By Anthony Santiago - Editor-in-Chief

June 29, 2022
How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car

How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car - When you get into your car, the first thing you might notice is the smell of smoke from the cars interior.  The cigarette smell can develop after the car has been sitting in the hot sun.

This might have occurred with your new "used" car that you just purchased and you are worried that you can't help fix this issue. This smell can be difficult to get rid of and can become quite annoying. In this article, we will cover the various ways to address and get rid of the smoke smell from your car. 

If you're constantly encountering a smoke smell emanating from your car, there are two important steps that you need to keep in mind. You will need air flow and you need to clean up the source of the smell in order to get rid of the unwanted odor.

TIP: I am a non-smoker and I also have a sensitive nose. I've tried all of the solutions out there and I will give you my thoughts on how to attack the smell.

Air Fresheners

Air fresheners do help MASK the issue but it doesn't really address the issue at hand. I typically like to have a mild scent in the car but if you have to use heavy perfumes to help make the car tolerable, then you will need to do some detective work. 

How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car

Confirm Smell with Your Nose

You will need to sniff around the car to figure out where the source of the odors are coming from. Typically a smoker's smoke will soak into the seatbelts, B-pillar and headliner since smoke rises. We will address each in their respective sections below. 

Start by opening your driver's door. The smoke smell may hit you like a ton of bricks. The smell dissipates but as a driver, you are in the hot zone of the nicotine and tar that is embedded in the fabrics, surfaces and panels. 

NOTE: To fully remove the smell of smoke in your car, you will need to treat and address EVERY surface of your car. Putting an odor bomb that is marketed as neutralizing, by experience has not worked out well, it just masks the problems. 

Home remedies like coffee beans and dryer sheets also just MASK the problem. We will need to get to the root of the problem. 

Where is the worse smell 

Based on your detective work, your nose will help identify the worst offenders. Like I mentioned before, the driver's position area is where most of the smoke lingers. It will also be in the HVAC system as well as the passenger seats. 

We will tackle each of these shortly, but take a look around to see if there are any cigarette butts under the seats. You will be surprised how much smell can emanate from one butt. 

TIP: You should NEVER reuse your rag or microfiber towel when cleaning multiple surfaces. The key here is to remove the smell and not transfer it to another section. You may be tempted but only use one surface at a time.

How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car

Areas to examine carefully:

  • B Pillar - The b pillar is by the left shoulder area of the driver. This is where the seat belts are typically located. This is fabric and will typically need a gentle dilution of degreaser to break up the tar and smoke smell in the surface and foam. 
  • Seats - While you might think the driver's seat smells, it's the passenger seats that most of the smoke lingers since the residue lands on the surfaces. You will need to pay closer attention to the front and back panels of the passenger seat. 
  • Seat belts - Another hidden area to clean are the seat belts, since they recoil, you will need to pull them out to clean them thoroughly. You can use a clothespin to help keep the belts out as you clean them gently with your dilute degreaser solution. 
  • Headliner - Older cars with headliners have aged foam. You will need to use less water and more foam to help encapsulate the smell and dirt. I had an issue where my headliner sagged afterwards and I was forced to pin the section that lost adhesion. Not a huge deal but something to keep in mind.  
  • HVAC - The HVAC system will have residue smells. A steamer works great here but you will need to neutralize the nicotine. Klima Clean and some lysol can help address this. You might need to repeat this a few times to address this as well as employ the help of an ozone machine. 
  • Carpets - Carpets are typically easy to deodorize. There is a foam backing that might have been absorbed but a good detail extractor can help remove that. You might have to remove the carpet from the car and give it a good power pressure wash but that is for extreme cases. 
  • Ashtrays - If goes without saying, remove any ashes or butts from the car. Also clean the cigarette lighter too to remove the ashes as well. 
  • Dashboard - The dashboard should be wiped down, multiple times to ensure everything is clean. For heavily stained dashboards, you will need to do multiple passes with different cleaners to help remove the tar and nicotine. A steamer would help break up the grime and make it easier to lift from the surface. 
  • Inside of the windshield - Tar and nicotine stick to all surfaces and you should use windex or a string cleaner to remove the layer on the inside of the windows. It may look clean but you need to touch every surface in order to address the smell. 
How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car

You will need to work tediously and methodically to help resolve this issue but it is fixable. Just take your time and work smart. 

Clean Every Surface - Find Source

As mentioned earlier, you will need to clean every surface. Air flow and removal of the smoke layer are the only steps you need to remove and get rid of the smoke smell from your car. 

Degreaser or Citrus Cleaner

How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car

You will need a cleaner with some cutting power to break down the smoke smell and tar. Popular degreasers like Spray Nine or Super Cleaner dilute well. You can also use Purple Power but I have found that Super Cleaner is better. I like Spray Nine for interiors since it is used in medical facilities.

Odoban is also a good cleaner but I felt that the scent is a little strong. 

If you are into citrus cleaners, Citrol or Xenit from Stoners are good alternatives. They have a citrus smell that helps freshen up the interior. Note: You do not have to purchase all of these products, just choose one and work with that multiple times to lift up the dirt and grime. 

TIP: I used ZEP smoke remover from HomeDepot and it has a heavy citrus smell. However, it only masks the smell and does not address the source. You can pick a can up for a few bucks and try it out. It temporarily masks the smoke with a pleasant smell.

Vinegar works

Vinegar is an acid and is a natural cleaner too. It has a punchy smell but works great to deodorize surfaces. Since it works great in the house, it also works at addressing smoke and mold in the car too. You will want to use the White Distilled vinegar with your cleaning. 

Windex - Ammonia based cleaner

Windex works great with the glass and as an all purpose cleaner. Just be sure to test a section first. The ammonia in the cleaner helps break down the tar and the nicotine to remove smoke smell.

BUT please avoid breathing too much in. It can irritate your lungs. I got this tip from Nathan's DIY Garage on YouTube and he uses it to spray on all the surfaces when he cleans out his cars. 

  • Ammonia: You can buy ammonia from a hardware store. Please note that ammonia is very toxic, so it is advisable to use gloves when using this product.

Ozone Machine

After you clean all of the surfaces, glass and seats, you might have some lingering smells from time to time, especially in the hot weather. You will need to make sure that none of the surfaces are WET.

DO NOT OZONE the car if the carpets are wet. You have a risk that you will bleach the fibers. 

How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car - ozone machine

Ozone machines are a hazard but will attack any of the remaining odors in the car. It MAY require multiple passes and time. Warning: Ozone is very bad for the lungs. Please use it with care and follow all precautions. 

The result of the ozone treatment is a chlorine smell. I suggest airing out the vehicle for at least a few hours or overnight if possible. You don't want to breathe this in.

Ozone is very effective to remove smoke smell and any other organic smell from matter. If the odors do come back, you should repeat the steps outlined here to continually remove the old nicotine and tar from the fabrics, foam and surfaces. 

Remedies that DID NOT WORK for me

  • Coffee beans 
  • Vinegar 
  • Meguires Odor Bomb
  • Ozium
  • Baking Soda - only helped minimally to absorb smoke smell

All of these products and methods to help resolve the smoke smell are simply masking the problem and not working to REMOVE the source. So, your mileage may vary, but cleaning the source is your best bet. 

How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car

How to Remove Smell from Car

If goes without saying, the two most important elements to consider when trying to remove the smell from your car is TIME and CLEAN THE SOURCE of the smell. If you don't remove the source of the smell and allow the clean air to remove the odor, you will be stuck in the endless circle of just masking the problem.

How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car

There are other car detail tools like a Heat Extractor and steamer that can help speed up the clean up process but we will cover that in another blog post. 

Air out 

If possible, try to have good air flow either with a fan or leaving the sunroof or window open to allow air flow. This will help dry the car and allow any of the odors to dissipate. This has worked for smoke, vomit smells, urine, mold and food smells. 

How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car - use fan

Remove Source

Secondly, remove to the best of your ability the source of the odor. Even though you might have removed most of the physical items like butts and ashes, the odor needs to be extracted and removed from fabrics, seats and headliners. 

How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell from Car

If everything else fails, go seek professional help

If you still have lingering smells, a professional detailer can help address those issues. They have a wide array of tools and techniques to help eliminate odors with special enzyme cleaners and machines. 

In Conclusion

In conclusion, you don't have to suffer with a terrible cigarette smell in your car.

Just follow these steps:

  • Identify - First, you need to identify where the smell is coming from the cars interior. Try spraying air freshener around the interior of your car, and see if that helps. If not, check under the seats and in the trunk area.
  • Remove Source - Next, use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the smelly particles. This will help remove any lingering odors.
  • Degrease Every Surface - Finally, clean the exterior of your car using a sponge and soap with a solution of degreaser. Make sure you wipe down the dashboard, headliner, windows, and doors.

Once you've done all of this, you'll notice that your car smells fresh and clean. And if you're lucky, you won't have to spend another dime on repairs!

More Articles Worth Checking Out:

Does a Car Warranty Cover Tires? (Probably Not)Did you just experience a flat tire with your new car and you are wondering

Read More

What Should I Do Before My Car Warranty Expires If your car warranty is coming to an end, there are some things

Read More

Does My Car Warranty Cover the Alternator? Your car must have died while driving and the battery light turned on. Perhaps you

Read More

How Do Car Warranty Companies Make MoneyCar warranties are a great way to protect yourself from expensive repairs down the road. But

Read More

Anthony Santiago - Editor-in-Chief

About the author

I am a passionate car enthusiast who likes to help people save money and avoid headaches when it comes to cars. I believe that everyone can find the right car at the right price. I share my tips and experience so you can learn quickly and maximize your next SUV, truck or car purchase.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Get Your Free Guide:
Top 3 Rules to Buying a Car