How to Get Cigarette Smell Out of Car (15 Tips)

Knowing how to remove smoke smell from your car is probably one of the most useful skills you will ever have in maintaining your vehicle’s hygiene. Most of the steps involved in eliminating that persistent smoky odor from your cabin also applies to getting rid of other pervasive smells like mold, gas, or sulfur. That said, here are tips on how to keep your vehicle smelling fresh.

Getting rid of the smoke smell in your car entails thoroughly cleaning the cabin and using a combination of commercial cleaning agents and home remedies. Depending on how bad the odor has permeated your car interior, a steam cleaner or an ozone generator may be required.

Here are 15 ways on how to get cigarette smell out of your car:

  1. Free the inside of your vehicle from trash and debris
  2. Remove seat covers and vehicle mats for cleaning
  3. Wipe down the glove box, dashboard, control panel, and steering wheel/column
  4. Wash the gear shifter and cup holder areas
  5. Scrub the seatbelts with a homemade solution
  6. Steam clean the headliner and visor
  7. Remove cigarette smell from your car’s leather and trim
  8. Shampoo your car seats
  9. Don’t forget the cargo area
  10. Spritz all windows with an ammonia-free glass cleaner
  11. Neutralize your ventilation system
  12. Replace the cabin air filter
  13. Swap out parts
  14. Subject your car to ozone shock treatment
  15. If all else fails, get a professional detailing service

Cigarette smoke that has spread through the inside of a vehicle is not only distasteful to passengers but also capable of ruining a much-anticipated drive. Over time, the lingering smoky smell could result in allergic reactions and breathing problems. It is never a good experience to ride a car with a nasty-smelling cabin – which is why we have this guide to help keep things in check.

How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell in a Car

1. Free the Inside of Your Vehicle From Trash and Debris

Before beginning the process of making your car smell nice and fresh again, first remove accumulated debris inside the cabin, as well as any trash, you have been unintentionally hoarding the past few weeks (hey, it happens to the best of us!). Do a full de-clutter while you are at it. Doing so not only leaves you with fewer surfaces to tidy up later on but also gives you back cabin space you have forgotten you had. Plus, you will need nothing more than a bin and a vacuum cleaner to make this happen.

2. Remove Seat Covers and Vehicle Mats for Cleaning

Regardless of material, all floor mats, car rugs, carpeting, and any upholstery not permanently affixed to the inside walls of the car will need to be taken out for deep cleaning. Steam cleaners (plus a degreaser) work best with fabric or vinyl mats. On the other hand, Carpet mats are best soaked in baking soda (a natural absorbent) for 15-20 minutes before vacuuming to get rid of the cigarette smell. For car mats made of a more durable material like rubber, you can hose them down with detergent.

3. Wipe Down the Glove Box, Dashboard, Control Panel, and Steering Wheel/Column

Person Wiping the Car Dashboard

Use a microfiber cloth or chamois and a hard surface cleaner to remove car cigarette smell and stains from these areas. As it is, the cloth can take care of most flat surfaces. However, you may need to get a little creative – for instance, wrapping a small piece of cloth around one tip of a ruler – to clean cracks and crevices effectively. For leather-wrapped components like the steering wheel and column (and the dash too on most special-edition trims), remove the odor from these spots using a leather cleaner and conditioner.

4. Wash the Gear Shifter and Cup Holder Areas

Merely doing a wipe-down to remove the smell of cigarette smoke from these areas may not be enough. Not only do they have odd-shaped corners and crevices, but they are also potentially very dirty and may even have loose tobacco or ash here and there (almost a given if an owner smokes inside their car). It usually requires just a bit of vacuuming and cleaning agents to get your shifter and cup holders sparkly and odor-free. But if the dirt you find is damp, make sure to use a wet vacuum to get rid of them before wiping down these surfaces.

5. Scrub the Seatbelts With a Homemade Solution

If you or the previous car owner is a smoker, then expect this to be one of the areas in your vehicle where cigarette smell will likely be the strongest. As such, you will need to wipe the seatbelts down with a damp cloth or rag repeatedly until you get rid of the smoky stench. Long-time car owners recommend creating a solution of either warm water and baking soda or warm water, dish soap, and vinegar (all equal parts) to clean the seatbelts effectively.

6. Steam Clean the Headliner and Visor

Another problematic area where smoke smell can be tough to remove is the headliner and visor. These sections are expected since cigarette smoke rises (especially if the windows are closed when passengers smoke inside the cabin). In this instance, using a car steam cleaner (view on Amazon) is the best way to eliminate smoke smell in the car. Steam cleaning loosens tars, oils, and smoke molecules from headliners and visors, making it much more effective to remove them along with their unpleasant odor. You may need an adapter that allows the spray head to make proper contact with smoke-filled sections and a glass-cleaning agent for the mirrors.

7. Remove Cigarette Smell From Your Car’s Leather and Trim

Cleaning Car Seats

There are two ways to ridding leather and trim of smoke smell:

  • A cigarette smell remover specially formulated for leather
  • A DIY vinegar solution

For the first option, make sure to consult your service manual or nearest dealer regarding which variant would work best for your car. Also, thoroughly read labels to avoid any untoward leather accidents. For the second option, you need to mix warm water and vinegar equally, and you are good to go.

Once you have chosen your leather cleaner, use a microfiber cloth, chamois, or soft brush to gently clean the leather. If using cleaning products you are unfamiliar with, try it out on a small portion of the leather surface first to ensure it is safe and non-corrosive. Rub the mixture onto surfaces that smell, but make sure not to saturate the leather in the process. Allow the leather-wrapped components and trim to dry, and see if you can still smell smoke afterward. Be patient – you may have to do these steps repeatedly to completely get the cigarette odor out.

8. Shampoo Your Car Seats

If your upholstery is not leather, the best way to get rid of smoke smell in your car seats is by shampooing and hanging them out to dry. Fancier aftermarket seat covers and headrests may warrant dry cleaning. Meanwhile, those not as smelly may only require you to vacuum the upholstery. Steam cleaning will help further remove the smell, although doing so is often unnecessary. In most cases, a solution of bleach and water, hydrogen peroxide and water, or white vinegar and water will be more than sufficient to eliminate the nasty smoky smell. Remember not to rush when cleaning car seats, and repeat the steps if necessary.

9. Don’t Forget the Cargo Area

Like your cabin, clean the trunk and eliminate smoke stains and smell from that area. To do this, vacuum the cargo area and air it out. But if your trunk has carpet, you will need to take the latter out, sprinkle baking soda, and wait 20 minutes (or more, if the smell is really bad). The baking soda should absorb accumulated smoke smells, which would go away when you vacuum it up. You may just need to vacuum your trunk a couple of times, as baking soda tends to stick to the carpet.

10. Spritz All Windows With an Ammonia-Free Glass Cleaner

Aside from leather and fabric, smoke smell also sticks to windows – leaving a film and odor on the glass. Thankfully, this is pretty straightforward to address when trying to get rid of cigarette smell. All you need to do is spray your car windows with your cleaning agent of choice (preferably ammonia-free) and wipe them clean with a chamois or soft microfiber cloth. You may need to repeat the process a few times to get rid of the smell (and streaks).

11. Neutralize Your Ventilation System

To effectively get deep into the air vents, introduce steam to your vehicle’s HVAC system through the air intake. Air intakes are typically located near the wiper blades or the windshield base. Once inside, the steam will flow through the ventilation system while removing smoke residue as part of the process. Do this for a few minutes with the windows open.

After allowing steam to flow through the air ducts, run the A/C on full blast (with the recirculation mode off and still with the windows open). Setting the A/C to its coldest setting permits air to pipe through as many vents as possible – up until the windshield defroster – and aids in eliminating the cigarette smell housed on the said duct surfaces. Running it for a good 7-10 minutes usually does the trick but could be done longer if the smoke smell has permeated the air passageways.

Once your vehicle’s HVAC is cleared of the smoke smell, it is time to deodorize it with a good-smelling scent. Do this by locating the air intake in your car, turning the ignition on, and setting the ventilation system to recirculate. After which:

  1. Set the fans to the highest setting and the heat all the way up.
  2. Insert an extension tube directly into the vents and spray the car deodorizer through the HVAC intake.
  3. Turn your ignition off after, and let your vehicle sit while the deodorizer settles (still with your windows open).

12. Replace the Cabin Air Filter

By design, air filters trap dust, residue, and other air contaminants. Consequently, they also trap odor. This is the reason you should replace your cabin air filters together with cleaning all upholstery and hard surfaces – if you want to completely get rid of smoke smell in your car. If you don’t, your dirty air filter is just going to pump the foul smoky odor back into your vehicle’s cabin once you turn your A/C on. And no amount of steam in your ventilation system is going to eradicate that trapped cigarette smoke until your air filters are changed.

13. Swap Out Parts

On rare occasions, home remedies and cleaning agents would not be enough to eradicate the cigarette smell in your vehicle. It could mean either the cleaning solution you have been using is not effective, or the smoke smell has permeated the interior of your car pretty badly to the point of no return. It is usually the second scenario that is the case, at which point you will have no choice but to replace severely soiled items like carpets, mats, air filters, and even very old upholstery.

14. Subject Your Car to Ozone Shock Treatment

Ozone treatment or the use of an ozone generator (view on Amazon) is a nuclear option that should be saved for last or until all other steps on how to get rid of cigarette smell in your car have been exhausted. It is a powerful tool for eliminating strong odors and hazardous to health. The only time it would be wise to do the treatment yourself is if you have considerable experience around hazardous substances or materials.

Ozone generators use UV radiation to break down O2 molecules into single oxygen atoms, eventually creating O3 or ozone. Because the process eliminates odor by changing the chemical structure of odor-carrying molecules, ozone itself can be pretty unstable. It may even cause permanent damage to certain types of interior. That said, performing the treatment on a vehicle is best left to professionals and ideally done in large unoccupied spaces (not the garage). Since O3 is heavier than air, it may also take a few days after doing this process before the ozone smell completely dissipates.

15. If All Else Fails, Get a Professional Detailing Service

Whether or not you have the time to put in hard work, having your vehicle professionally detailed may be the first or last step for you. While it is always most convenient to outsource deep cleaning your vehicle to the experts, using time-tested home remedies and first putting in the elbow grease wouldn’t hurt.

But understandably, seeking the help of a professional is always a matter of preference. If you believe they can do a more thorough job of getting rid of smoke smell in your car than you ever will, then that’s fine too!

A-B-Cs of Smoke Smell Removers

Air Freshener Hanging in Car

Since you have taken the time to learn how to get rid of cigarette smell in your car, you might as well read up on keeping that nasty nicotine smell at bay. Perfect timing – this section covers tested-and-proven organic and aftermarket remedies to keeping your vehicle cabin smelling as good as brand-new:

Add-on Air Filters

Nowadays, you can get mini air filters, humidifiers, or diffusers that plug into your car’s USB port or cigarette outlet. Despite being temporary solutions, these products continually clean the air in your cabin and help eliminate the smell of smoke. One example is the Westinghouse Portable Air Purifier (view on Amazon) with its HEPA filtration system and NCCO (Nano confined catalytic oxidation) technology.

Air Freshener

The classic car air freshener never goes out of function or style. Not only is it readily available in retail stores, but it also has variants (labeled odor eliminator) that do more than just mask the cigarette smell in your car.

Baking Soda

A natural absorbent, baking soda is the perfect odor neutralizer. Just sprinkle it on dry upholstery and carpet, leave it to sit for a few hours, and vacuum or wipe it up for a cleaner-smelling vehicle. You can also just open a box of baking soda and leave it in your car overnight to absorb smoke smells or any unpleasant odors.

Cat Litter

Another natural absorbent, cat litter left to sit in your cabin overnight does wonders in eliminating smoke smells. However, for stronger cigarette smells, the process may need to be repeated several nights.

Charcoal

Placing a bag of charcoal (preferably activated charcoal) inside your car for 1-2 days helps reduce smoke smell and for a small price. Also, this is one odor-eliminating alternative that surely won’t go to waste, as you can use it for grilling or barbecuing afterward.

Chemical Odor Bomb

Odor bombs are a more-recent invention that tackles cigarette smell and other unpleasant odors in a matter of hours. With this method, chemical vapor that destroys odor-carrying molecules is released into the cabin. Although its cartridges are for single-use, odor bombs are relatively cheap and more cost-effective than other alternatives.

Citrus Peels

Grapefruit, lemon, lime, or orange peels are a natural remedy for getting rid of smoke smells in your car. Like charcoal and cat litter, these peels are best left inside the vehicle for up to 48 hours or two days. Ensure that your windows are closed, and the peels are rinsed with water to prevent insects. Also, replace the peels regularly to avoid another smell problem.

Coffee Grounds

Another quick fix to nasty smoke smells in your car is using coffee grounds. They may not be the most effective, but they are never out of stock and are extremely economical. Plus, they are interchangeable with cat litter and citrus peels in masking cigarette smell. Coffee grounds contain nitrogen that helps neutralize odors quickly and safely.

Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets are best used on cloth seats and hard surfaces and are capable of instantly deodorizing your vehicle. The use of these sheets can even help hide strong smells. While they can only mask the smell of cigarette, Dryer sheets significantly reduce the likelihood of nasty smells penetrating the upholstery.

Newspapers

A rather unpopular alternative, newspapers help eliminate smoke smell in your car – but only to an extent. Leaving newspapers in your cabin overnight can absorb some of that nicotine smell but may not be as helpful with odor seeped into carpet and fabric.

Vinegar

Undiluted vinegar is another Band-Aid fix for cigarette smell in your car. Like charcoal, vinegar will absorb the smoke smell if left in an open container in your vehicle overnight. A sedan would require a large bowl, while a larger SUV may need 2-3 bowls of white vinegar to get the job done.

Conclusion – How to Get Cigarette Smell Out of Car

To recap, below are 15 tips on how to remove cigarette smell from your car:

  1. Free the inside of your vehicle from trash and debris
  2. Remove seat covers and vehicle mats for cleaning
  3. Wipe down the glove box, dashboard, control panel, and steering wheel/column
  4. Wash the gear shifter and cup holder areas
  5. Scrub the seatbelts with a homemade solution
  6. Steam clean the headliner and visor
  7. Remove cigarette smell from your car’s leather and trim
  8. Shampoo your car seats
  9. Don’t forget the cargo area
  10. Spritz all windows with an ammonia-free glass cleaner
  11. Neutralize your ventilation system
  12. Replace the cabin air filter
  13. Swap out parts
  14. Subject your car to ozone shock treatment
  15. If all else fails, get a professional detailing service

Depending on how thoroughly you have cleaned your car’s interior, it can take up to 48 hours before the cigarette smell in your cabin is eliminated. Doing an ozone shock treatment or having your wheeler professionally detailed may take longer since your vehicle needs more time to air out and for the ozone to subside. Any of the suggested remedies in this guide should work. But ultimately, the key to keeping the smell of your vehicle pristine is never to smoke inside.

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