How Do You Know if You Have Mold in Your Car?

David J. Allen

I spent the better part of 2 ½ years learning about mold and indoor air quality because my child's life depended on it. Now I help others avoid ever having to experience the same thing. The mold industry suffers from conflicting opinions and I do my best to distill loads of data into something practical and useful. I love hearing from and helping readers. • "A house desecrated by mildew, mold, or fungus would be a defiled place to live in, so drastic measures had to be taken." — Leviticus 14:45

When you think about mold growth, what areas come to mind?

If you’re like most people, you probably think of produce, bread, berries, and any humid or damp parts of your home or office.

While these can all be mold hot spots, there’s another common home for the fungus that you may not be aware of: the inside of your car.

For obvious reasons, having a mold infestation appear within your primary means of transportation can be a major inconvenience.

But if you’re able to recognize the symptoms, you can catch the fungus problem early and deal with it before it gains a strong foothold in your vehicle.

Common Signs of Mold Growth in Your Car

If mold spores have found their way into your car and begun to multiply, there will usually be certain indicators that you may notice. In many cases, the most obvious symptom will be the powerful odor. If you’re unfamiliar with the way the fungus smells, it has often been compared to old, wet socks or a stuffy attic. The scent is musty, stale, and very distinct.

Granted, the strength of the odor will depend on the size of the mold colony and its proximity to where you’re you’re sitting in the car. If you get a whiff of that unpleasant earthy smell, though, it’s a clear indicator that mold is growing somewhere in your vehicle, and you may be able to trace the odor to its source.

Another thing to consider is whether or not you feel noticeably worse during or after long drives. If there’s an underlying mold problem in your car, you may be frequently breathing the spores, and that could potentially lead to adverse health symptoms.

Specifically, if you have an allergy to the fungus, being exposed to it for prolonged periods could cause coughing, sneezing, runny nose, or irritated eyes, nose, or throat.

You may not make the connection at first, but if it seems that you primarily experience these discomforts when you’ve been in your car for a while, there’s a very good chance that you’ve got a mold issue.

The other primary way you might discover mold in your car is by simply seeing the spores. There are multiple types of mold that could potentially show up in your vehicle, and each kind will have different characteristics. Generally speaking, though, if you see any unusual spots in your car that look fuzzy, dusty, slimy, and/or discolored, then you’ve most likely found a mold colony.

What Can You Do About Mold in Your Car?

If you discover a relatively small cluster of mold spores in your car, you should be able to eliminate them yourself. To do so, you’ll want to equip yourself with the proper protective gear; ideally, you should be wearing rubber gloves and boots, a face mask, goggles, and overalls or coveralls.

Then, you’ll want to remove any sources of moisture from inside of your car and, if possible, park it in a warm, sunny spot with the doors or windows open.

In terms of actually removing the fungus, there are several effective methods you could utilize, but one of the most popular is using distilled white vinegar.

Because of its mild acidity, vinegar does a great job of killing mold spores, and it’s also safe to use on surfaces like leather and vinyl. Using a cloth or spray bottle, you’ll want to apply the vinegar to the affected area, then gently scrub at it with a bristled brush.

After scrubbing, let it sit for 20 or 30 minutes, then use a wet-and-dry vacuum to clean up the dead mold spores. The vinegar may leave behind a fairly pungent odor, but you should be able to counteract that by using air fresheners or simply letting the vehicle air out. 

When Should You Call the Professionals?

While you will usually have little problem removing mold from your car, there are certain cases in which it would be wise to enlist the help of mold remediation professionals. They have extensive experience and knowledge as well as access to equipment that you probably don’t possess, meaning they’ll be able to deal with the most serious and persistent mold infestations.

In any of the following situations, consider hiring a professional:.

  • Mold growth that keeps coming back after removal
  • Colorful mold stains in a splash-like pattern
  • If you’re experiencing adverse health effects from spending time in the car
  • A lingering mold smell that you’re unable to trace