and rub up the excessive moisture, vigorously pressing deep in the carpet. Use more than one towel, if the first becomes overly damp.
- Vinegar is mildly acidic and is known to kill 82% of mold species. (Baking soda can be used with vinegar to kill and remove certain more-stubborn species of mold.)
- Pour distilled white vinegar into a spray bottle. Do not add water.
- Spray the vinegar onto the mold-affected area—saturate well.
- Let sit for 1 hour.
- Dip a clean rag in hot water, squeeze out (but not too much), and scrub the area. Repeat the process until the vinegar smell is still present but not so prevalent.
- If the vinegar smell persists, squeeze a lemon or two onto a rag (or towel, depending on the size of the cleaned area) and place inside a bowel and within the vehicle for a few hours.
(Note: All of these cleaning methods can be used in conjuncture with carpet-cleaning machines, steam-cleaning machines, and “wet vacs.”)
In many cases, moisture and mold growth accumulate and occur so swiftly that the vehicle’s owner has no choice but to have the carpet removed and replaced or have the seats and door panels reupholstered—all of which should be performed by professionals. This is because fabrics and fibers have multiple lengths and levels, which allow for the mold spores to be embedded deep within the upholstery or carpet. It also permits the mold growth to form deep roots.
It may be difficult to know just when it’s time to hand the job over to the experts. Here at MoldBlogger.com, we suggest—for your health and safety—that you consult a mold-remediation professional if you see the following signs:
- Black, brown, green, or gray/white stains that appear to be shaped like “splashes.”
- Recurring mold growth after attempting to remove and clean the area yourself.
- Recurring mold smell after removal and cleaning.
- A general feeling of malaise (lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, headaches, allergy symptoms, throat-tightness, etc.) while in the car and shortly after exiting it.
- Recurring fog or condensation, despite efforts made to rid the vehicle of moisture.
- Severely brittle and flaking weather stripping. (Consult a car-detailing service for this issue.)
After moisture and mold issues are resolved by yourself or a professional, preventative measures should be established as routine. Persist in using the baking soda and rice-bag method to ensure your health and the safety of the vehicle’s interior. In addition, continue to watch out for signs of moisture and mold as the two coinciding concerns are an ever-present threat, especially in warmer, more-humid climates.
For more information regarding mold, mold prevention, and mold solutions, please check out the rest of MoldBlogger.com.
Amanda Mott is the mother and personal chef of two boys, the domestic technician of a three-bedroom town home, and occasionally, a freelance writer and editor. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @TheWifesLife