How to Clean Car Air Vents? The Detailed Guide for Every Step!

Written by

Bruce Sonnier


Marcus Dutton

how to clean car air vents

Over time, dirt and dust can accumulate in car AC vents. If neglected, they would cause polluted air within your car and even mold growth, which emits a musty odor. That is why car vent cleaning must be regularly done once or twice a month or more if necessary.

Dealing with small AC vents with dirt on their surface and within may seem hard. But read the steps on how to clean car air vents in this article, and you’ll find it’s easy. Depending on the method, it would only require brushing with a solution and wiping, spraying disinfectant, or steam cleaning.


What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial


Provided in this article are three methods for cleaning car air ducts. Each method differs in cleaning products like in the brush, car AC vent cleaner, and cleaning machine used. For whatever method you choose to do, just prepare the cleaning products needed for it as listed below.

Method 1

Step 1: Warm Water and White Vinegar (with or without lemon juice) or Lemon Scented Cleaning Vinegar

Equal amounts of white vinegar and warm water can be combined to make a homemade car air vent cleaner.

If you can’t stand the smell of white vinegar, you can use lemon scented cleaning vinegar instead. If there isn’t any lemon scented cleaning vinegar available, you can just add a teaspoon of lemon juice to the white vinegar and warm water cleaning solution.

The lemon scent can also help get rid of the smell of mold if it is emitted from your car air conditioning vents. However, the odor is most likely coming from either the AC system or the air filter.

While a scented cleaner can help to deodorize, it is still important to fix the cause of the problem. So check whether you would have to replace the cabin air filter or clean the air conditioning system.

Tip: If you don’t want to clean your car vent but like to eliminate its smell, use a scented car air conditioner cleaner.

Step 2: Foam Paint brushes

Foam paint brushes are an inexpensive alternative to a professional detailer’s car AC vent cleaning brushes. You can buy them at a craft, home improvement, and dollar store as well as online.

Although cheap, they are also effective, with their shape and size that’s appropriate for squeezing through even the deepest spaces of the vent slats to brush away dirt from the car air vent.

This type of brush allows you to thoroughly clean the car air vents without causing any scratches or cracks on the air vents or any other damages to other components inside, unlike those brushes with rough bristles.

You would be using a couple of them in the cleaning process. Some you would use for scrubbing, and a separate one for wiping the AC vents dry.

Step 3: Microfiber Towel

You can also use a towel for wiping the car AC vents dry instead of a foam paintbrush.

Step 4: Dish Detergent and Warm Water

For the sake of cleanliness and so that your foam paint brushes would be ready for the next use, you will need to wash your foam paint brushes. You can use dish detergent and warm water.

Method 2

Enzymatic Cleaner Spray

Specially formulated for car AC treatment, a sanitizing enzymatic cleaner spray is a great tool that works wonders on both the air conditioner and air vents. It is a disinfectant spray that can remove dirt in the AC vents and ductwork as well as kill mold.

Plus, it is available in a spray bottle along with an attachable straw, which makes application easier.

Method 3

Step 1: Professional Car Steamer

When dirt in your car vents has been left uncleaned for a while, the dirt would tend to stick. In that case, the use of a cleaner and brushes wouldn’t cut it. It would require the use of a professional car steamer.

A steamer is a great tool for the job, as it can easily get rid of tough stuck on dirt, body oil, and mold smell as well as disinfect the car vents. And you avoid the harmful effects of using some commercial cleaners.

Step 2: Towel

A towel would be needed for wiping the car vents dry after using the steamer on them.

Step by Step Instructions


You can achieve a clean car ventilation system by following the steps for either of the three methods of how to clean car AC vents listed below.

Apart from that, you can also find in this article some additional tips on how to prevent future mold growth in your AC system.

Method 1 – Using a Cleaning Solution and a Foam Brush


Step 1: Clean the Vent Slats With a Foam Paintbrush Dabbed in the Solution

With a foam paintbrush dabbed in your homemade solution, clean the vent slats by shoving it between them and pressing on them.

Eventually, you would have to rinse out the dirt and grime from the brush as needed. Or you may just take a new brush for cleaning.

Step 2: Wipe the AC Vents Dry With a Dry Foam Paintbrush or Towel

Excess moisture from the cleaning solution would have to be wiped off. You can use another foam paint brush that’s dry, or you can use a towel.

Step 3: Wash the Used Foam Paintbrushes and Let Them Dry

Using warm water and a dab of dishwashing liquid, clean the brushes with a good wash. Give them a couple of good squeezes and thoroughly rinse them to get rid of all the dust and dirt that has been scrubbed off and the soap. Then allow them to dry before storing.

Method 2 – Using an Enzymatic Cleaner Spray


Step 1: Turn Off the Car Engine, Close the Doors and Windows, and Turn the AC Off

All AC vents have to be sprayed with an enzymatic cleaner spray. But before doing that, you need to close all the doors and windows of your car first. Then you would turn your car’s engine off and take out the keys from the ignition.

You would also have to turn your car’s air conditioner off.

Step 2: Spray the Cleaner, Turn On the Engine, and Change AC Settings as Needed

Attach the straw to the disinfectant spray to be able to spray within the AC vents. You can consult your vehicle’s manual to know where these vents are exactly.

Once the straw is attached, insert the straw inside a vent and spray the cleaner liberally. Spray all the vents, including the vent by the driver’s side, by the dashboard, by the passenger’s side, and defroster vents located by the windshield’s base.

After spraying the aforementioned AC vents, turn the engine on and let the car air conditioner run at maximum level and circulate. Then, without the straw, spray the intake duct located below the glove compartment. You will then once again change the air conditioner setting to fresh air intake, then step out and close the door.

Step 3: Spray Exterior Intake Vents, Then Turn Off and Ventilate the Car

You would move on to spraying the cleaner on the exterior air intake vents by the windshield cowling with the straw attached. For some car models, you would have to open up the hood to be able to access the exterior air intake vents.

Finally, you would turn the engine off once again and open all the car doors to ventilate your car.

Method 3 – Using a Steam Cleaner


Step 1: Slowly Pass the Steam Cleaner’s Nozzle Over Each Vent Slat

Slowly let the steamer’s nozzle pass over every single vent slat. Just as simple as that, it will be able to remove all the dirt in the vents, even the caked-on tougher dirt on the vent slats quickly.

Step 2: Wipe Down the Vent Slats

Moisture would form on the outside of the AC vents when steaming, so wiping with a towel would be necessary.

It could become moist inside as well. But don’t worry about it, as you can easily dry the inside by letting the fan run at full blast.

Additional Tip: Prevent Future Mold Growth

1. Don’t Let Dead Leaves and Debris Accumulate Around the Air Intake Vents

One very simple means to prevent mold growth is by brushing away leaves and debris once a week or when necessary. Never let them accumulate around the air intake vents, as they are the main causes of mold growth.

2. Dry Out the AC Vents With the Fan Blower Periodically

With all the car doors open, you would have to let the fan blower run at the maximum level with the AC turned off. This should be done every two or three months, particularly on a warm, dry day.

3. Turn Off the AC Before Arriving at Any Destination but Leave the Fan On

Three to five minutes before reaching your destination and turning your engine off, try to turn off the AC and let only the fan blow. This would aid in dying the vent system, which prevents mold.


Don’t neglect your car air vents and risk having problems with allergies, asthma, and other respiratory issues. Apply these steps on how to clean car air vents as often as once or twice a month or as needed to enjoy air from your clean vents and air conditioning system that’s not only cooled or heated but also fresh.

But if your vents still have a moldy odor even after cleaning them, it would be best to seek professional help.

Did you find this tutorial as cool as the air from your car’s air conditioner? If so, share what you think about it, give it a like, and share it.

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