Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Tips for odor elimination

March 10, 2010

From the March 2010 issue of Professional Carwashing & Detailing.

There are many contributing and complicating factors to odors and odor removal. Such things as concentration, sensitivity, amount, age, source, humidity, type, and the surface all play a role in removing, controlling, and eliminating odors. And, there is scientific data available to gauge the effectiveness of odor control products, even if the chemicals companies don’t want you to know it.

The most important factor in effective odor removal and control is identifying the cause and source and then removing it. If you cannot remove the source, all you are doing is masking or covering it up. Chances are the odor will return sooner, rather than later.

Removing the odor
Once the source has been identified, you then identify the specific application which will best remove the odor. The following are different methods of odor removal:

Absorbents: These are generally solid materials such as baking soda or activated charcoal and work by capturing and holding the odor on the surface of the compound. They are used where odor molecules are airborne or are gasses and pass through a filter, chamber, or confined space such as an air duct where they can encounter the absorbent medium.

Neutralization: This process implies a balance or equalizing where a chemical is added that neutralizes an offensive odor. Neutralization is effective against chemical odors such as chlorine and various acids. As an example, sodium bicarbonate and water will effectively neutralize odors from an acid spill.

Oxidation: This process involves a chemical reaction where oxygen combines with another substance and basically burns up odor-causing molecules. Some common examples are ozone, peroxide, and bleach. These can be very effective in eliminating odors caused by organic decomposition. Some experts suggest using oxidation to remove skunk odor.

Biocides: This process involves the application of chemicals or light to kill or inhibit the growth microorganisms that are causing the offending odor. These odors are normally the result of decomposition or fermentation of organic matter; a common by-product is ammonia. Biocides are effective against odors caused by mold, mildew, and other unsanitary situations.

Digestion: This process uses genetically engineered bacteria and/or enzymes to actually consume the odor causing materials. They are what are used in port-a-potties.

Counteractant: This process uses various procedures that work to counteract or replace existing offensive odors. Some complex odors such as smoke respond well to counteraction. This can include spraying and fogging.

Masking or pairing: Some claim that this is just covering up the existing bad odor with a more acceptable odor, which could be the case, but this can also take place in some of the other processes as well. Masking agents work by superimposing a stronger fragrance that dominates the sense of smell. Many such products use alcohol as a carrier, which actually deadens the nerves in the nose. However, these products tend to dry out quickly and lose their effectiveness. The best approach to selling masking agents is to sell the fragrance the customer likes. This can include sprays, powders, stick-ups, and blocks. This can be a high profit service or item, but are generally low-volume, compared to your basic detail services.

Cleaning and shampooing: This can go a long way towards eliminating and preventing many odors from returning. The typical method of shampooing and then using a vacuum to remove moisture is a major source of odor because it leaves dirt and shampoo residue in carpets and upholstery. You must use an extractor.

Biological odor eliminators: These types of products are gaining wider use in a variety of different applications, including detailing. For example, it has been discovered that powders are stronger than many liquids. With powders, you have the ability to vary the strength of the concentration. When you purchase a liquid enzyme, the concentration is already determined before the product arrives. With powders, if you need a stronger product, you can mix it that way. Primary uses for such products are septic tanks, restrooms, dog kennels, floor drains, grease traps and to remove urine and other such odors for carpets, upholstery, etc. Liquids are still popular because they are easy and convenient to apply. Often they are prepackaged and no mixing is required.

Note the company’s (and your) sales pitch
The sales of deodorization products and services are increasing, but so is the responsibility. Be sure to research, study and experiment because there is no easy answer. If you find one that works, you can make a lot of money in your market.

To separate the good from the bad you need to realize that odor control is very subjective and not an exact science. Most deodorizers leave a fragrance behind, but the real test is what happens in 15 to 30 minutes when the fragrance wears off. If the odor comes back, either the deodorizer properly neutralize the odor.

Odor control is a good market for detailers and there will continue to be a demand for deodorization products. There are plenty of opportunities to make deodorization a part of a complete service package that includes your detailing work. There will be fewer detailers offering such services and the ones who do will make a lot of money.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham Detailing Editor R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a nearly 40-year member of the car care industry. He is also the executive director of the International Detailing Association and a member of the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors. Abraham can be contacted at buda@detailplus.com.