How To Get Rid of Cigarette Smell in Car

So you have a car that smells like cigarette smoke? Kind of sucks, doesn’t it. The good news is that we have compiled a very detailed list of ways to get rid of the smoke smell in your vehicle.

It doesn’t matter if the car is used, rental, or just given to you by your grandmother who has a smoking habit. We can get the smoke odor out with these quick tips!

When cleaning the interior of a car, it’s best to use some common sense. Every vehicle is different, so it’s best to use your best judgment when cleaning. Don’t use strong cleaners if it can do damage to some regions of your car. Always test out a small area before using any cleaners. 

get rid of cigarette smell from car

Do The Obvious Stuff First

To start, you should remove anything that is a cigarette butt or ashes. That goes for the ashtray and anything that is around the ashtray.

Take the ashtray out and throw away anything that’s in it. Soak the ashtray in some half water and half white distilled vinegar for a bit and then rinse it with warm to hot water.

Eliminate anything that was cigarette/nicotine related, such as lighters, dip, and cigars.

Remove any paper or trash that is in the car too. Old newspapers and receipts can hold the tobacco odor in them along with any plastic bottles that people often leave in there car.

Remove Floor Mats

Remove all floor mats from your car or truck. You’ll want to vacuum the floor mats and any carpet that is in your vehicle. The vacuum will get all the big stuff out, and I’ll show you how to get the rest of the odor out in a little bit.

I know the internet is scattered with people saying to use Baking Soda for odors and then tell you to vacuum it up. Baking soda will indeed absorb odors, but it also will destroy your vacuum cleaner. Baking soda has fine dust that can get into the motor and ruin your vacuum. So I would avoid baking soda for cleaning and vacuuming. It’s best to use purpose-built carpet cleaner powder. 

To clean the floor mats, you’ll need a good scrub brush. Even if your mats are plastic or fabric, a scrub brush is necessary.

I like to use Oxiclean for cleaning my carpets. I spray it on and scrub it. Not much scrubbing is needed because of how effective it is.

Allow the mats to air dry in the Sun. The Sun can do wonders on materials with odors since it emits UV light that helps to kill certain bacteria. Plus, the wind gets into the fibers and breaks the odors free.

Cleaning Carpet And Seats

Make sure you clean every spot of the carpet in your car. This, along with the headliner, will absorb the most odors. Be sure to vacuum first before cleaning with the scrub brush to make sure you get all the big stuff first. Allow the carpet to dry before going back in.

smoke odor car seat

You can rent one of those rug doctors if the carpet is filthy. The rug doctors or even investing in a carpet cleaner with an attachment will make short work of cleaning the carpets in your car.

You won’t believe how much crud is on floor mats, carpet, and your car’s upholstery when you use rug a doctor with its attachments and upholstery shampoo.

If you can’t rent or buy a carpet cleaner that also cleans upholstery, then you can use some very diluted simple green. Make sure you test it out on a small hidden area first to make sure it won’t hurt the fabric. Or pick up some upholstery and carpet cleaner from the store and follow the directions for using those.

Removing Smoke Smell From Leather

To clean leather seats and leather upholstery in your car is different than cleaning fabric. Even if its faux leather (pleather or fake leather), you still need to follow different guidelines.

Cleaning leather is almost an art form. There are specific cleaners you need to use. I can’t say them all in words, but I do this video goes over it all.

Wipe Down The Steering Wheel

The driver seat is usually the number one spot for all the smoke odors in a car. So your focus should start there and work your way around.

The first spot is the Steering Wheel. Smokers like to drive with the cigarette in their hands and often blow directly onto the steering wheel.

smoke smell steering wheel dirty

You can either use vinegar to clean the wheel, just half water, and half white distilled vinegar. Or you can use half water and half Simple Green. Both work great, and both are ECO-friendly. The vinegar is more of a home remedy, so it might be more comfortable for the average person. Simple Green is available at many stores.

Here is a link from Simple Green and How they recommend you use there product for cleaning your car. I would read this info first before trying Simple Green. 

I like to make sure to use a white rag when I’m cleaning so that I can see how much tar I’m cleaning up. You’ll need a ton of rags. When you go to wash your rags in the washing machine, make sure you use Oxiclean or your washer will start to stink like a cigarette too. Oxiclean is the best for getting rid of smoke smells from fabrics like rags and towels.

Clean All Windows Including the Windshield

The windshield takes the second biggest hit and can be visible with tar residue on it.

It’s best to use a window cleaner like Windex to get rid of the tar film that is on the windows.

smoke tar smell window and reverse mirror

Simple Green and Windex are far better at cleaning than vinegar.

You need to make sure you clean every inch of the windows. That means the little spots and corners that are hard to reach. To get to those spots, you can take a pen with a cap on it and wrap the rag around it. Spray the rag with Windex and get into the corners the best you can. They do make a product for this exact purpose that might be worth looking into getting.

Clean The Dash And All Hard Surfaces

The next thing you’ll need to do is clean the dashboard and any hard surfaces in your car. I like to use Simple Green for this, but they do make dash cleaners that also will help protect the dashboard from the sun.

doors lock buttons handle switch nasty

Don’t forget to wipe down all areas that a person would touch with their hands. The smoke smell lingers on your hands, so cleaning things like the mirror, sun visor, radio, seat adjuster, and anything where your fingers will touch is essential. For glass and mirror, use Windex and for everything else use the water and Simple Green diluted mix.

Remove Cigarette Odor From Headliner

Any Fabrics in your car will be the hardest to clean since they absorb in the most amount of smoke odor. The problem with cleaning the headliner is different for every car or truck.

There is not a straightforward answer to cleaning a headliner, so many techniques might be needed. The good news is that headliners today are a lot easier to clean than headliners from earlier days.

headliner mirror sun visor

If you have an older used car, you can’t get the headliner wet since it will cause the fabric to separate and sag.

Some headliners are made of different materials that will take various methods of cleaning. You want to use a cleaner that doesn’t cause the headliner to sag or discolor. So it’s essential to test a small area out of the way for each cleaner you do use. This goes for cleaning anything in your car; it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Here is a video that does an excellent job of showing you how to clean the headliner of your vehicle. He even goes into detail about the cigarette odor…

To clean the headliner, you’ll need a hydra sponge. These sponges have small pores and make cleaning a little easier.

Replace The In-Cabin Air Filter

Every car nowadays has a filter built into it to keep allergies and odors out. This filter is located either in the glove box or under the dash around the passenger’s legs.
It’s crucial to replace (NOT CLEAN) the cabin air filter. They’re not that expensive, and about anyone can do it.

Most car manufacturers recommend you replace your cabin filter after about 15,000 miles or so. These things can get very nasty and smelly if not changed often, especially for a smokers car.

Clean The Car Vents

The smoke smell actually will hide in hard to reach places. The car’s vents hold the most amount of smoke smell that you can not reach.

I like first to take my vacuum cleaner and try to suck all the air conditioner vents the best I can. I don’t have the fans running when I’m doing this to avoid damaging the fan motor. Any area where air can come out, I vacuum it with my shop vac.

car vents radio smoke smell

There are two ways to clean out your car’s vents since there are two ways to get air into your automobile.

You’ll want to unlock all the doors in your car, turn the engine on and have all the windows up. Avoid being in the car as much as possible when doing the steps below. Make sure the vehicle is in a well-ventilated area outside since the engine is running and to avoid breathing in carbon monoxide, which can kill. 

outside vents wipers

The first way it takes in the air is through vents located under the windshield wipers. These vents take in air from the outside. I recommend that you turn the heater blower on or the fan on in your car to the setting that allows air from the outside to come in. Don’t have the air on recirculate. Turn the fan on full blast on the heat setting.

From the outside of the car, you take a can of Febreze and do short small sprays into the intake of the vents. You don’t need much for Febreze to work; it’s super effective at cleaning the air. Avoid spraying the paint.

Now the car and its vents are full of the Febreze and its cleaning the air. What you want to do now is set the air to recirculate. This will take in air from around the passenger’s feet and suck it in and blow it right back out. Let this run like this for a bit with the doors unlocked, windows up, and the engine running.

After you have let the car run for a bit, turn the engine off and open all the windows to allow the vehicle to air out overnight.

Ozone Treatment

The secret that many professional car detailers use is an Ozone Generator. These are simple but very powerful machines. It should also be noted that they can be very dangerous to people and animals.

If the odor is still there after doing all the above advice then I would seek professionals to give your car an ozone shock treatment. It’s best to let the pros take care of this since breathing Ozone can be dangerous. To learn more about Ozone and the safety of it here is a link to it. 

If you want to go down the path of ozone then check out this post here. We don’t recommend the “average joe” use an ozone treatment method because if done wrong it can damage the interior of your car (like plastic or rubber) or harm the health of others.

Safer Than Ozone

You can use some natural and cool ways to absorb smoke smell from small areas like a car.

The traditional way is to get some ground up coffee in a little bag made out of a coffee filter. Place this in the car, and the coffee will absorb the smoke smell from the air. Also, it makes your car smell like coffee! A more effective method is to get a can of coffee and leave the lid open. Over time the smell will go away and toss the can in the trash after a while.

Another method is to use Apples. The way the apples work is quite impressive, and I’ve even written about it here.

You can use activated carbon or charcoal to absorb odors from the air. You can find this stuff at many aquarium stores or pet stores. They used activated carbon to filter out any smells, and many air filters use this to clean the air. Just like the coffee, place the carbon in a cup and allow it to absorb the smell.

Not my most favorite method, but you can get a bowl of vinegar and leave it in the car overnight. Vinegar will evaporate into the air and attack the cigar odor away. The more shallow the container, the quicker it will evaporate.

Dryer sheets can also be used to absorb some of the odor. When dryer sheets are left in a hot car, they become active and will absorb odors. This method only works in the summertime when cars can get hot from sitting around in the sun.

Ionizers And Air Purifiers

To further help with smoke odors or any future odors, you can pick up air purifiers. They have car ones that plug into the cigarette lighter (funny if you think about it), and they clean the air when they have power going to them.

An Ionizer is much like an air purifier, but it makes negative ions that help to clean the air. I do find the Ionizer to be more productive with smoke smells since it electronically handles the smoke while the air purifier is just a fan that pushes air through a filter.

Check out Car Ionizer Here

One Last Thing

One last thing I do that many people don’t even consider is to give the outside of the car a bath. Grab your regular car soap and give the outside of the car a good wash.
Some of the odors might be sticking to the outside of the car and making its way back inside. Plus, this covers all bases for smoke odor.