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How To Get Cigarette Smell Out of Your Car

holding a cigarette in a car

Cigarette, cigar, pipe or vaping smell in your car can be an issue for a variety of reasons: 

You’ve bought your car second hand and it bothers you that it smells like an ashtray. 

You want to sell your car and want to get rid of the nicotine smell because you won’t get a premium price if you don’t. 

You’re a hardcore smoker or vaper, but you want to freshen up your car interior from time to time as a courtesy to your passengers.

Whatever the reason, you’ve come to the right place to get rid of that smoker smell! 

In this “How To”, we‘ll hand you different options:  

Check it out:

How to Get Cigarette Smell Out of Your Car “The Easy Way”

If you don’t have the time or don’t feel like doing a thorough car interior clean up, here are two options to make your car smell better with the least effort:

Method 1: Complement The Smoke Smell

It’s not a good idea to try and camouflage or overpower the smoke smell with sweet smelling air fresheners that smell like bubblegum or wild cherry. Because these smells differ so much, they will fight each other and blend into a sweet nauseating smell.

You can try to complement the cigarette smell with a bourbon or leather scent car hanger. These two scents blend with the tobacco smell into a cozy fragrance that doesn’t shout “cigarette!” right off the bat. 

This makes the smoke smell more acceptable, it might even turn it into a pleasant smell, but it will not get rid of it. 

Method 2: Remove That Smoke Smell With a Car Deodorant Spray

A good car deodorant spray will chemically neutralize most smoke smells.

An excellent example is Febreze, which neutralizes most odors from car carpets and car interior textiles. Lysol Neutraair also deodorizes hard and soft materials and disinfects too. 

Both products can simply be sprayed on your car upholstery and left to dry. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Spray minimum 1ft from the surface you want to treat and only lightly mist it. Be careful not to spray on touch screens and instrument clusters. If you accidentally do, gently wipe the product off immediately with a soft microfiber towel dipped in deionized water (or tap water). 

Although both these products are top notch, they may leave remnants of the smoke smell that comes from spots that the spray can’t reach, from the vent ducts or from deep within the carpets or seats. For best results it’s best to frequently use these products.

Both of these easy methods are no permanent, lasting solution however. If the cigarette ash and dust isn’t removed from deep within the upholstery materials, the bad smell will gradually return once the spray scent wears off after a few days or so. 

In order to have lasting results like a professional detailer, you’ll have to put in a little more effort:

How to Get Cigarette Smell Out of Your Car Like a Professional Detailer

Cigarette ash and dust embedded deep in your car upholstery will keep smelling if you don’t remove it. You can mask it with a scented car hanger or a car deodorant spray, but after a while it will return. In order to get professional results, no matter which technique you’re gonna use, you’ll have to prep your car upholstery first to remove that dust and ash:


Things You Might Need To Get Smoke Smell Out Of Your Car

1. Clean The Ashtray(s)

Remove all ashtrays from your car and empty them. 

Clean them thoroughly with a microfiber towel soaked in pure vinegar. This will neutralize the remaining tobacco smell.

2. Deodorize Your Car’s AC

  • Start your engine. Open your car windows and turn on your car’s air conditioning on maximum setting.
  • Spray about 1/2 a can of Lysol disinfectant spray into the AC air intake(s) with the engine running and the AC on at full power. The disinfectant vapor is sucked in and will disinfect the entire AC system, killing all bacteria, mold, fungi and most importantly that awful cigarette smoke smell.

    Typically, the AC or ventilation air intake is located at the base of the windshield. Cover it with your hand to make sure. With the AC running at max capacity you should feel strong suction. Some cars have one intake, some have a driver’s and a passenger’s side air intake. With some cars you need to open the hood to reach the air intake(s). When in doubt, consult the owner’s manual.

  • Let the air conditioning run for at least a couple of minutes after so the product can do its job. 
  • Leave the car windows open for at least a couple of hours so the remaining product can freely evaporate before you use the car.

3. Vacuum Your Car Interior

Vacuum your interior, carpets and car seats thoroughly. The less ash and dust remains that can trap smoke smell, the longer your results will last. 

For advice on a good car vacuum, take a look at our “Top 7 Best Car Vacuums

Steps To Remove The Smoke Smell Out Of Your Car 

Now that you’ve completed the preparation, a lot of the work has already been done. The following steps will get you to that professional detailer level to guarantee a lasting result:

Step 1: Clean Your Car Interior Using White Vinegar

The first step is to neutralize the worst odors with vinegar. It’s the cheapest and one of the most effective smell neutralizers. Vinegar is most effective when used as a pre-treatment to remove the most prominent smells and loosen dirt before using a specialized car interior cleaning product.

  • Park your car in a well ventilated place like in your garage with the garage door open or in open air. Work with all car doors open for optimal air circulation. 
  • Take your removable car carpets out of the car so you can clean them, as well as underneath them.
  • Fill a spray bottle with half white vinegar / half ionized water. 
  • Spray the entire car interior and your removable carpets with this solution. Spray all carpets and fabrics, including the headliner, until they’re really damp, without soaking them. The same goes for all plastics and vinyl. 
    Be careful to only lightly mist controls, switches and electrics. Don’t get them dripping wet. Wipe them dry with a microfiber towel immediately.

    Avoid spraying touch screens and control panels. If you do get them wet, wipe them dry immediately. 

  • Let the solution work for a couple of minutes, then rub dry real good with clean towels. Leave your headliner to air-dry or only very delicately wipe it dry because headliners can be fragile, especially textile ones. Be careful not to stretch it or it may sag.It is crucial to treat your headliner, however. It is a notorious, yet often overlooked source of bad odors.

    You can spray leather surfaces too if the leather is in good condition. Avoid spraying on scuffs, tears and discolored or worn areas. Again: mist it, don’t get the leather soaking wet. Wipe dry immediately without letting it rest.

Most likely, you’ll be astonished by the amount of brownish gunk that comes off your car interior. It’s a combination of dust and dirt, combined with nicotine deposits.

Step 2: Use a Specialized Car Interior Detergent

The next step in the cleaning process is to use a specialized car interior detergent to remove any remaining odor and dirt. This step is complementary to the vinegar cleaning process by tackling the problem from another chemical angle. Although both options work great separately, when used in succession the result is much more effective.

This cleaning process can be done manually or with a car upholstery cleaning machine. Depending on the effort that you put in, both perform equally well. Needless to say that a car upholstery cleaning machine is a time-saver and requires much less elbow grease.

  • The car upholstery cleaner does its job by automatically spraying the cleaning solution of your choice on your car carpets and textile upholstery, and sucking it back in along with the dirt and grime. The clean soapy solution in the first reservoir turns into a disgusting brown sludge that is stored in a second “dirty” reservoir. It’s amazing how much dirt this machine can pull from an already vacuumed and pre-washed carpet! It works equally great on textile car seats and door panels. It’s as easy as vacuuming your car.
  • The other solution is to clean your carpets and textile upholstery by hand. If you put in enough time and effort and use the right product, the result can be equally amazing. It’s actually quite simple to do, but it requires some degree of tenacity and muscle power:

    First dilute the concentrate as instructed on the label, wipe the solution in the carpet or on the upholstery textile with a microfiber towel or a carpet brush if required. Next wipe it off with clean microfiber towels until your towels stay clean.
    Repeat the process if needed. Move on to the next area, and so on…  

Step 3: Use an Ozone Generator To Eliminate Smoke Smell

Sometimes cigarette smoke smell can’t even be removed with the best car deodorants or cleaning methods. If you want to get rid of it once and for all, use an ozone generator as a final step. 

Ozone oxidizes and disinfects, effectively neutralizing all smoke smell, even in places you can’t normally reach and in the deepest carpet fibers. For optimal results it is important that you first complete the previous cleaning steps before using an ozone generator. When a car is very dirty, the dirt can act like an impenetrable shield making it impossible for the ozone to reach the source of the cigarette smell.

An ozone generator is very easy to use: Just plug it in and leave it in your car somewhere central like on your front armrest or on a front seat with the doors closed for 30-60 min. and that’s that… The better the preparation, the better the result will be.

Unplug and roll down your windows while holding your breath. If your car is parked in your garage, leave the garage door open for maximum ventilation. Ozone can be harmful to the respiratory system, use caution!

After a couple of hours, you can return to your car and drive it without that nasty cigarette smell… 

The first day or so you might notice a slight burned smell in your car like after a lightning storm. That’s tiny amounts of ozone, oozing from your car upholstery. These minute amounts are completely harmless though, and the ozone smell will completely vanish in one or two days max. 

Yep, that’s how professional car detailers remove cigarette smoke smell…

Happy detailing!


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