How to Remove Smoke Smell from Cars

"I just bought a used car and it smells like cigarettes. What's the best way to remove smoke smell from a car?"

Your new ride might be sweet, but the smell inside ain't. This is a common problem for lots of non-smokers. Besides smelling terrible, it's really, really bad for you and up to 20 times as bad for your children to be exposed to "third-hand smoke". You should eliminate and deodorize smoke smell from cars as quickly as possible.

"Health experts are warning of the dangers of third-hand smoke—the invisible toxic gases and particles that hang around on things like clothes and furniture long after a cigarette has been put out. Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, says kids ingest twice the amount of these air particles that adults do, even though they may be only a tenth of the size, giving them 20 times the dose. So have no pity on guests who want to light up­—send them outside. And don’t even think about allowing smoking in the car, even with a window open. “The smaller the space, the more intense the exposure to toxins,” says Winickoff." -  From "The Dangers of Third-hand Smoke", Best Health Magazine, March/April, 2009.

Fortunately, there are several ways to deodorize and remove smoke smell from car. Depending on how bad the odor is, you can try either try to mask it or destroy it using one or more of the following methods:

Temporary Ways to Remove Smoke Smell from Car

Needless to say, remove and thoroughly clean the car's ashtray first.

Air Fresheners. Use the kind that hang from the rear-view plus some of the heavy-duty bathroom types. These only work if your car isn't that bad and/or you just lent your car to your brother-in-law for the day and he lit up a smoke. 

Use some Fabreze. If the smoke smell isn't too bad, try spraying the seats, the carpet and the overhead liner with some Fabreze. It doesn't last for more than a few days, though, especially if your car was owned by a pack-a-dayer.

Keep an open can of unbrewed coffee grounds on the floor in the the back for a week. Or better yet, do this plus sprinkle the grounds onto the carpet and vacuum up after a day or two.  

A baking soda box left open for a week should help remove smoke smell from cars. You could also sprinkle it into the carpet and vacuum.

Specially formulated to remove smoke smell from a car, Arm and Hammer Deodorizing Carpet Cleaning Powder is a more powerful deodorizing alternative to baking soda if you need more strength.

Vinegar and water spray. Mix a strong mixture of vinegar and water and apply it to the interior surfaces of the car. Don't over-wet. Vinegar might not smell all that much better than cigarette smoke, but it will disappear and along with that it should remove smoke smell from car.
                                      
A top-quality commercial stain and odor remover like Hoover PetPlus Spot Spray is very powerful way to remove smoke smell from a car. You should be able to be into cracks and crevices well with the sprayer.

 Activated charcoal is famous for deodorizing and removing smells. Whirlpool Refrigerator Deodorizer is 50 times more powerful than plain baking soda. Try placing one or two in places around the car to help remove smoke smells from car.

Pure ammonia is said to eliminate the odor of cigarettes, also. A cup full placed into your cup holder and left for a few days can work wonders to remove smoke smell from the car. Make sure it isn't too full so it doesn't spill when driving.

Dryer Sheets leave a nice, clean smell if you put a few under the driver and passenger seats.

Permanent Ways to Remove Smoke Smell from Car


If you've got to break out the big guns, you can step up the fight using some of these methods.

  1. Start by a thorough vacuuming of the carpet of your car. Take out any floor mats and wash them with hot, soapy water. You can either clean your carpets with some odor-removing shampoo or rent a steam cleaner. 
  2. You can also shampoo your seats and any other cloth surface with the same product. Just be careful not to over-wet the interior. It could promote the growth of mold if it doesn't dry quickly.
  3. If you have vinyl or leather seats and for your dashboard, use a good quality surface cleaner and make sure you get into the creases and cracks to cut the tar and residue. Scrub any wood or rubber surfaces with something like Murphy's Oil Soap. 
  4. Don't forget the cabin overhead liner. This has probably taken the brunt of the smoke since it rises. Use a small amount of the deodorizing shampoo if it is cloth or fabric. Unfortunately, this area is especially hard to clean and you may end up having to have it professionally replaced if it is bad enough.
  5. Clean all your windows and concentrate on all rubber seals that may be coated with cigarette smoke residue.
  6. Remove and replace your car's cabin air filter. Undoubtedly the smoker used A/C and/or the heater and the smoke residue will be trapped in this system. You may have to clean inside the vents as best as you can.
  7. Last resort if you can't remove smoke smell from car yourself - take your car to a commercial auto detailer.

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