How to Get Cigarette Smell Out of a Car

These tips should help you get your car smelling fresher.

A person uses an upholstery cleaning machine to clean the back seat of a car.Shutterstock


If the interior of your vehicle smells of cigarette smoke and you want to get the odor out, you have a couple of options. You can hire a professional detailer to get the job done or you can do it yourself to save some money. It'll take a bit of time and a little elbow grease to get the interior fresh on your own, but these tips should help your ride smell much cleaner.

Clean Out the Interior Before You Start Scrubbing

Your first impulse might be to simply vacuum out the car, but trash and other loose items — such as a sweatshirt in the back seat or a styrofoam coffee cup in the cupholder — can retain smoke smell, too. Remove all potentially odor-trapping items as your first step. This includes everything in the door pockets, under the seats, in the glovebox, and in the trunk.

Also remove the floor mats, whether carpeted or rubber, and give them a thorough cleaning with soap and water. If the car has seat covers, remove and clean them with soap and water, too. Some seat covers can even be machine washed.

Once the floor mats are out of the car, vacuum everything and then deep clean the entire interior with an interior detailing solution. Don't miss a single spot or crevice. Vacuum in, around, and under the seats, along with the floor mats, carpets, and all the upholstery.

After the initial vacuum, sprinkle baking soda on the soft surfaces you just vacuumed and let it sit overnight. Vacuum a second time to make sure everything is cleaned thoroughly before moving on to the next step.

Use Soapy Water to Scrub the Interior

Scrub the seats and carpet with a dedicated interior cleaner. Products such as dish soap and those that are alcohol-based tend to be a bit too harsh for car interiors. If the smoke odor is really seeped in and stubborn, consider renting a carpet cleaner from a home-improvement store and using the hand attachment on your vehicle's interior.

Don't forget about the seat belts, which are typically made of woven polyester and can trap in cigarette odors. Pull them all the way out to get the whole belt clean and scrub down thoroughly with your interior detail cleaner.

When all the soft surfaces including the seats and carpet are cleaned, move to the hard surfaces, such as the dashboard, windows, steering wheel, shifter, center console, and rearview mirror. Using a cleaning product with degreasing properties, such as the interior detailers from Turtle Wax or Meguiar's, can be helpful in removing the film that smoke leaves behind. However, be sure the product you use promises residue-free cleaning so as to not leave white haze behind.

Consider trying out a few natural remedies, too. Leaving things such as charcoal, coffee grounds, or citrus peels in a car overnight can help rid the interior of odors.

Most cars have carpeted headliners, which will also trap cigarette odors, so it's important to clean those, too. Work in small sections and be conservative with soap and water because headliners can be delicate.

Once everything is washed and cleaned out, park the car outside on a clear, dry, and breezy day with the windows down to let everything dry and air out. You may need to repeat this last step a few times.

Clean the Air Vents and Replace the Cabin Air Filter

Another area worth addressing is the air ventilation system. You can clean the air vents using either compressed air or a steam cleaner, which you can likely find at an auto-parts store or on Amazon for less than $100.

If you don't have access to either method, try wiping the vents down with disinfectant wipes or interior detailing wipes. You could also consider replacing the cabin air filter — if your vehicle is equipped with one — so that clean air blows throughout the vehicle.

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Connor Hoffman
Connor Hoffman is a writer and editor based in Kansas City. Prior to becoming a freelance writer, he was an editor at a national car magazine and worked in communications at a major automaker. He loves off-roading and camping in his 4Runner, golfing (poorly), and shredding on his mountain bike.