Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?

I've taken half my Abarth apart trying to banish the dog stink, still no success.

I can’t get the dog smell out of my Fiat Abarth. I’d like to think I’ve grown my detailing skills watching ChrisFix and The Detail Geek on YouTube, but animal stink is proving to be a real challenge.

When I first started flipping cars, I used to farm out cleaning jobs to a couple of friends who detailed on the side. They’ve since gotten other jobs so I’m back to refurbishing interiors on my own. I’ve detailed far worse cars than this cheap Abarth I recently picked up, hell, you all saw what I did with the Tiburon I had. This Fiat, or rather the previous owner’s pet, is trying my patience, though.

My 500 Abarth’s previous owner had a big ol’ dog that apparently rolled with him wherever he went. The rear whole rear seat was removed and I don’t think it was done as a weight reduction – the dude just wanted to make it easier for his dog to fit in the back of the car. It seemed like a smart modification, actually, but I can’t take advantage of it because I’m allergic to anything with fur and four legs.

The car’s interior had crumbs and food particles, dog hair, and years-worth of pooch stench. I’m pretty sure that dog had been allowed to lick every single interior surface of this tiny Italian city car. Did I mention it stank? There was dog slobber on both of the rear windows… despite the fact that the car hadn’t been daily driven in months. Ugh. But I’d already decided to keep the car for a while, so extra work above and beyond a regular flip-car detail was needed here. When the weather finally broke in late March, I popped a loratadine pill and got to work.

Seats removed, before cleaning. – Video: Kevin Williams
Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
Image: Kevin Williams
Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
Image: Kevin Williams
Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
Image: Kevin Williams

Removing the front seats in a Fiat 500 is pretty easy; this step is crucial to get extract and clean the carpet. The previous owner gave me the rear seats and hardware, but I wanted to extract and clean them before I reinstalled ’em.

Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
Image: Kevin Williams
Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
Image: Kevin Williams

After removing the aftermarket blanking panel rear seat delete I was greeted by the bare metal floorpan, and a little dirt had made its way under there. A quick wipe down with dish soap and water cleaned it right up.

Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
Image: Kevin Williams

By far, the long stringy dog hair was the worst part of the cleanup. A rubber brush made removal easier, but it was still a huge chore getting all the hair out. After that, it was extraction time. I used my $100 Bissel Spot Clean Pro with the recommended Bissel Pro Clean fluid to suck out all of the gunk in my carpet.

Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
Image: Kevin Williams

Then I turned my attention to the seats, which weren’t really stained, but they did smell. I extracted those too.

Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
I opted to clean the rear seats outside of the car before reinstalling them. – Image: Kevin Williams

The interior plastics didn’t seem particularly dirty, but they felt as if a dog had maybe licked on the back trim pieces at some point in time, so I wiped them down. 

Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
With the rear seats back in. – Image: Kevin Williams
Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
Image: Kevin Williams
Pre-seat reinstall, post interior extraction. – Video: Kevin Williams

Cleaning the Fiat was pretty straightforward. The weather was supposed to be good for the next week or so, so I left the Fiat open overnight to let everything dry out.  Yet, two days later when I checked the Fiat again, somehow the smell inside had gotten exponentially worse. The car went from a mild dog smell, to a gross *wet* dog smell, despite the interior now having completely dried out.

Dammit.

Frustrated, I turned to the internet – both Facebook and Twitter. A few friends recommended using actual carpet shampoo for pet smell removal. My standard Bissel plus OxyClean extractor shampoo wasn’t cutting it.

Why Can’t I Get This Damn Dog Smell Out Of My Car?
Image: Kevin Williams

Another friend also recommended I use this “Nature’s Miracle” enzyme remover. This spray is supposed to mix with whatever pet smells there are, and biologically eat that junk and kill it.

I attacked with both options. After about a day the smell went away, mostly. I still faintly got a whiff of it every now and again, but I had few other tricks up my sleeve that I think would take the rest of the smell away. I reassembled the interior, then ran my Ozone generator in the car whilst running, for about 45 minutes.

After letting the car air out, it seems like the smell had vacated the little city car’s interior. No longer would I have to pop allergy pills to drive the car, lest I break out in hives. No more would I have to hold my nose and roll around with the windows down.

Yet, it’s been three weeks or so. Ohio’s gone through a few heat and cold cycles… and the smell has returned.

Now all I smell in the car is the enzyme remover, and yeah, essence of dog. I thought that maybe just driving the car, letting my own essence and funk of body, coffee, fast food could drown out the smell, but it doesn’t seem to be working.

I’m at my wit’s end. Aside from extracting once more, I don’t know what else to do.

Any ideas on how to remove the dog smell from my Abarth?

Kevin Williams

Kevin WilliamsKevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.