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It takes surprisingly little for mold to gain a foothold in your vehicle’s interior, especially during times where you are not driving as much as usual. Spores drift in the air throughout the year, settling here and there just waiting for the right conditions to germinate. A spill, a window left down during a surprise rain shower, or even a humid day can introduce enough moisture to the interior to encourage germination and fast growth.
There are hundreds of different species, some toxic to humans and others harmless. Yet, all can cause damage to your vehicle and can be unpleasant, and it can be difficult to tell one type from another accurately. So if you find mold growing in your car’s interior, it is best to assume it is a harmful type and eradicate it as quickly as possible while taking proper precautions to protect yourself throughout the process.
Don’t skip the prep work!
It can be tempting to jump right in and start cleaning the moment you open the door to find a musty odor or see visible clumps of mold growing in places. However, taking the time to prepare the vehicle properly and you for the task at hand will go a long way toward protecting your health, ensuring you can kill the mold without damaging your car interior, and helping prevent regrowth down the road.
If at all possible, use the elements to your advantage. A sunny day with low humidity is ideal for this process. Mold thrives in damp, dark places. Arid conditions and direct sunlight can assist you in killing mold colonies. However, if this is not possible, an open area outside on a day where it is not misting, rainy, or overly humid will work.
You will want to take your vehicle outside somewhere in the open. Direct sunlight is preferable, but if that is not obtainable, a place where it can be fully aired out will suffice. Do not just settle for opening the windows. Open all of the doors, and if it is a hatchback, open that as well. Allow the vehicle to air out like this for a minimum of fifteen to twenty minutes while you gather your supplies and protective equipment.
Not only will this allow for the stench mold can generate to dissipate, but air flowing through your vehicle will help clear the interior of potentially toxic spores. This will further protect you during the cleaning process as well as aid in preventing a “relapse” after the cleaning is completed.
At a minimum, you need a particle mask, safety goggles, gloves, and shoe covers. Preferably, they should be disposable to reduce your chances of accidentally contaminating other areas. If you go this route, make sure to either wear clothes so old and worn you need to throw them out afterward or immediately wash them with hot water and vinegar and bathe once the cleaning is complete to kill any spores clung to you or your clothing. Otherwise, invest in disposable coveralls as well.
In short, protective clothing should cover as much of you and anyone helping you as possible. Plus, it would help if you similarly thought of spores as you would airborne bacteria, taking preventative measures to keep them from settling in your home.
Once all of this is done, the last step in preparing your car is to do a clean and check. Dropped items, bits of debris, papers, books, and clothing can provide places where mold can take root and grow. If you have anything lying around in your vehicle, remove it now. Check for contamination of the items themselves and inspect around where they were.
Even if any of the items look clean, make sure to set them in direct sunlight for a few hours before attempting to clean them, take them inside, or return them to your car to kill any spores. Damaged items may be better off tossed unless they can withstand a similar cleaning process.
As you do this, go through your car, paying close attention to all of the nooks and crannies. Check under seats, underneath the dashboard, on the undersides of seat belts, in crevices, throughout the floorboard, under the mats, in the vents. Please make a note of any places you have found mold and how far it has spread. You will want to focus your cleaning in these places, but at least a cursory cleaning of your entire interior is recommended to clear out lingering spores to prevent a future recurrence.
Start by first clearing away as much of the visible mold as possible. You will need a relatively gentle brush and a shop vacuum for this step. An old toothbrush or something similar is ideal as it can help clear the mold’s clumps without stirring up too many spores if used with a light hand.
Use the brush to gently loosen the mold from whatever surface it is growing on with short, light strokes to avoid stirring up more particles and spores than necessary. Use the shop vacuum to clear them away, repeating the process until as much of the visible mold has been removed.
Throw away the old brush and clean the vacuum upon completing the entire cleaning process.
Kill and remove what is left behind
There is a fair chance you will not be able to remove all of the molds using the method above, and even if it appears that you have, this next step is still highly recommended. Even if all the mold has been removed, if any of its shallow roots or the protective membrane surrounding them remains, it can grow back. Therefore, to make sure the inside of your vehicle stays clean, it is necessary to scrub down the inside of your car with a solution designed to destroy these “leftover” bits and spores that were missed.
There are a few different solutions you can use to complete this step. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, so let’s look at those and the method of using each.
Distilled White Vinegar
Perhaps one of the best known and effective methods of killing mold is a simple solution of distilled white vinegar and water mixed in a 4:1 ratio. This acidic solution breaks through the mold’s protective membrane and disrupts the roots, killing them and any spores left behind. Plus, it is effective when used on a variety of surfaces, from leather to cloth with a low chance of bleaching or discoloration. However, spot testing is still recommended.
While you can spot clean, a thorough cleaning throughout the interior of your car is recommended. This will be true for all three methods listed. However, if you decide to spot clean, make sure your “spot” extends at least two feet away from the visible mold on each side.
Spray the solution onto the affected area and allow it to soak in for fifteen to twenty minutes. Vacuum up any newly loosened pieces of mold, and allow the car to remain sitting in direct sun with the doors open until dry.
The most likely culprits will be the soft surfaces in your vehicle if you find the smell of the vinegar lingers. Neutralize any remaining vinegar and its odors by sprinkling those soft surfaces with baking soda. Allow it to sit for a half-hour before vacuuming away.
This essential oil has been making waves for the last several years as a natural and eco-friendly antimicrobial agent. Some may recognize it as a significant component of the favorite “Thieves” essential oil blend purported to have protected ancient grave robbers from the diseases stirred up in their occupation. Whether or not such was the case in eons past, clove oil has proven to be a powerful means of killing microbes, including mold and its spores.
That being said, cloves are not particularly oily seeds, and like other “dry” sources of essential oils, the oil extracted is on the pricey side. Additionally, clove oil works utilizing its volatility. Because of this, it can be irritating to the skin and respiratory tract of some individuals. Therefore, unless you use clove oil regularly and know you and your family will tolerate it well, this particular method is one to use with caution.
To clean the hard surfaces in your vehicle, create a paste with a few drops of clove oil, baking soda, and vinegar. Use an old toothbrush or other soft-bristled brush you are preparing to throw out, to work the paste into the surface using a circular motion, making sure to get into the tight corners as well. Allow it to dry and wipe away.
Soft surfaces need a different solution. For these areas, create a solution using a gallon of water, a tablespoon of baking soda, half a cup of vinegar, and a couple of droppers full of clove oil. Mix it well before pouring into a spray bottle, and spray the soft surfaces in your car liberally. Allow it to dry for a half-hour, or as long as possible, before vacuuming out your car again.
Really, the longer you can allow this solution to dry before vacuuming, the better it works.
What is the easiest way to poison a species that thrives in damp, freshwater conditions? You surround them with saltwater. Mold is no exception to this rule. Surrounding it with an overload of salt will dehydrate the mold, killing it without the need for harsh chemicals.
However, it should be noted that this method works well on soft surfaces such as car seats, safety belts, and carpeting, but it is not particularly effective on hard surfaces. If you decide to use this method of the soft surfaces in your vehicle, we would recommend using one of the other two methods for the hard surfaces for the best and most lasting results.
This method is one of the simplest ones. You will need a bucket of water, a spray bottle, a box of non-iodized salt, a soft-bristled brush, and your vacuum.
Dissolve the salt in the bucket of water and pour the solution into the spray bottle. Spray the soft surfaces in your car’s interior and allow it to dry. Ideally, the salt will crust up over the surface. Use the brush to break up this crust and vacuum away.