How To Get Smoke Smell Out Of Your Car

No matter how clean your car is or how well it’s maintained, if it reeks of cigarettes, it’s worth a whole lot less. Instead of accepting a decrease in value of between 7.5-9%, get rid of the odor. Wondering how to get the smoke smell out of your car?

Air fresheners and chemical sprays only mask odors. To permanently neutralize the smell, you have to remove it. You can do this by deep cleaning your interior, including the seats, carpet, headliner, dash, steering wheel, and glass. You should also clean out the vents and replace the cabin air filter. 

Oh, what’s that? You’ve already cleaned your interior thoroughly, and it still smells of smoke? Sadly, cigarette odor is remarkably difficult to remove, unless of course, you understand why. Once you do, you’ll understand how to combat it.

Thankfully, in this article, we’ll cover precisely why that is.  We’ll also review the difference between masking the smell and getting rid of it. Lastly, we’ll share a super simple 5-step process for removing the smoke smell from your car.

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Why Cigarette Smoke Is So Hard To Get Rid Of

man smoking cigarette

Cigarettes contain a lot of toxic chemicals (over 7,000, in fact). When they burn, they leave behind particles that float around the cabin and absorb into the pores of any surfaces. It’s a lot easier to remove these particles from solid surfaces since they are less porous, these include glass, plastic, leather, or metal. But with fabric, it becomes more difficult.

How porous your cloth seats are is referred to as fabric porosity.  Some are less-so than others, such as when comparing a polyester (which is basically plastic) to cotton.  The only way to effectively remove odor from the strands of fiber in cloth is to break them down first.

Thankfully, this is precisely how shampoo and carpet cleaner work, which is one of the steps to our 5-step process.

Removing The Smell Of Smoke From Your Car vs Masking It

Car air freshner mounted to ventilation panel

You might think that hanging an air freshener or spraying the interior with a different fragrance will help. Sadly, all this does is mask the odor, meaning you are only covering it up, not removing it, which is a short-term solution.  Not only that, but you’re also filling your cabin with added chemicals when you do so.

The smell itself comes from the particles that are now bound to every surface in your car. To remove these, you have to reach them first.  Thankfully, we’ll explain how to do this in the next section.

Steps For Removing The Smell Of Smoke From Your Car

Items You’ll Need:

  • Microfiber cloth/towel
  • Spray bottle with water and white vinegar (1:1 ratio)
  • Spray bottle of glass cleaner
  • Vacuum and car shampoo
  • Bottle of odor neutralizer
  • Baking soda

Step #1 – Remove All Items And Air Out Your Car

Interior of empty car

First, clear the vehicle of any and all items. Depending on how long they’ve been there, they might be adding to the smell themselves.  Once it’s empty, park the car somewhere that’s well-ventilated, roll down the windows, and let it sit for 10-15min. 

You can also blast your heater for 15min before airing it out, which heats up the fibers in the cloth and relaxes the pores.  If you live somewhere that sees a lot of sunshine, you can also park it outside in the heat for the same results.

Step #2 – Wipe Down All Hard Surfaces

interior car cleaning

Using the microfiber cloth and spray bottle filled with water and vinegar, start at the front of the car and wipe down all solid surfaces. If you didn’t know, white vinegar has odor-neutralizing properties that attack bad smells on a molecular level.  Not only that, but it’s non-toxic.

You might be surprised to see how fast your microfiber cloth gets dirty. When this happens, be sure to thoroughly rinse it or swap it out for another.

Make sure you clean every single surface, including the dash, steering wheel, door panels, glove box, pillars, and overhead trim. As well as the windows, using the glass cleaner. If your seats are leather, don’t forget to wipe them down as well.

Step #3 – Vacuum And Shampoo The Seats, Carpet, And Headliner

vacuuming car

As stated above, all fabric is porous. Because of this, the cloth surfaces in your car absorb a lot of the odor caused by cigarettes. Start by vacuuming them, making sure to reach every nook and cranny.

Next, using an automotive specialty shampoo, follow the steps on the bottle, and apply to the carpets, seats, floor mats, and headliner. Preparation usually entails filling a bucket with water, adding the shampoo, and scrubbing the seats with a large firm sponge.

If you didn’t know, the foaming action in shampoo is what helps break down fibers. This causes their pores to open up so that when you scrub them, they release whatever is inside, in this case – odor.

Step #4 – Clear Out The Vents And Replace The Cabin Air Filter

Now it’s time to clean out an area you might not have thought about, your venting system.  First, roll down the windows, start the car and turn the AC to the max setting.  Then, spray the odor neutralizer into the vents, which allows it to circulate throughout the system. 

Finish by repeating this same process but with the AC off and the heat all the way up.

Next, you’ll want to swap out your cabin air filter with a new one, since when the air circulates, smoke particles collect in it.  You can either replace it yourself (which isn’t too hard but requires some knowhow) or pay a shop to do so for about $70 to $100.

Step #5 – Absorb Any Remaining Odor With Baking Soda

baking soda

The last step is pretty simple. Sprinkle some baking soda on your carpet, seats, and floor mats (make sure the interior is dry before doing so). Baking soda has odor-neutralizing properties that, similar to vinegar, will attack them on a molecular level. Let it sit overnight, and then vacuum it up.

If you’ve made it this far, then you should notice a drastic reduction in odor. If not, it might be time to bring in the big guns.

If All Else Fails – Bring Out The Big Guns

We’re talking about an Ozone Machine, which produces the toxic gas Ozone (also known as o3 or Trioxygen).  This attacks airborne particles and causes them to break down. 

Please note that Ozone Machines are specifically designed for commercial or residential use. You do not want to be in or near the car while the machine is running. Additionally, keep children and pets away while it’s running.

You can usually buy one at stores like Lowes or HomeDepot for between $200-$300.  Or, you can likely find one for rent at an equipment rental location.

Watch the video below for detailed instructions on how to use an Ozone Machine.

What’s The Best Way To Remove The Smell Of Smoke From Your Car?

Don’t smoke in it.

That’s right, prevention is the best solution.

As stated earlier, cigarette odor is one of the leading things that will lower the value of your car (as much as 9%). Thankfully, if you do have a noticeable smoke smell, you can remove most of it by following the steps provided in this article.

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Joshua Barrett

Josh Barrett is a writer hailing from the great state of Alaska. While describing himself in the third person is not his forte, writing about any and all things automotive – is. After 13+ years hustling in the exciting world of car sales, he took off to travel the world with his dog Teemo.