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How to remove the smell of fish from your car

Updated on May 18, 2013

Ugh, why'd it have to be fish.

I'm not sure if there is any worse smell than that of rotting fish. I can't even say that I'm big on eating fish. But I am sure that I do not like the smell of rotting fish in my car. This lens will detail the method that I used to remove that objectionable scent from my vehicle.

Do not try to "Cover" the smell of rotting fish in your car

Save Time
Save Time

Save Yourself the Time

Don't try to cover the smell

It is incredibly important that you DO NOT try to cover the smell of rotting fish in your car. I speak from experience, please believe me.

(1) Air Fresheners do not work, you will inevitably end up with a Minty or Forresty-fish smell that will destroy your love of any air freshener.

(2) Do not merely spray lemon-scented cleaning product on the smelly-area and hope that by tomorrow it will be gone. If, however you like the smell of lemony rotting fish, then maybe you can live with it. Personally, I don't.

(3) And lastly, although it may seem like a professional car washing company will be able to do a thorough job, there is almost no amount of money (short of selling the car to someone who has no sense of smell) that you can pay someone one to do it this for you. They will turn you away. And if they don't, they won't actually do enough to remove the smell.

In all honesty. There are really two ways to solve this problem (short of the steps below)

(1) Learn to truly love the smell of rotting fish

(2) Avoid ever having fish in your car for any reason

The List
The List

Materials and Preparation

Things you may want to use

When I go to do something that I feel is important, I want to do it correctly the first time. Therefore it is important to me to have the correct information and the best tools for the job (especially if I have to live with the results).

Step 1: Find or purchase the following

-- Baking Soda

-- A Container for water - Consider the job size and the area where you will be working when picking the size of the container

-- Warm water - DO NOT add a solvent or cleaning agent to this water.

-- Rubber Gloves - These will help to keep the smell and fish oil off your hands

-- A rough rag - preferably one that has not seen the oil from the underside of your car.

-- Paper Towels - Depending on the size of the job, you may consider an entire roll

-- Coffee Grounds - Pick your favorite type, or if not a coffee drinker, go with a package that has a flavor that you're familiar with. I don't drink coffee, but I love chocolate and hazelnut.

-- A pie pan or small wide-bottom bowl - I've found that pie pans work best because of the large surface area.

-- Lubricating fluid - Such as WD-40

Step 2: Fill the container about half full of warm water.

Notes: I'm not saying that you can't fill it nearly to the top. It's mostly a suggestion so that you don't spill a large container of hot water on your car and / or self (like I did).


The Cleaning Process

This might be the hardest part

I've found that I am very sensitive to certain smells and getting too close to an offensive one is a challenge.

Step 1: Find Primary the source. Your nose may be offended by the whole car, but you may also be aware of where the fish was sitting. Don the Rubber Gloves and start with that spot.

Step 2: Use the Paper Towels to absorb as much of the remaining fluid, if any as you can before Step 3.

Notes: Be sure that the surface of whatever you are cleaning can be cleaned with water, without ruining it. Clean, clear water is the best type..

Step 3: Use copious amounts of warm water to smother the primary source. Use the rag to mop up the water.

Notes: You may need to do a bit of scrubbing here too. This is a repetitious action of soak, scrub, and smell. Be sure that the rag is well-wrung before mopping again. Paper Towels are another option, but can become a costly endeavor if you're using a new one for each mopping action.

Step 4: Cover the spot with a generous helping of baking soda. Leave the baking soda for about 24 hours.

Notes: This may not always be possible to do, if the spot is not mostly horizontal and flat.

Step 5: Seek out additional spaces where the fluids may have gotten to.

Notes: As the surface of a car is occasionally in motion, the fish fluids could very well have slid around. Use your nose and sniff around for other spots that are offensive. If the smell has gotten down into some mechanical object like seatbelt connection or seat lever, clean with water as best as you can, then spray some WD-40 on the joints to loosen and wash the fish oil out. Sadly, WD-40 will not cover or eliminate the smell (Yeah, I tried that one, too).

WARNING: You will not get rid of the smell by all of the cleaning that you have just done. I'm sorry, I wish the news wasn't so grim. Fortunately, there are still more steps.

Step 6: Pour a generous portion of coffee grounds into the pie pan or bowl so that it completely covers the bottom.

Notes: I recommend a half-full amount if you have enough. Place the grounds on any space that was not a previously cleaned space. Any flat surface will do, preferably one that will not allow the grounds to spill if someone bumps the vehicle or forgets that it's there. DO NOT leave the windows open, the vehicle must be sealed.

Step 7: Leave the coffee grounds in the car for 48 hours.

Notes: I realize that this may not be possible for some who need their vehicle every day. If that is the case, then you will need to continue to place the grounds in the vehicle. It will take twice as long, if you continue to break the seal by using the car.

Tell me about your experiences - I'd love to hear from you

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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Had a whole can of moldy crab meat explode in my car strongest smell. You could smell it 10 feet away from my car. I tried everything. The only thing that is working getting better. I can accually sit in it wothout a sock covering my nose. Baking soda over area every day 12 hours on it repeat until it goes away. On 10th time pour on it soaks it up turns yellow and keep reaping until it doesnt turn yellow and keep doing. In between i put bleach, dish soap and pinesol in hot water poured it over scrubbed the took a hose a hose it out for a,couple minutes. On my 4th time with that 85% gone now.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      This did not work do not try this, my truck smells much worse now

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thank you for the partner left his fish bait in the I'm trying this method out...the coffee smell makes total sense...told him to throw the bait out while we were at the beach grrr...thanks again

    • goldstandard lm profile image

      goldstandard lm 

      5 years ago

      @Hairdresser007: That is what I was thinking! haha

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 

      5 years ago from Diamondhead

      Some very good advice, I once spilled orange juice in my car what a horrible smell after a few days in the sun even after clean-up.

    • wjlambert lm profile imageAUTHOR

      wjlambert lm 

      5 years ago

      @Hairdresser007: Good question. I was helping someone who was down on their luck to move. The person had a box of not so fresh fish that was leaking. I did not realize this until after I finished moving the person's stuff.

    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 

      5 years ago from Burbank, CA

      Um..... why was there rotting fish in your car?

    • Monika Weise profile image

      Monika Weise 

      5 years ago from Indianapolis, IN USA

      I love the subject matter! My Dad could have used this advice. We used to go fishing every summer and the car always smelled like fish.

    • wjlambert lm profile imageAUTHOR

      wjlambert lm 

      5 years ago

      @SusannaDuffy: Excellent! I'm so glad this information is helping someone.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      5 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Brilliant! I tried this and it worked

    • wjlambert lm profile imageAUTHOR

      wjlambert lm 

      5 years ago

      @maryseena: Aye. I'm not a regular fish eater nor do I go fishing. But I am aware that when dealing with fish it is appropriate to clean and seal it quickly after retrieving it from the water. The same goes for most meat and food preparation as well. Nevertheless, I recently had rotting fish in my car and wanted desperately to get rid of it.. Thanks for the insights.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Nothing worse than the smell of rotting fish! To have that smell in a car would be awful. Thanks for the tips on how to remove that smell.

    • maryseena profile image


      5 years ago

      We are regular fish eaters; there are two things we use rather effectively to remove fish smell from our hands after preparing the fish for cooking- lemon (both fruit and leaves, if available) and curry leaves. The latter is available in Asian stores. I don't know how effective they will be on rotten fish particles!


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