Smells like isopropyl alcohol

The inside of my car smells powerfully of isopropyl alcohol. I’ve never had any sort of alcohol in the car, with the exception of beer or wine as groceries which I keep in the trunk.

I had a flat tire fixed last week. Other than that the car has no problems.

The smell is most powerful when I first get into the car and diminishes as I drive around (with the windows open).

What is making my car smell like alcohol?

Leaking windshield washer fluid or a blocked drain. There are two drains to check. The one for the area in front of the wind screen and the A/C evaporator.

Unblock the drain then turn on the fan on high and spray some lysol (or the stuff at the auto parts store made just for it) You might take this time to replace the cabin air filter while you are at it.
Good Luck.

Are you familiar with the smell of coolant? Could it be that? If so, you probably have a leaking heater core. Are you getting a film on the inside of the windshield, by any chance?

glycol is the most likely culprit as lonestar suggests. A leaky heater hose under the dash is a likely cause.

Hi Joseph E Meehan,

Thanks for your response. I tried cleaning out the drains. Neither of them looked clogged to me. Likewise, I stuck my nose in the windshield wiper fluid cistern and did not smell the same smell as is inside the cabin of my car. But I’ll check it all again tomorrow morning and perhaps it will have changed.


Hi lion9car,

I’m only vaguely familiar with the smell of coolant, but my understanding is that it smells like maple syrup, or at least that it smells sweet. This does not smell sweet, but rather has the harsh bite of cheap liquor or disinfectant.

I am not getting any film on the inside of the windshield.


Hi ignoramus9,

I looked up glycol and found that ethylene glycol is supposed to have a maple syrup, or at least a sweet smell. This does not smell sweet, but rather has the harsh bite of cheap liquor or disinfectant.

Should I still check under the dash for a leaky heater hose?


Did someone do some cleaning or detail work on your car recently? Isopropyl alcohol is used to clean windows. I’ve cleaned the windshield with isopropyl alcohol when I needed to reattach the rear view mirror.

Are you using a methanol/gasoline fuel? That could be the source of the alcohol odor but why you wouldn’t smell the gas along with it is some thing that I wouldn’t presume to understand…

Hi Triedaq,

No one has done any detail work on the car recently. The only work that I’ve had done is fixing a flat tire on the front passenger side that had been punctured by a jagged piece of roofing material. I do not think that they did any cleaning work of the car, though they did check the car for maintenance issues.


Hi Jamesrsavage,

I am using a gasoline that claims that it might be up to some certain percentage ethanol and my gas tank is a little low right now. But I agree with you that it seems strange that the alcohol smell would come through and not the gasoline smell.


I’m only vaguely familiar with the smell of coolant

When the car is cool, remove radiator cap and take a sniff.


You could try to isolate the source. Open door, verify smell present. Without starting engine, roll down all windows until smell dissipates. Set HVAC to vent at dash and cold setting. Turn on fan and immediately get your nose up by the vent. Does it smell strongly again? No, start engine and leave fan running. Smell it now? Open trunk let dissipate. Close and then recheck in a while. Smell back? And so on.

You get the idea, try to isolate the conditions to get to the source.

I use 10% ETHANOL blend gasoline and get a similar smell once in a great while after fill ups. Have you ever hauled a gas can for your lawnmower or something inside the car?

I wonder if the mechanics that worked on your car (changing the tire, checking maintenance issue, etc) might have had dirty hands and gotten the steering wheel greasy and then cleaned it up with isopropyl alcohol. If this started just after your flat tire incident, this may be the problem. You might sniff the steering wheel and other parts of the interior for the isopropyl alcohol smell.

Oh, that’s a good idea. I will be sure to try that out after work. Thanks.

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Hi DfromSD,
I haven’t ever hauled a gas blend in my car. I keep an empty gas can for emergencies in the trunk, but it just smells like plastic as it’s never been used.

One of the people I’ve asked around here suggested that brake fluid sometimes smells like alcohol. Is there anyway that this smell could be caused by brake fluid? The smell is exclusively in the interior of the car and not at all around the wheel wells.

Also, check under the seat and other places to see if a mechanic left an isopropyl soaked rag in the car.

I know that this post is old but I came upon so i would assume that others still are as well. Another thing that I have not seen noted in any of the posts on here is damp or wet upholstery. Some of the backing has a similar smell when damp or wet. Sorry for the late post.