Wondering what to do with your car if you’ve experienced a mold exposure in your home? Keep these factors in mind when evaluating the air quality in your car.
When we left our home in October 2008, we brought our cars. We didn’t have much choice. In retrospect, I might have agreed to borrow a car until we could figure out a course of action, but we were consumed with finding shelter and replacing necessities.We vacuumed and wiped them with white vinegar.
Within a couple of weeks, we noticed that our symptoms increased when we rode in our 9-passenger Suburban. My worry about cross-contamination increased as well.
In the end, we discovered we hadn’t cross-contaminated. According to testing performed later, the cars were clean. But our symptoms were heightened when riding in the Suburban. We simply had to replace it. Most people could tolerate the car just fine, so 6 weeks after we left our home we traded it for a used Honda Odyssey with leather seats. That car felt better. Our headaches and congestion improved. We kept our second car, a Honda CR-V, and tried to use it as little as possible.
In December 2008, I traveled to Arizona with several of our children. Slowly the rest of the family followed. Our three oldest daughters relocated, then our high school senior, Ryan. Four vehicles came with them.
We noticed adverse reactions when riding in any of our old cars. Our multiple chemical sensitivities kicked in shortly after vacating our home. Therefore, any air fresheners or chemicals previously used were no longer tolerated.
Car Cabin Air Filters
We found ways to cope with our older vehicles. Regular HEPA vacuuming helped, and so did wiping down the inside with tea tree oil and other essential oils. Changing cabin filters might have helped. Here’s what one allergy-friendly website says about cabin filters:
What is a car cabin air filter?
Many car owners don’t even realize that such a part exists in their vehicles, much less if it ever needs to be changed. But, no matter if they know it or not, a cabin air filter is an essential part of your car’s ventilation system that removes pollutants from the air before they get inside the passenger compartment. They were originally designed to remove solid contaminants like dust and soot from circulating inside your vehicle, but can now also absorb gases and odors. Cabin air filters may also be known as passenger compartment filters, interior ventilation filters, pollen filters or dust filters.
Why are the cabin air filters used?
It is an undisputed fact that roadways (especially major highways, especially during rush hours) are some of the major sources of air pollution. Therefore, as you are driving, you are forced to breathe the air tainted with exhaust fumes, dust and soot particles, many of which may pose a serious hazard to your health.
The cabin air filter is there to prevent all those pollutants from entering the passenger compartment.
Why and how often should you change the cabin air filter?
Eventually, a cabin air filter starts to lose its effectiveness, as it gets dirty with use. This may result in unpleasant odor, and decreased heating and air conditioning performance caused by restricted airflow through the filter.
It is recommended to replace the cabin air filter at least once a year or every 12,000 to 15,000 miles – more often if your vehicle is operated primarily in areas of heavy pollution or dusty conditions.
Are cabin air filters difficult to replace?
Cabin air filters are typically located under a vehicle’s dashboard or attached to the glove box. Others may be located in the engine compartment. In nearly all cases, cabin air filters can be changed in as little as 10 minutes.
CarCare.org offers some practical help for changing your cabin air filter.
Other suggestions for clearing the air in your car include:
Are you interested in learning more about the hazards associated with toxic mold?
See A Beginner’s Guide to Toxic Mold.
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New York mold removal says
Th seats which often have the left over of food and fluids have to be cleanly vacuumed … the tree tree oil and the neem oil are very useful in the cleaning process too.
Oh. my. goodness. Why did I never think to check our cars after we fled the mold-infested apartment? Ack! Ack! Ack! *tries to control the sudden panic attack*
Congrats on your new car!
Thank you for this detailed information. I’m not sure you know how many people your blog helps! We are early in our mold journey- we have been told the contamination level is minor in our home. It has been anything but minor to my daughter and I. We both also have lyme disease and are not responding to treatment… My husband has lyme as well, but has not been affected by either that or the mold issue. I’m sure that is due to our genetic makeup, I’m awaiting my daughters HLA-DR test results any day. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the efforts you put into the blog.
Andrea Fabry says
So nice to hear from you. Sometimes the type of mold species is a bigger factor than the levels. That may be why it’s not minor to you. And you’re right about the genetic factor. It’s not an easy road, is it? Thank you for the encouragement.
We purchased a new vehicle in 2009 for my husband before we realized that my 1998 vehicle had an issue. I now drive the new vehicle, but have to run a Vapor-Eze purifier in it at all times, and our family has been amazed at how well that has worked in regards to the VOCs. According to our Toyota dealership, 2005 was the year that cabin filters began being placed in all their vehicles. I did order a system to install in the 1998 RAV4 to clean the HVAC system, but since I quit driving it, it has not been installed. I suggest, however, that if anyone begins to think of inserting a cleaning system into their car for the HVAC system, please check the systems out carefully. I found three distributors and asked for Material Safety Data Sheets from each before making a decision as to which one to order. One company refused to submit the MSDS; and of the two remaining, one company went the extra mile to provide the information about their system that I needed. Needless to say, I ordered my system from the California company that went the extra mile, DWD2. Also, it is my understanding that, even if the vehicle has a cabin air filtration system, the HVAC system can become contaminated if the condensation is not properly vented out before the vehicle is turned off. And I am so sensitive to exhaust fumes, wood smoke, and all the other irritants that come into the vehicle when the fresh air vent is opened that I still find it difficult to do.
Thanks for the information. Could you tell me how to go about properly venting the HVAC system before turning the car off?
Andrea Fabry says
That’s a great question, but I honestly don’t know the specifics on that.
I’m not sure if you ever received an answer for this, but it is very easy to vent your HVAC before shutting off the car. Just make sure that the vents are blowing fresh unconditioned air for about 5 minutes or so before shutting off the car (AC off, Max/recirculate off).
Condensation is formed when you use the AC. Normally it will drain out underneath the car, but over time the drain hole can become clogged with sludge. If this drain hole gets totally blocked, all the Condensation will leak into the car. It isn’t obvious either. It tends to leak under the carpet, soaking the foam padding…. definitely NOT good if you are sensitive to mold.
Running fresh uncontioned air during your last 5-10 mins of driving is a great way to dry up the Condensation on the evaporator coil. Doing this regularly will help prevent the drain from becoming clogged. If you’ve ever ridden in a car that smelled like dirty socks, you can bet it’s a clogged AC drain.
Andrea Fabry says
Very helpful, Jason! Thank you.
Check out our site moldhopenetwork.org may give you some direction. We lost our home and everything in it, the same week of 9/11.
I was evacuating from a house that very morning.
Stopped off to get a newspaper about the attacks as we headed out to the woods in an RV.
Since my mold exposure several years ago, trying to find a car that I don’t react to has definitely been a challenge. I stay away from new cars because I can’t deal with the new car smell/off-gassing (also, I’m cheap), so I’ve been buying used cars the last few years. The biggest problem with used cars seems to be the mold that accumulates in the evaporator core of the air conditioning system. Apparently, this is a fairly common problem with all cars, but Honda’s seem to have a reputation for being particularly bad for whatever reason. My last couple of cars have been Civics…and I’ve had bad reactions to both of them. I guess the way the evaporator coils are designed, they trap condensation and become a breeding ground for mold rather easily. I’ve researched and tried just about every method of removing mold from the a/c. What seems to work the best is a product called Clean N Coat by ATP. It’s a disinfectant and coating spray that is sprayed into the evaporator core to clean it and prevent the mold from growing again for at least a year. I order the spray online and take it to my shop to be done (usually for around $75). That usually does the trick for a year or two. It’s been 2 years since I last did it to my Civic and I’m just now starting to notice the issue coming back.
The changing of cabin filters is a very helpful to do, but it never made the problem completely go away for me. On the other hand, if you are reacting to a car and think the issue might be more of a fragrance/chemical off-gassing issue, you should look into the sealing products from AFM Safecoat (Hardseal, Carpetseal). These sealers are made specifically for chemically sensitive people to use to stop the offgassing of carpets or any hard surfaces. For me, they’re life-savers. I use them periodically on the interior of my car, as well as new furniture….or anything that I might be sensitive to.
That company has a lot of other great products for the chemically sensitive as well. Definitely worth checking out…
Thank you for the Vapor-Eze purifier idea. Our neon doesn’t have a cabin filter and we can’t afford to replace the vehicles yet.
Thanks for the information on cleaning the air filters in the car and on the Vapor Eze air purifier. I have been out of my home for a few months and realized today that I am suffering from my car’s mold exposure. Of course it is winter so I can’t clean the car yet, safely anyway, so I will wait until the summer but will do what you suggest now so that I will not continue to get sick after driving it. Thanks a bunch!!!
Angela Burch says
I’ve never seen this post before. Thanks for re-sharing it on Facebook. My 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan has never given me issues. After we left the moldy church parsonage almost 4 years ago, we’d talked about needing to replace our vehicles “just in case”, but couldn’t afford it. My husband has always been really good about keeping my van in tip top shape, so that may be the reason it’s been okay all this time. It’s actually been one of the places I’ve felt the safest and has served as a place of refuge and recovery from exposures. I’m grateful to still have it. It’s been the best vehicle I’ve ever owned and I plan to drive it until it falls apart.
Andrea Fabry says
I love it when you share your stories, Angela. Very helpful. Thanks!
Diane Harding says
We have a new Hyundai Genesis which has a factory defect causing a water leak and resulting in mold issues. Our family of 6 has had many health related issues since owning this car and mold testing has shown toxic mold. We are looking for resolution from the manufacturer who has been entirely unresponsive. A video and pictures of the mold is online on youtube at the link provided below. Any recommendation would be greatly appreciated.
Andrea Fabry says
Well, I know I wouldn’t want to give up on this either. This is a clear defect and you are wise to make the connection with your health. I always look to Nolo…see what you think of this article:
Wendy Johnson says
I just left an apt that had water underneath it for 3 weeks. Now I have symptoms of mold. My car seems to be problem as well now. I am so frustrated.
Andrea Fabry says
Sorry to hear this, Wendy. Good job for making this connection, however. Many people don’t.