How To Remove That Stubborn Smoke Smell From Your Car TODAY!

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The car feels like an intensely personal space, and the average American spends 17,600 minutes a year in the car; so it's only natural we would want to eat, drink, talk to friends, and even smoke in our vehicles. But after a while, you're going to be asking how to remove the smoke smell from a car.

You might also need to know how to remove the smoke smell from a car because you've found the perfect used vehicle and the owner's willing to give you an awesome price. If the only thing holding you back is the smell, don't worry. You can get rid of it.

Why Smoke Lingers In The Car

man smoking

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Information is power, and understanding why the smoke smells tend to linger in your vehicle will actually help you learn how to remove the smoke smell from a car more effectively. 

A Little Science

Cigarettes contains quite a few chemicals and additives beyond just the tobacco and nicotine that most people are after when they light one up. In fact, the average cigarette has more than 250 different chemical compounds and toxins: all of them with their own unique smell.

These chemicals are in the smoke that lingers around in the air when a person smokes. As the smoke settles, the chemicals layer themselves, over and over again, on any nearby surface. Because the smoke is slightly moist and oily, it's actually the agent laying down those toxins on everything, and it traps the toxins, and their smell, below it.

What It Means For You

What this means is that simply airing out a room or car out won't be enough after a while. Smoke goes everywhere, so it layers that smell onto clothes and hair, upholstery and leather, tile and wood, paint and plastic.

This also means the “smell” isn't the only thing you need to worry about. When you learn how to remove the smoke smell from a car, you're actually learning how to remove the trapped toxins, which are affecting you and everyone else who enters the vehicle. 

Why It's Always Worse In Cars

Cars are enclosed spaces, so smoking in one traps more of the toxins per cigarette in a more concentrated way than the average room in your home. The other problem is that the particles and toxins stick more easily to certain things. Tile, for example, can be cleaned fairly easily. Fabrics are the hardest because the smoke gets deep into their fibers; and the interior of your car is full of fabrics. 

How To RemoveThe Smoke Smell From A Car

Prep The Car

Your first step is to get the car ready for the cleaning process. There are three important steps here:

  •  Remove all cigarette butts from any ashtrays (or cup holders)
  • Vacuum up all ash and residue that you can see
  • Remove other objects, like toys or empty french fry containers, that are just going to get in the way

 This isn't an easy job. You'll need to vacuum everything, from the spaces between the seats to the underside of the removable floor carpet. If you have floor mats, just take them out. You'll clean them separately, and this is a chance for them to air out. 

Tackle The Fabrics

You've got both soft and hard surfaces in your car, and they'll need to be handled differently. The soft surfaces are the hardest to get smoke smell out of, and they'll need more time for cleaning products to work, so do them first.

We recommend either baking soda or the powdered pet smell remover you can get at any pet store. Both will absorb odors, and the powder is fine enough to get down into the fabric of your car's upholstery and carpet. 

Sprinkle And Rub

Sprinkle the powder all over your car. This is no time to be stingy, friend. The last thing you want to do is have to repeat this process because you didn't do it well enough the first time.

On the upright surfaces where the powder tends to fall straight off, you'll need to rub it in until there's enough on it that you can actually see it. Now you're going to let this sit at least overnight and ideally a good 24 hours. 


Once you've let your powder sit, it's time to vacuum it. Be sure to empty the vacuum first if it's the same one you used to clean up the ash before you started. You might have to vacuum a couple times to get all the powder out.

Shampoo (Optional)

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Once you've thoroughly vacuumed the fabrics in your car, it won't hurt to use a quality interior shampoo to give them a fresh smell and remove any lingering particles of powder.

Clean Hard Surfaces

spraying the dash board of a car

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The hard surfaces of your car include the center console, the dash, the space between the back seats and the back window, the interior doors, and the windows. Typically you'll have glass, vinyl, and molded plastic in these parts; and possibly also metal, wood, rubber, and fiberglass.

Depending on what your car is made of, some cleaners won't be appropriate for certain surfaces. Make sure you know what your car is made of and read the labels on cleaners so you know what they're safe to use on. 

The Chemical Route

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There are plenty of interior clearers that will tackle leather and vinyl, canvas, plastic, and wood trim. Some also claim to work on glass, but in most cases it's best to just use ordinary glass cleaner for the best results on your window.

The Natural Method

If you prefer fewer chemicals in your life, a vinegar and water solution in your own spray bottle will work fairly well. We recommend using white vinegar for the best smell, and this should be combined with water in a 3:1 ratio. Simply spray it on and wipe it off. You can use this on your windows, as well. 

The Method

Most spray cleaners are just spray and wipe. In some cases you might want to let them sit a few minutes before wiping them off, but that's usually not necessary. If you're using vinegar and water, don't let it sit.

You may need to do the whole thing twice. It's very hard to ensure you've reached every nook and cranny in something as full of nooks and crannies as a car, so going over it a second time will help you reach every spot. 

Be Gentle

A word of warning: wiping too hard over air ventilation grills can break them, so go gently here. Also be aware that many front windshields have a thin plastic film on the interior. This film is there to keep flying glass from going into your face in the event of an accident; but it's easily scratched. So go gently here, too, and use a soft microfiber cloth. 

Clean Your Ventilation System

The smoke smell will also have gotten into your air ducts and air filter. If you don't clean these, all your hard work on the other parts of your car's interior will go to waste. 

Replace The Air Filter

If someone has been smoking in the car, the air filter is going to be full of that smoke. Chances are it needs to be replaced anyway, and this isn't expensive. Just make sure you get the right size for your model of car. Check your owner's manual to make sure.

Circulate Air

With an air freshener, bought or homemade, in the car and everything else clean, put down all the windows and turn on the car. Set the vents to the “open” position and choose the “recirculate” mode; though you can turn off the air conditioning function. Leave things to circulate for an hour. 

Preventing Smoke Smells In The Car

cigar smoke in the air

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The easiest way to ensure you never even need to know how to remove the smoke smell from a car is not to ever smoke in the car in the first place. Even if that's your goal, though, we realize that a really bad day at the office or a long trip can occasionally overwhelm the best of intentions; so here are some tricks to prevent the smoke smell from building up too quickly: 

Powerful Coffee

Vinegar Again

Freshening Dryer Sheets

Delightful Citrus

Odor-Absorbing Charcoal

Kitty Litter: Not Just for Cats Anymore

Maximize Your Preventative Measures


inside of a car

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Knowing how to remove the smoke smell from a car can revive your vehicle's space. If you are a smoker, it might even inspire you to stop smoking in the car: and maybe stop smoking entirely! Why not give it a try? You might just be around to enjoy your fresh, clean car interior for a few extra years.

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