Auto Laundry News - October 2013

Odor Control — Know the Science, Generate the Business, Part II

By Sharie Sipowicz

In last month’s issue of Auto Laundry News, we looked at how we smell odors and considered some common odor treatment techniques. This month, we conclude our discussion of odor control.

The worst odor I have ever had to deal with was an acid that smelled like vomit. It took a lot of research to figure out what we were dealing with. When we did, we used oxidizers and had to remove the carpet.
Human decomposition in a car is also tough to deal with. The odor seems to go everywhere, and there is also the psychological issue to deal with.

There are many new companies getting into the deodorization market, offering an array of products.


To separate the good from the bad, you need to realize that odor control is very subjective and is not an exact science. Odor counteractants and neutralizers are the new buzzwords and are tossed around rather loosely. However, the real proof is in the performance. 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 did not neutralize anything, or it was only temporary, not permanent. Products should alter the molecular structure and shape of the odor molecule so it is no longer a problem.

There is a variety of carriers for deodorizers. The most common are oil or water-soluble solutions, bacteria and/or enzyme based, granular, powders, cakes, absorbents, aerosols, and gels.

Education and training are becoming more important as the motorists are becoming more knowledgeable. They want to know what is being sprayed in their car.

There are no easy answers in odor control. On the other hand, the simple cleaning and shampooing detailers perform go a long way toward eliminating and preventing many odors from returning. Others odors can be prevented by treatment with solutions that kill germs and bacteria. However, this can be a touchy subject — the EPA requires chemical companies to do a lot of testing before they can claim a product kills germs. This can take three years or more. This limits new developments in the area of odor control because the markets are not that big and most of the players are small businesses like detailers and janitors. Some manufacturers sell deodorizers that are actually disinfectants, but they cannot advertise them as such. The most common odor we see is urine — both from pets and people.

Not many new developments seem to be going on in the United States, due to all the regulatory costs and
requirements. However, there is a newer odor control product developed in Australia. It’s a natural product that is extracted from trees and is effective against mold, mildew, and urine. It is especially interesting because it is non-toxic and has a residual effect for up to three months.

Salespeople need to learn to ask the right questions so they can identify the cause of odors and then recommend the correct products. Selling deodorization products is more complex than taking orders over the phone. Good technical education is definitely needed to be successful in this field, both for seller and user.

Some of the odor eliminators sell in the $25 to $30 per gallon range. The value to the motorist is eliminating the odor problem. For them, cost is not the major issue. What most detailers fail to understand is the opportunity that problem solving creates for the sales of services such as odor elimination. Once a customer recognizes you as an expert, they will keep coming back for additional support for all their car problems as long as you make yourself available.

There needs to be more emphasis on a more thorough cleaning process to eliminate the source of odors. The typical shampooing and then vacuuming can be a major source of odor by leaving dirt and shampoo residue in carpets and upholstery. You simply must use an extractor. Detailers can create more of a problem than a solution because of the cleaning chemicals that leave a sticky residue behind, which ends up attracting soil more quickly when not extracted. The motorist is more demanding today. They want answers based on facts, not talk.


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.


There are books on this subject, and the process is well documented. There is nothing new, except that 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.

To sort out the claims made by suppliers, get references, ask questions, and do not believe everything they tell you. Are you trying to eliminate a dead-fish smell, urine, vomit, spoiled milk, etc?

Bacteria and enzymes are often confused. Enzymes are protein molecules, not living organisms. They are a catalyst for change. Bacteria are living organisms. Enzymes break down waste and bacteria consume it.

Primary uses for such products are septic tanks, restrooms, dog kennels, floor drains, and grease traps, as well as to remove urine and other such odors from carpets, upholstery, etc.

Liquids are still popular because they are easy to apply. Often they are prepackaged and no mixing is required. There is good information available to those who want to know more on the subject of odor control using bacteria and enzymes. You just have to ask for it from the right suppliers.

Always ask for a demonstration, a good salesperson will accept the challenge. It is very difficult to prove what is happening because there is no scientific proof. However, there are years of experience in solving some of the worst odor problems one can encounter. Many companies take a hands-on approach instead of theory. Find out who they are.

As stated, for you the best proof is an on-site demonstration. Make them use the chemical on the worst odors to see if it works. You do not have to saturate the surface because the odor neutralizer goes where the odors are and encapsulates them.

Odor control is a good market for detailers. There are plenty of opportunities to make deodorization a part of a complete service package that includes your detail. The real money in our business is developing long-term service relationships with your customers, not doing one detail and hoping the customer will come back.

There will be a continuing demand for deodorization products, and more buyers that are sophisticated. There will be fewer detailers giving service in this area and the ones who do will make a lot of money.


Adequate products are already available on the market to handle a wide variety of deodorization needs. The key is knowing what type of odor you are dealing with and which products will do the best job. There are many different products available, and most are task-specific. Sometimes you have to try several things to determine what will work in a specific situation. There are many variable factors, and it is not always a simple issue to figure out.

With or without factual data, odor control will continue to be an issue for the motorist and provide a profit center for detailers. Considering the issues of professional integrity, it is important that you have adequate training regarding the products’ capabilities and proper procedures for application if you plan to sell deodorizing services.

Every enquiry, question, or concern is an opportunity to further establish in the customer’s mind that you are the right person to call when they have a detailing or auto-cosmetic-maintenance-related issue that needs to be dealt with. Do not let even one opportunity slip away because you fail to fully understand that long-term profitable relationships can start with a simple question to which you have a well-informed answer.

Sharie Sipowicz is aftermarket sales manager with Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. She has been involved in the detail industry for over 20 years, both as a vendor of products and equipment and as a hands-on operator in a retail detail environment. You can contact Sharie at

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