Reconditioning a smoke-infested vehicle is no easy task because once inside, smoke permeates the entire cabin, burrowing into both porous and non-porous surfaces. Today, we’ll show you how to get smoke smell out of car.
According to research, a car with a pungent smoke odor loses over 7% of its market value. And rightly so, the smell of smoke in a car is a major deal breaker for potential buyers, making it harder to sell such vehicles.
So, whether you are looking to remove the smoke smell in your vehicle before trading it in, or you just bought one, and the previous owner smoked heavily in it, we’ll walk you through the process to rejuvenate your entire cabin.
Read on to find out how to prep your vehicle for smoke odor removal and deodorize the entire cabin, leaving it smelling like new.
Preparing Your Car for Smoke Odor Removal
When cleaning out smoke odor from your car, the success of the process largely depends on the prepping process. The focal point of the prepping process involves thoroughly cleaning the interior and changing the cabin air filter.
Smoke residue seep into the vehicle upholstery, air conditioning duct, and other surfaces, which is what gives off the smoke odor. So, thrashing the cigarette butts and ash alone won’t cut it.
You need to start by thoroughly cleaning the whole interior, changing the cabin air filter, and cleaning the A/C duct. But before you start cleaning, empty out the ashtrays and remove all personal belongings from your vehicle.
Below are all the products you’ll need for prepping:
- Chemical Guys Total Interior Cleaner and Protectant
- Microfiber Towel
- Car Seat Belt Cleaning Brush
- Detailing Brush Set
- Vacuum Cleaner
- Lysol Disinfectant Spray
Step 1: Start with the headliner and windows
When cleaning, you want to move from top to bottom. This way, the ash doesn’t fall onto the areas you’ve previously cleaned, leaving you with more stains to clean.
And since the headliner is the topmost part of a vehicle’s interior, we’ll be starting from there. Get your Chemical Guys Total Interior Cleaner and spray some on your cleaning towel. Now, use the damp microfiber to lightly wipe the headliner.
When cleaning the headliner, you only want to use a damp towel because scrubbing or using an aggressive cleaner can damage its glue backing, making the entire fabric sag. While at it, remember to clean the sunroof and sun visors.
Smoke particles form some kind of haze on windows, making them appear foggy. To remove the smoke film, spray the cleaning solution on your microfiber towel and use it to clean the windows, windshield, and rearview mirror.
After cleaning, turn to the dry side of the towel and use it to wipe off the excess solution. For other types of window stains, we have a detailed article on the best way to clean car windows without leaving streaks.
Step 2: Move to the dashboard, steering wheel, and center console
After cleaning the headliner and windows, move to the dashboard. Smoke ash also clings to non-porous surfaces. So, if you’ve ever smoked in your vehicle, the dashboard will definitely have ashes sitting on it.
Soak your microfiber rag with the cleaner and use it to wipe the dashboard. Wiping the dashboard will remove the smoke particles giving off the bad odor. Once you are done, proceed to clean the steering and center console.
For the steering, you want to use the detail brush. While the microfiber towel will work just fine for the grip area, there are some hard-to-reach parts of the steering, like the switches, that only a detail brush can reach.
Ensure you clean of all the smoke particles, hand grease, and other nasty stuff sitting on the steering. After cleaning the grip area and other parts of the steering wheel, use the soft bristle of the detail brush for the hard-to-reach parts.
You don’t want to spray the cleaner into the crevices or tight cracks as drying it becomes impossible. Once you are done with the steering, move to the center console.
Cleaning the center console is similar to what you did with the dashboard. Spray some detail spray onto the microfiber towel and use the damp towel to wipe the ash sitting on the center console. And use the soft bristle of your detail brush to reach tight areas.
Step 3: Clean the seat belts, seats, and door jam area
The next part you’ll be cleaning is the trio of the seat belts, seats, and door jam area. The door jam area is one part that is often overlooked.
Spray the cleaning solution on the microfiber cloth and use it to wipe the door jam area and the rubber seal. After cleaning, all the smoke ash, fingerprints, grease, and dust on the seals will be gone. Now, repeat the process for the remaining parts.
After the door jam area, grab your Car Seat Belt Cleaning Brush and pull out the belts. Spray your cleaning solution on the belt and use the brush to scrub.
Once you are done scrubbing, wipe off the solution with a dry microfiber cloth and repeat the process for the remaining belts. You can check our article on how to safely clean a car seat belt for a detailed process.
The bulk of the ash and smoke odor is ingrained in the vehicle seats, and that’s where the dense, heavy odor comes from. So, you want to deep clean the seats to remove all the embedded smoke residue.
But first, you want to wipe the seats with a damp towel soaked with the cleaning solution before going in with the vacuum cleaner. After cleaning the seats, go in with the vacuum cleaner to extract the ash and smoke residue.
You need to be thorough with the vacuum, ensuring that you get under the seats and in between the crevices. If you have leather car seats, check out our article for insightful tips on cleaning leather seats like a pro.
Step 4: Don’t forget the carpets and floor mats
When cleaning the interior, you want to leave the carpets till the end to avoid creating a mess and having to re-clean them. Take out the floor mats and scrub them thoroughly with your car wash soap to extract the embedded smoke ash.
After scrubbing, leave them to dry. Now, use the vacuum cleaner to clean the carpets. You may want to go in with the vacuum cleaner a second time to ensure that you pull out all the smoke residue.
Step 5: Replace the cabin air filter and clean the air-conditioning duct
You want to round off the prepping process by changing the cabin air filter and cleaning the AC duct. The smoke odor coming from the air-conditioning unit is trapped in the air vents and cabin filter.
A smoke-saturated air filter or air duct will invariably result in the release of smoke smell from the air vents. A quick Google search or lookup in the owner’s manual would provide more details on its location.
But usually, the cabin air filter is located behind the glovebox, and depending on the manufacturer, you may have to go through the glovebox or engine bay to access it. Replacing the filter will greatly improve the cabin air quality.
Now, proceed to clean the AC duct. Power the air-conditioner and set it to full-blast. Remember to turn off recirculation, as you want to suck in fresh air from outside.
Get the Lysol Disinfectant Spray and spray it into the air intake system while the AC is running. The cleaner will follow through the air system into the AC duct and clean the duct.
For vehicles without a cabin filter or accessible air intake, spray the Lysol cleaner on the passenger side of the cowl section, and you should get the same result.
Once you are done prepping the vehicle, the next and final step is deodorizing the lingering smoke odor in the vehicle cabin. Stay with us as we walk you through both natural and other methods to eliminate the smoke smell permanently from your car.
Natural Methods for Smoke Smell Removal
Removing smoke odors from your car does not necessarily have to involve using potentially harmful methods. Below are some non-toxic and natural deodorizing methods you can use to rid your vehicle interior of that nicotine smell.
1. Baking Soda and Vacuuming Technique
Baking soda, otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate, is a natural deodorizer that absorbs pungent odors, including smoke smell. It works by chemically reacting with odor-causing molecules and traps them within its surface, thereby neutralizing the smoke smell.
Start by sprinkling the baking soda all over your vehicle cabin — on the seats and carpets. Leave it to sit for some hours or overnight to allow it to absorb the smoke-causing odors.
And if you aren’t comfortable pouring baking soda all over your vehicle, you can pour it into an open container and place it inside your vehicle.
The next step is to vacuum the baking soda. When vacuuming, you must ensure that you get every bit of it, as it is easy for baking soda to stick to your car seats. After cleaning your car’s interior, air your vehicle.
2. Charcoal Technique
Activated charcoal is also a natural odor neutralizer capable of eliminating unwanted smells. And it has even proven to be much more effective and efficient than baking soda. It has a huge surface area, with millions of micro pockets and pores.
These micro pockets and pores trap and lock the smell in, ridding the space of unwanted odors. Place the activated charcoal in breathable fabric bags or open containers.
This is to prevent the charcoal from spilling and making a mess while absorbing the smoke smell. Position the bags or containers throughout your car. Leave it in your car overnight with the windows and doors closed.
Remove the charcoal the next morning, and most of the smoke odor should have cleared out.
3. Coffee Grounds Technique
Coffee ground is another natural alternative to baking soda. It contains nitrogen, which has deodorizing properties and helps to remove unpleasant smells, including smoke smell.
Pour dried coffee grounds into open containers or breathable fabric bags. Place them in your vehicle cabin and leave them for some days to allow them to dispel the smoke odor.
After about 2-3 days, remove the coffee grounds and open all the doors and windows to let in fresh air. While your vehicle may have a coffee-like aroma, it is only temporary and should dissipate after proper ventilation.
While natural methods are the safest, they are only effective when dealing with mild smoke odors. For severe smoke odors, you may need to introduce commercial products like an ozone generator to get the most result.
Commercial Products for Smoke Smell Removal
A professional detailer charges between $200 to $600 to remove severe smoke odors. Knowing how to get smoke smell out of car can help you save such costs. For severe smoke odors, ozone generators and chlorine treatments have proven to be very effective.
1. Ozone Generator Treatment
An ozone generator treatment is your best bet for severe smoke smell. Ozone is a naturally occurring gas that is highly reactive and eliminates even the strongest odors. It reacts with odor molecules, thereby converting them into an entirely different compound.
In other words, when you run an ozone generator in your car, the ozone released merges with the smoke odor molecules and neutralizes them. And depending on your budget, there are some affordable ozone generators.
The only downside of ozone generators is that prolonged exposure can cause lung irritation, coughing, chest discomfort, and breathing difficulties.
To use the generator, power your vehicle and leave the A/C running with recirculation mode activated. Place the generator inside your car and set the timer.
Most units can be timed up to 120 minutes or even longer. But you don’t want the generator running for more than two hours. While you are expected to seal the windows and doors during the process, you want to leave a window slightly cracked.
This is to allow fresh air in during the process and also create an opening to pass the power cable to the power outlet. Power the generator and allow it to run for the set duration. The ozone will circulate throughout the car and neutralize the smoke smell.
Once the generator timer runs out, go to your vehicle and shut off the engine. Open the doors and windows to let air come in. You want to be very brief while at it, as you don’t want to breathe in any of the ozone.
Leave the doors and windows open for about thirty minutes to allow the ozone smell clear out and allow air circulation inside the car.
Now, spray any air freshener of your choice.
Lastly, an asthmatic patient shouldn’t be anywhere near the generator while it’s running, as it can worsen their condition. You should also ensure that no human, pet, or plant is present in the car while the generator is running, as it is unsafe to breathe in the ozone.
2. Odor Eliminating Sprays and Air Fresheners
Another option that works to eliminate the smoke odor outside the natural methods and ozone generator treatment we’ve discussed is using sprays and air fresheners.
While most air fresheners only mask the smoke odor for a short time, one that does work is BiocideSystems Auto Shocker Odor Eliminator — tested and trusted stuff.
Using chlorine dioxide, otherwise known as ClO2, BiocideSystems Auto Shocker permanently clears out the smoke odor in your vehicle cabin.
The chlorine dioxide makes this product much more effective than other smoke diffusers because it binds to the negatively charged odor molecules and neutralizes them. And the product is very easy to use.
Take out the pouch from its packaging and put it into the plastic container. Place the container in the cup holder or any other flat surface inside your vehicle. Using the measuring cup included in the kit, add one full measuring cup of water over the pouch to activate.
Open the glove box, turn the car mats on their sides, and flip down the sun visors to allow the product to penetrate every part of the vehicle cabin. Now, seal off the car and leave the product to work.
Depending on the severity of the smoke, you are expected to leave the vehicle sealed for about 4 to 24 hours. After the recommended time has passed, leave all the doors and windows open for about thirty minutes to clear the chlorine out smell.
Once you are done, you can proceed to spray your air freshener, though it is optional. Clearly, commercial products, particularly ozone generator treatment, work best for very strong or persistent odors.
But depending on the severity of the odor, you may need more than one treatment to dispel that nicotine smell from your vehicle completely.
Preventive Measures to Maintain a Smoke-Free Car
One sure way to ensure that your vehicle doesn’t have an awful smoke smell is by maintaining a smoke-free vehicle. Besides keeping out cigarette smoke, it also ensures a better driving experience and helps retains the car’s resale value. Below are some preventive measures to help maintain a smoke-free vehicle.
1. Establish a No Smoking policy
The first step to maintaining a smoke-free car is to keep out smoke. Establish a ‘No Smoking’ policy and communicate it to all passengers, including friends, family members, and even ride-sharing guests.
Though it might seem excessive, you may want to consider displaying a small ‘no smoking’ sign within the car to serve as a visual reminder and to deter your passengers from lighting up a smoke.
2. Avoid smoking before getting in the car
If you are a smoker, you want to avoid entering your vehicle immediately after smoking. Cigarette smoke odors tend to cling to clothing, skin, and hair, which is then transferred into the vehicle when you enter immediately after smoking.
You may want to take a bath and change your cloth after smoking to prevent transferring residual smoke into your vehicle. Or better still, quit smoking to avoid going through all this stress.
3. Regular cleaning and maintenance
Regularly cleaning and maintaining your car’s interior is equally vital in the quest for a smoke-free environment. Use a vacuum to thoroughly clean the car seats, floor mats, and carpets, effectively removing any trapped smoke particles.
This meticulous cleaning process eliminates unpleasant odors and significantly reduces the potential health risks associated with thirdhand smoke.
And by prioritizing cleanliness, not only are you creating a healthy space for yourself and your passengers, but you are also preserving the resale value of your car.
How long does it take for the cigarette smell to go away in a car?
Usually, it takes about 6 months to get the cigarette smell in your car to go away. But once inside your vehicle, the odor penetrates the fabrics and other surfaces, making the odor stay even longer.
To effectively clear out the smell, you need to thoroughly clean the vehicle cabin and implement one of the deodorizing techniques we discussed above.
What kills the smell of cigarette smoke?
While there are several methods of dispelling cigarette odor from space, using an ozone generator is still the most effective means of killing that tobacco smell.
The ozone released by the generator binds with the cigarette odor molecules and neutralizes them, making your vehicle odor free.
Is it necessary to clean the air ducts to get rid of the smoke smell in a car?
Yes, it is. The bulk of the smoke odor coming from the air conditioning system is trapped inside the air ducts and cabin filter.
So, you want to clean the air ducts and replace the air filter to clear out the smoke trapped inside the air conditioning unit. Else, the smell will persist even after cleaning and deodorizing the whole interior.
When dealing with smoke odors, you have two options. You can either learn how to get smoke smell out of car yourself or employ the service of a professional detailer to get the job done.
But considering that you may need to repeat the process a second or third time for severe smoke odors, learning how to do it yourself wouldn’t be such a bad idea. You should, however, know that the process takes a concerted effort.
The prepping process, which is only one part of the process, is very crucial to permanently remove the smoke odor. So, when prepping, you want to thoroughly clean the entire cabin, air duct and replace the cabin air filter.
For the second part, which is the deodorizing process, there are several methods you can use. However, the effectiveness of each method is largely impacted by the severity of the smoke.
Natural deodorizing methods aren’t that effective for vehicles that have been heavily smoked in. You may want to introduce an ozone generator to neutralize the odors. And in some cases, repeat the process a couple of times to permanently eliminate the odor.
Ultimately, taking preventive measures to keep your vehicle smoke-free will save you from having to deal with pungent smoke odor. Establish a ‘No Smoking’ policy and avoid smoking before getting into your vehicle. And if you can, quit smoking altogether.