Our Vehicle Journey

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 sensitivity kicked in shortly after vacating our home. Therefore, any air fresheners or chemicals previously used were no longer tolerated.

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.

For instructions on replacing the cabin air filter on a particular car model, go to the Car Cabin Air Filters Main Page and find your vehicle under the appropriate category.

Despite all of the filtration options, it was clear that we needed to replace our vehicles. It took more than two years.

Yesterday afternoon we sold the last car from Colorado. It's been a slow, arduous process. Finding affordable, used cars with no history of air fresheners, chemicals, or mold has not been easy.

The sale of this last vehicle marks the end of a chapter. The old life is slowly passing. Somehow it also feels like a new beginning.


  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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...

  8. 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.

  9. 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!!!