By on June 23, 2010

TTAC Commentator PartsUnknown writes:

I just picked up a 2010 Accord sedan (don’t start – at least it’s a 5 speed stick) a month ago. Last weekend I was driving with a full, 2 gallon gas can in the trunk. I was forced to stop short due to some creative driving by some jabroney in a white panel van ahead of me. The ensuing gas spill wasn’t quite BP/Gulf of Mexico, but it did manage to soak part of my trunk carpet, and in a stroke of good fortune, the nozzle managed to wedge itself between the seatback and trunk floor, allowing gas to flow underneath my back seat cushion.

I mopped it up as best I could, but the smell was coma-inducing and really, I had no idea what nooks and crannies the gas had gotten into. A local detailing shop removed the back seat and trunk liner, cleaned everything and put it all back together. The problem is the smell remains, not as strong as it was, but it’s there. I have no idea how to proceed. I have worn out google looking for answers and have seen solutions ranging from organic (coffee grounds, vanilla), to chemical (ZorbX, Lestoil) and just plain weird (baby oil?). Any ideas on how to get that sweet smell of freshly baked polymers back? And yes, a cargo net is on order.

Sajeev Answers:

Ouch. No matter what, cleaning a gas smell makes that new car smell a thing of the past. After years of changing fuel filters, I can assure you that sunlight and a wide variety of soapy cleansers removes the gas smell. I’ve spilled gas, Liquid Wrench, Diet Coke, Mobil 1, and probably some other things in the trunk of my Lincoln Mark VIII. Removing the carpet, wash and dry in the afternoon sun and cleaning the sheetmetal/sound insulation with Simple Green always works for me. But if you spilled two gallons with such an unfortunate nozzle resting point, you got more work ahead of you. Remove these items and clean them a la my trunk carpet:

1. Trunk carpet (obviously)
2. Back seat, both cushions
3. Passenger cabin carpet and associated padding
4. Any plastic paneling below the C-pillar

And that’s for starters. All those parts must be shampooed multiple times, the carpet needs to be done both top (fabric) and bottom (padding). Hose off with high pressure, unless it’s a dark colored interior: darker polymers tend to “run” with power washing. Clean everything remaining in the car (front seats, door panels, headliner) with something like Fabreeze too. Then everything must dry in the sun for days, while every fold in the (now exposed) floorpan’s sheetmetal needs a rub down with any cleaning product. The car also needs to bake in the sun with the windows (cracked) open, sans no carpet and rear seats: eventually the gas will burn off. And while you will drive without rear seats and carpet for a while, you can do this in a weekend with basic hand tools. Odds are a very anal-retentive cleaning fixes the problem. If not, you’ll buy new carpet and a rear seat from a freshly junked Accord. Which won’t be cheap, but it’s not the end of the world.

So no need to cry over spilled milk. The fix is easy: others have BTDT. As you alluded to, your life could be much, much worse.

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40 Comments on “Piston Slap: Crying Over Spilled Milk...”

  • avatar

    The local Mercedes dealer did a similar thing to my brand new C

    class several years ago, when they replaced the fuel level senders.
    After scrubbing, they dumped about 50 deodorant squares in various nooks and crannies. It worked in less than a week. We were still finding them years later.

  • avatar

    For a couple of these items (like the trunk mat and assorted items) you may want to visit a yard that specializes in late model wrecks and find a matching car.

    It could take months for the smell to go away in some things even after multiple scrubs – at a certain point, you could do more damage with the multiple cleanings than the original spill.

  • avatar
    Some Guy

    This advice may be too late, but to prevent potential problems, I just have 2 large and shallow rectangular plastic Rubbermaid tubs I keep in the trunk. It’s saved the trunk and car from various stuff like spilled (and eventually sour-smelling) milk and weed killer. I’d hate to have that poison soak into the trunk liner where I would breathe it in every day–even if the smell was masked.

    Much better than a cargo net.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      +1 on that suggestion. When I owned a gasoline-powered lawnmower and had to transport fuel for it in the back of the car, I had a rectangular contractor’s pan (heavy rubberized plastic), like what you use to make up a small amount of mortar or cement, which carried the gas can. Even little dribbles of gasoline on the can would otherwise find their way into the trunk.

      Even with that, after having transported the gasoline less than a mile, I had to let the trunk air out — with the contractor’s pan removed.

      My fear for you is that you’re probably going to have to replace the things that absorbed the gasoline . . . you’re unlikely to get the smell out completely. IIRC, before I used the rubber pan, I managed to get the smell for an extremely small spill out of a trunk liner by several detergent scrubbings and rinsing and a long time in the sun. But that was nothing like several gallons of gasoline.

  • avatar

    That photo is so begging for a caption.

  • avatar

    Easy…put on some 20″ chrome wheels and slam the car. Gut the interior and a/c from the car. Put in a roll cage and some racing seats and steering wheel. That way the gas smell will be acceptable.

  • avatar

    I’ve done the same thing, but probably not to the same extent. The great thing about gas is that it is VERY volatile… it evaporates quickly. If the car is left in the sun with the windows down all the gas should evaporate. When I spilled about a quarter gallon in the back of my Saab 9-7X (I didn’t buy the Trollblazer, it was a company car)I scrubbed with some Tide Laundry detergent, covered with a little Febreeze, and let evaporation do the rest. Within 3 days no one could smell a thing.

    I hope this helps and good luck.

    • 0 avatar

      MOST components of gasoline are very volatile, but by no means all. Like other petroleum products it is a mixture of compounds of varying molecular weights plus whatever additives the seller deems necessary to add. These compounds have a high affinity for other organic compounds, such as seat fabric, rubber mats and sealants, etc. Suffice it to say that I think you were very lucky that such an easy cleanup did the trick for you.

  • avatar

    Right now 8:25 AM Phoenix, AZ time there is NO cap on the well.

    BP has 12 video feeds and the following two are showing the top of the pipe at this time:

    Skandi ROV1 and Skandi ROV2

    Hopefully BP is about to drop on a new cap but if that is not the case something has gone wrong.

    Sorry to break in but this is exciting.

  • avatar

    In addition to cleaning the carpets and cushions, get a bag of charcoal briquettes – the plain ones – and place them in an open pan inside the car for several days.

    The charcoal should absorb some of the volatile compounds that are still circulating in the car from the gas spill. This approach works well with lots of bad, persistent chemical or organic odors.

    Good luck!

  • avatar

    This happened to someone I know (a friend’s Dad). His Cadillac was a little over a year old. Spilled gasoline all over the interior of the car.
    His insurance paid to have the whole interior (seats, carpet, etc.) replaced by the dealer.
    Make an insurance claim.

  • avatar

    Holy Crap, is that Pam Anderson?

    Anyway… I’d start with the easy stuff (like the briquet suggestion) and then start ripping things out and shampooing them. But first talk to your insurance agent.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Check with your insurer to see if your policy will cover the loss, and your cost after deductible and calculating the impact on future premiums.

    Property restoration companies specialize in fire, water, smoke and odor removal for property managers and insurance companies. The results are amazing. They will clean the car and put the seats, carpets and trunk mat in an ozone room for a couple of hours. The car will likely be as good as new. WinMar is a big name in Canada. Google “property restoration specialists” for a similar company in your area.

    It’s clear the gasoline container was not properly sealed. That’s a heaping load of not good! I second Some Guy’s suggestion above. A $5 Rubbermaid plastic tub in the trunk can save a ton of grief.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed with the ozone solution, but you might be able to buy, rent or make a ozone machine by yourself. Let it everynight in the car for few days, it certainly will do the trick…

  • avatar

    I’d have to agree with the advice to file an insurance claim. When I was at the Hummer store, one of our guys spilled a 5 gallon can of gas in the cargo area of a brand new H3, which quickly spread throughout the rest of the cabin. Even after stripping the interior, the whole vehicle reeked because the gasoline had soaked into the sealant that was used between the body seams. The carpet never really lost the odor either, even after several good cleanings with degreaser. If you file a claim and send it to people that handle spills like this daily, your chances will be far greater than just trying to get the local detailers to handle it. Hope something works out for you, that’s an awful thing to happen. Good luck!

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    It can’t be as bad as the vat of spaggetti sauce that spilled in my car’s trunk.

    BTW, I thought Accord manuals were 6 speeds.

  • avatar

    Uhhh, not that this helps the original poster any — but are you guys seriously driving around with an OPEN gas container in the trunk?

    When I go pick up gas for my lawn mower and trimmer, my (plastic) container is tightly sealed, and firmly held in place by the cargo net. Anything else seems like madness.

    P.S. Good luck with getting rid of the smell. You’ll need it, I fear.

  • avatar


    Gas porn? Now that’s a kink!

    Where did you get that pic? Is there now a Peter North gas station?

  • avatar

    This is why I love BioDiesel. When people climb into my car they say … “French fries?”

  • avatar

    On the way to a party once we had some “juice” from a huge tray of read-to-eat shrimp drip behind the seat of our VW Passat. It smelled like low-tide for WEEKS. Multiple soakings with Febreeze, plus TuffStuff cleaner and plenty of air flow thru the trunk finally removed the fishy smell.

  • avatar

    I carried around a plastic gas can with about a half-gallon in the trunk of my Cooper S for about a week, it never spilled, yet the smell would fill the cabin. I would open the windows for my drive and the smell would go away, but at a stop, the smell would come back. I guess that was a testament to the crappiness of the cheap plastic can more than anything. Fumes must have been constantly leaking.

  • avatar

    Ha! That’s nothing – try living with the constant smell of gas from the in-cab fuel tank as found in my old ’76 F-150. Also note that this particular year did not have an EVAP system and thus did not use fuel caps that seal as tightly as modern cars. Every turn that started the fuel sloshing and dribbling down the filler neck (and past the pathetic rubber collar and right into the cab) killed a few more brain cells. Great truck otherwise…

  • avatar

    One summer day about 15 years ago, I went to the grocery store and bought a gallon of milk. I didn’t have them put it into a bag, and I put it into the back of my Grand Cherokee, and started on the 3 mile trip home. All of a sudden, my dog jumped onto the passenger seat, soaked with milk! I was almost home, and so I just kept going. When I got home, I washed the dog off in the shower, and then went out to see what was up with the GC. The jug had split, and there was about an inch left in the bottom, and the rest was soaked into the carpet and under the back seat. A friend and I pulled the back seat out, and used a carpet cleaning machine to suck up most of the milk. A couple days later, it smelled so bad I was gagging from the sour milk spell. I finally took it to a detailing place my insurance agent recommended, and $100 bucks an a day later, it was gone. Best hundred bucks I ever spent.

    I went and got a big, deep tub, and any milk or anything but water went in it, and it saved me big when a gallon jug of anti-freeze came apart a couple years later. My friend didn’t learn from my disasters, and had the pleasure of having a bottle of ATF leak into the carpet of his almost new minivan. Years later, when it was hot, you could still smell it slightly with the windows shut.

    • 0 avatar

      A friend made a similar milk experience iwht his Acura sedan (the Accord based one) about a year ago. Jug leaked, milk percolated down thru the perforations in the leather back seat … he tried to clean it up but gave up, and when he transfered to Brazil, his boss took over the car … and had to deal with the ‘gag-a-maggot’ odor in the car …

      Scoolmate of mine had a father dumb enough to put a car battery on the front seat of his Bonneville, there was just enough acid on the surface of the battery bottom to eat thru the fabric and expose the foam underneath…

  • avatar

    Sajeev, thanks for posting this, although when I saw the lead photo, I thought, “Man, I won’t get one serious response, just snark about ol’ Pammy.”

    As an update, The Spill happened about two months ago, and I have been regularly treating the affected areas with Zorbx and Febreeze, and to my amazement, the smell is virtually gone. It even passed my wife’s smell test, no small feat.

    To address a couple of comments, I realize carrying a full gas can unrestrained in the trunk wasn’t the smartest idea, but the car was literally weeks old and I hadn’t yet orderd a trunk liner or cargo net. The plastic tub idea is a good one though.

    The gas can was sealed properly, but the plastic cap at the end of the nozzle is not watertight. Also, the entire contents of the can did not leak out; probably about a quart at most. As soon as I smelled gas, I pulled over and righted the ship.

    Finally, Accord sedans are 5 speeds only, and only with the 4 cyl. You can get a 6 speed with a V6 in the coupe. And um, I won’t be slamming the Accord – I’ll stick with the wimpy 16″ alloys instead of chrome dubs.

    Anyway, thanks everyone for the helpful feedback.

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