Some people think that the smell of a new car is one of the nicest smells around. Some don't. If you are trying to reduce the number of toxins that you are exposed to, it probably doesn't pay to think too hard about exactly what that "new car" smell actually is – it's probably a mixture of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from the glues and vinyl around the car, plus a bit of artificial scent and dry-cleaning fluid if the car is a second-hand one. Not quite so nice, if you stop to think about it.
However, a clean car is much nicer to drive than one that stinks. Some second-hand cars that haven't got the new car smell aren't too bad – all they smell of is dogs. Worse ones smell of cigarette smoke, vomit and/or alcohol. (Mind you, if a car stinks of all of these three, don't buy it – do you really want to buy a car that's been thrashed by the sort of person who drinks so much that they throw up while driving? Exceptions can be made for ex-taxis – they may have higher mileage, but they will have been well maintained).
New car or second-hand, buying a car or sticking with your trusty set of wheels, it's important to stop your car ponging if you're going to spend time in it. If you're not desperate to get out of it to escape the reek, you're probably going to be a more relaxed driver – which is good for everybody's safety. So how do you get the car smelling nice?
First of all, give up smoking. Some people choose the car as being an OK place to smoke as it doesn't put the fumes and poisons all through the house where your children and non-smoking family members can breathe it in. Stopping smoking is tough, but it will be the best thing you can ever do for your health. It will also get rid of a lot of the pong.
Secondly, clean out your car regularly. Old chip packets can turn quite nasty. Keep a plastic bag in your car for wrappers and peels (OK, orange peel scattered through your car will help it smell nice at first, but they turn mouldy and nasty if left too long) and change it regularly. Also make sure you vacuum your car out – a must if you have a dog that rides in the car. Sometimes car washes have vacuuming facilities, but resist the temptation to add in the car fragrancing that's often on offer – this is pretty awful toxin-laden artificial stuff.
If you have a dog that rides in the car regularly, consider spreading out a rug for the dog to sit on. When it starts looking a bit hairy (the rug, not the dog – the dog always looks hairy unless you have one of those Mexican Hairless dogs), take it out and give it a good wash.
Also be sure to get rid of any vomit promptly. If you have someone in your family who frequently gets travel-sick, always carry a spare ice-cream container or similar in case of emergencies when you can't stop for them to be sick. Scrape up any spilt sick with a towel, then scrub like the blazes with soapy water. Sprinkle on baking soda to absorb the pong, then vacuum this up. Never vacuum up vomit unless you want to smell it every time you use the vacuum.
When you choose a child's seat, make sure that the cover is washable. Sometimes, you can't stop so a child can pee, and leaks in nappies happen.
Open the windows frequently and let the fresh air in, especially when you're driving through more rural areas. Fresh air is the best deodorant.
Limit the amount of eating you do in the car. You may have picked up food from the drive-through, but you can wait until you get home before eating it in many cases.
Make your own car fragrance from a mixture of water and either vinegar or alcohol with 10–20 drops of essential oil. Shake the mixture together and spray around your car whenever you fancy. Citrus scents are good for helping you stay alert – a must when driving.