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Removing That Smelly Cigarette Smoke from Your Car Is Easier Than You Realize

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How to remove smoke smell from your car

How can you remove the smell of cigarette smoke from your car?
Photo: Camilla Soares via CC

If you purchase a used car or are selling a car and want to increase its value, no doubt the smell of the car is important to you. It would be wonderful if all car interiors perpetually smelled fresh, but that’s not the case. Regular use can make a car stink like the dickens–especially if you’re a smoker.

The smell of cigarette smoke can seemingly ruin a car’s interior by forever infesting its toxic scent. But, fear not–there are ways to remove cigarette smoke smells from your car!


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Steps for De-Smoking Your Car

Removing the smell of smoke from your car will take a lot of effort, but it is possible.

Because your car’s interior is made of different materials, each one will need to be treated differently. The easiest areas to purge are not-fabric surfaces like glass and plastic.

  • Windows: Mix water with a squirt of vinegar to make a cleaning solution to scrub down and wipe down the glass windows and windshield–inside and out. Use a tough sponge or a rag to scrub rather than a coarse brush that would damage the glass. Tape off the bottom of the window to seal it from leaking inside the door.
  • Dashboard: Plastic surfaces, especially the center console and dashboard, also harbor the smell of smoke, so they’ll need to be rigorously cleaned. Mix water and vinegar with a tiny bit of ammonia (or all-purpose industrial cleaner) in a spray bottle to mist and wipe the hard surfaces with a rag or microfiber cloth.

man washing cleaning car interior wiping leather seats

The upholstery will be the most difficult hurdle to overcome, because it’s what soaks up the smoke the most.

  1. Start by removing all of the trash from the car, dumping out the ashtray–remove it if possible to reach anything that’s fallen behind it–and removing the mats and seats. Vaccuum every inch of the car to remove all ash, debris, and traces of cigarettes. Sprinkle baking soda on any particularly bad areas and let it rub in before vacuuming it.
  2. Use an upholstory steam cleaner on the floors, seats, and ceiling, shampooing it and using a vapor steamer with a brush head. Be careful not to get the ceiling too wet or the adhesive will loosen.
  3. While your car is open and airing out, spray the upholstory with pet odor eliminators and let the vehicle air out for a couple days somewhere secure.
  4. Spray the air intake with an odor remover and replace the vehicle’s cabin air filter.

When you’re cleaning your car, make sure the doors are open so you can breathe. To make sure the job works, leave doors opened or windows rolled down in your garage every night for a couple months.

Of course, if you don’t want to go through all that work, many people just mask the smell by deodorizing it with stronger, more pleasant scents like citrus oil and coffee grounds. But, the smell of smoke will inevitably return if you don’t attempt to remove it.


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Sources: YourMechanic.com, Wikihow