Fishy odor in your car? It is more common than you think. Usually, fisherman or seafood lovers deal with this problem most often, but it can happen to anyone. Sometimes, this smell can even make you reluctant to drive. 

Odors from fish and other seafood can be incredibly overwhelming. They may make you nauseous, so of course, you want them gone as soon as possible. 

To remove fishy odors from your car, act quickly. Use a mixture of water and vinegar (one cup of vinegar to every 2 quarts of water). Scrub the mixture into your carpet and let the area dry. If the smell lingers, sprinkle baking soda over the area. 

Why Does My Car Smell Like Fish? 

We have all had this problem at one point or another. You go to get the kids from school and notice a terrible smell in the family car. That fishy odor isn’t going to go away on its own, but how do you deal with it? 

First off, you must find the source. If there is a fishy odor in your car, there might be a few different sources. Get rid of any trash in your car, from fast food wrappers to bags and cups. Go over your seats to make sure there is no food stuck between them. 

If someone has been fishing lately or ordered seafood, that may be the source. Check your carpets for stains that may be causing the odor. Once you have located the source, you can work on cleaning it.

Air Your Car Out

The first method you can try is to air your car out. Roll down all the windows and let the odor drift away with the breeze. Choose a windy day to do this for the best results. 

Alternatively, you can choose to roll all the windows down and drive down the highway. This gets air flowing through your car very quickly. If you need to clear the odor out quickly, this can get the job done. 

Of course, if the fishy odor is in your carpet, this is not going to help much. For a long-term solution, you will have to clean the source of the smell.

Scrub with Soapy Water

Soapy water may be able to take out some less intense fishy odors. Once you have identified the source of the smell, you can get to work. You will want to clean it up as soon as possible, so don’t put it off. 

You will need some dish soap and warm water. Mix the dish soap into the warm water until it starts to create suds. Then take an old rag or a gentle brush and soak it in the water and soap mixture. Scrub at the stain in your carpet firmly but gently.

You do not want to use a brush with harder bristles or scrub too hard. This can damage your carpet and make it obvious that there was a stain. Instead, use gentler motions with softer bristles to get the soap down into your carpet. 

When you are done scrubbing, use a towel to absorb as much water as you can from the spot. If you have access to a vacuum that can handle water, you can use it here. Do this as many times as possible to get the smell out. 

Vinegar and Baking Soda Method

The vinegar and baking soda method is one of the cheapest and most efficient ways to remove fishy odors. To start with this method, you’ll need:

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • A bucket of warm water
  • An old rag
  • A soft-bristled brush
  • An old towel

To remove fishy odors using these tools, take the following steps. 

1.Mix Water and Vinegar

First, mix the water and vinegar. For every two quarts of water, add a cup of vinegar. Make sure that you’re keeping the area well-ventilated. Vinegar has a strong smell sometimes, so it’s important to breathe easier. 

Putting up with the strong smell is worth it. Vinegar has strong odor absorbing and eliminating properties. Vinegar can help you deal with a variety of smells, and can tackle even the most intense fishy odors. 

2.Apply with a Rag

Apply the mixture of vinegar and water to the area. Use the old rag to rub the mixture into the carpet. Make sure to get the area nice and wet.

It’s important to saturate the area well. Once the stain is wet enough, you can scrub at the surface with the rag. However, you might still have to scrub it with a brush. You want the vinegar to penetrate deep into the carpet and get rid of the odor. 

Once the vinegar has had time to sink in, you can scrub with the brush.

3.Scrub the Spot

Now, you can scrub the stain with your soft-bristled brush. You may need to get the bristles wet in the vinegar and water mixture first. Then, scrub at the spot gently. Use circular motions and go over the fibers from multiple angles. 

If you are worried about damaging your carpet or upholstery, don’t scrub too hard. Applying too much pressure can permanently damage the fibers. Instead, use gentle pressure to get the vinegar down into the fibers. 

4.Remove the Excess Water

Once you are finished scrubbing to your satisfaction, remove the excess water. You can use an old towel to pat the area dry. This removes the excess water and allows it to dry faster. If you leave the area wet for too long, the risk for bacteria increases. 

As mentioned earlier, a wet-dry vacuum can help you remove the excess as well. However, this isn’t necessary. 

5.Allow to Dry

Once you have removed the excess water, wait for the spot to dry. A small fan or an open window can help speed the process. 

You may need to repeat this process a couple of times. To remove the odor entirely, multiple scrubbing sessions may be necessary. Once the spot is dry, you can determine if the odor is completely gone. 

Vinegar Alternatives

Say you want to remove the fishy odor, but do not like the smell of vinegar. Unfortunately, many solutions feature vinegar as an odor eliminator. There are other options, though. 

The cleaning section of your local supermarket should contain several options for odor-eliminating cleaners, carpet cleaners, and sprays. These are relatively inexpensive and come in a variety of scents. 

These cleaners may require multiple applications to remove fishy odors. Intense odors may not go completely away the first time. Using them again over time until the odor is completely gone may be the best option. 

Odor sprays like Febreze, for example, won’t do much to get rid of the stain. They can neutralize the odors in the air, but there is always the chance that they will come back. Still, these sprays can be used as a temporary solution. 

Shampoo Your Carpets

This method requires some equipment that you may not already have. A carpet shampooer is a great investment. If you already have one, this may be the quickest and most effective method for you. 

If you do not own a carpet shampooer, consider renting one. Some big box stores (Walmart among them) have carpet cleaning stations at the front of the store. Renting a small Rug Doctor is a breeze, and it’s less expensive than a professional cleaner. 

Get the right shampoo. Make sure that the carpet cleaner is small enough for use in your car. Once you have everything you need, follow the directions on the machine. While you have the machine, it’s a good idea to do the rest of your auto carpet. This should eliminate all but the most stubborn fishy odors.

Professional Cleaning Options

If you do not want to bother with any of the previous options, you can always take your car to a professional. Auto detailers provide a wide range of services, including washing the interior of your car. 

Call your local auto detailing shops and find out if they do interior deep cleaning. Tell them about your problem and ask if they can help. With little to no hassle, you can have the fishy odor gone with just one appointment. 

Plus, it is a sure thing. While the other methods listed here will probably work, some intense odors may require professional work. By going to a professional first, you will save a lot of time and money.

Final Verdict

A fishy odor can make your car unbearable. But there is no reason to just deal with it! Any one of the methods listed above can help you get rid of the odor and begin enjoying your car again. Keep in mind that the methods listed above are only for fishy smells caused by carpet stains. 

If the fishy smell in your car is coming from the heater vents, it could be an entirely different issue. Consult your mechanic for those issues, especially if you can’t determine where on the carpet or upholstery the smell may be coming from.

Once you’ve tackled the fishy odor, you might also want to eliminate unwelcome roaches from your car, and you may also check out our blogs on the cost of repairing your heated seats, or learn how much coolant your overflow tank needs for a smooth and comfortable drive.


Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren

Keren Simanova

Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren