Car detailing

How To Get Smoke Smell Out Of Car

In this guide you will learn how to get cigarette, vape, cigar, and weed smells out of your car.
Written by
Bella Ward, Feb 23, 2024

As convenient as smoking in your car can be, (especially in cold winter months) it can cause stubborn odors and damage the interior. It can cause car owners a whole range of problems, and sometimes prompt lots of questions they don’t want to answer.

When prospective buyers are shopping for a car, a regularly asked question is whether the previous owner was a smoker. When you’re on your way to an important date, you don’t want to end up spraying half a bottle of expensive cologne in the desperate attempt to freshen up your car. Considering hiring a rental to pick up your in-laws, perhaps? 

Stop settling for short term, and often more expensive solutions, and fix the problem properly today.

Choosing The Right Solution

Before you begin using several bottles of Febreze on every inch of your car’s interior, stop and consider the cause of the problem, as well as where the problem areas are.

The most common causes of bad smoke smells in cars are the following:

  • Cigarettes
  • Vapes
  • Cigars
  • Weed

Each of these has their own distinct smell, and depending on how you like to smoke, each can affect your car differently.

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If you regularly smoke with your cabin air blasting, your cabin air filter can become a problem. If you like to ‘hotbox’ your car, your upholstery will be holding onto a lot of the odor. Even if you regularly smoke with your window open, the smell will remain.

Take time to find out what causes your car to smell the worst, and if you can’t find a key factor, it’s likely going to need an extensive, thorough cleaning.

Essential Smoke Smell Removal Methods

Now that you’ve found the source of the problem, you’ll want to target it properly. These steps are a fantastic way to ensure that your car isn’t able to retain any lingering smells.

Using the below methods, you’ll be well on your way to the coveted “new car smell”.

1) Ventilate the Car

Start by opening all the doors and windows to air out the interior.

This should be done on a clear and dry day, in a safe area.

This helps to reduce the intensity of the smoke smell, and is a great step to begin with in any case.

2) Clean All Surfaces

Use a vacuum cleaner to remove any ash or debris from the seats, floor mats, and other surfaces.

Wipe down hard surfaces with a mixture of water and vinegar or a mild detergent. For leather surfaces, use a leather cleaner to avoid damage.

View our guide here on how to clean the entire interior of your car.

3) Deep Clean Fabric Surfaces

Fabric surfaces are very susceptible to strong odors, and unfortunately can retain bad smells for a long time. For cloth seats and carpets, use a fabric cleaner or a steam cleaner to remove odors deeply embedded in the fibers. Don’t forget to clean the roof liner!

Follow the product instructions for the best results.

If you don’t have access to a fabric or steam cleaner, it is best to schedule an appointment with a professional detailer.

4) Replace the Cabin Air Filter

Smoke particles can accumulate in the cabin air filter and replacing it can significantly reduce lingering odors. If you’re only getting strong / returning smoke smells when using your AC, this is likely a very necessary step.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and purchase a compatible high quality replacement cabin air filter.

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Alternative Smoke Smell Removal Methods

These are best combined with the 4 previously listed methods for maximum effectiveness. 

1) Use Baking Soda

Baking soda is a natural odor absorber, it reacts with acidic odors and neutralizes them. It can also be used in a range of household applications.

Sprinkle baking soda on carpet and fabric seats, let it sit overnight to absorb odors, and vacuum it up the next day.

2) Charcoal or Coffee Grounds

Place a bowl of activated charcoal or fresh coffee grounds in the car for a few days.

Both are effective in absorbing odors.

3) Car Air Purifier

Certain car air purifiers can be plugged directly with a USB connection and placed in your cup holder. You can add essential oils and let it run for a few hours to remove the smell of smoke from your car.

See viral TikTok here. Buy your own here.

4) Use an Odor Eliminator

There are commercial odor eliminators specifically designed for car interiors.

Choose one that's safe for all surfaces and follow the instructions for application.

5) Professional Ozone Treatment:

For persistent odors, consider a professional ozone treatment.

This method generates ozone inside the car, which neutralizes and eliminates strong odors.

Note: This should be done by professionals as ozone can be harmful to breathe in high concentrations.

How To Handle Strong & Persistent Smoke Smells

If the above methods were unable to get your car smelling fresh and clean, the problem likely requires professional attention. Professional detailers solve problems like these for their customers daily, and are always happy to put a smile on your face.

Book an experienced car detailer to remove the smoke smell from your car, a car detailing professional has the right tools and equipment to tackle even the most severe odors.

To find the best car detailer for you, use Panda Hub. We recommend the Panda Black package for stubborn odors. 

Prevention & Maintenance

The best way to prevent smoke smells in your car is to avoid smoking in your car, or at all. If you smoke outside your car and immediately get in, you’re still likely to transfer some of the smell to your car.

Prevention

For help with quitting smoking tobacco, visit the various resources below.

Smokefree 

US CDC

Canadian Government

Maintenance

While quitting is the best option, we understand that you’ll still need practical solutions. We advise doing the following:

  • Regularly clean your car interior
  • Don’t keep used filters or ash in your car
  • Air out your vehicle as much as possible
  • Don’t hotbox your car
  • Use an air purifier
  • Use a fresh, clean car freshener

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Advice From Health Experts

Dr. Tom Peterson | NIH Center for Scientific Review

"What we're trying to do as pediatricians is extend the interventional arm or influence of the pediatric provider in decreasing kids exposed to second-hand smoke" - Dr. Tom Peterson

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that families adopt a "smoke-free" car policy.

Pediatricians at HealthChildren.org suggest the following tips to keep a smoke-free car:

  • Do not smoke, ever, in a car that transports children. Smoking in your car even once can fill the seats and other materials with toxins, even if the windows are open
  • Remind passengers not to smoke in your car
  • Try to time your smoking to coincide with times when you know you will be without children at another location- Headed to work, where there is a designated smoking area? Try to hold off on your morning cigarette until you get there. You will keep your child healthier, as well as your car!
  • Fill your car's ashtray with spare change so you aren't tempted to fill it with ash
  • Leave a cell phone charger or other device plugged into the car's adapter outlet so you are not tempted to use it as a lighter
  • Keep a jacket and umbrella in the car to use in case you need to stop and smoke and the weather is bad
  • Store your cigarettes in the trunk or in another out-of-reach area while you drive
  • Consider putting up a sticker or decal on your car that reminds passengers that it is a no smoking vehicle.

Read more here.

‍FAQ

Q) What's the first step to remove smoke smell from a car?

- Begin by thoroughly ventilating your car; open all windows and doors to air it out.

Q) Can vacuuming help remove smoke smell from my car?

- Yes, vacuuming removes ash and particles from fabrics and surfaces, which can reduce the smoke smell.

Q) Is there a specific cleaner I should use on fabric seats?

- Use a fabric cleaner designed for upholstery, or a mixture of water and mild detergent. For persistent odors, consider steam cleaning.

Q) What can I use to clean leather seats that won't damage them?

- Opt for a leather cleaner that's pH-balanced to safely remove odors and stains without damaging the leather. View our dedicated article to cleaning leather seats.

Q) How can I clean the car's headliner without causing damage?

- Gently wipe the headliner with a microfiber cloth dampened with a mild cleaning solution. Avoid soaking it to prevent sagging or damage.

Q) Can baking soda remove smoke smell from car interiors?

- Yes, baking soda is effective in absorbing odors. Sprinkle it on carpets and seats, let it sit overnight, and vacuum it up the next day.

Q) Does activated charcoal work to eliminate smoke odor in cars?

- Activated charcoal is excellent for odor absorption. Place a bowl or bag of activated charcoal in your car for a few days to help remove the smell.

Q) How does replacing the cabin air filter help?

- A new cabin air filter can significantly reduce smoke smell by removing particles and odors from the air circulating inside your car.

Q) Can vinegar help in removing smoke smell from cars?

- Yes, a solution of vinegar and water can help neutralize odors. Use it to wipe down hard surfaces, but avoid direct use on leather.

Q) Are there any specific air fresheners that can mask smoke smell?

- While air fresheners can mask odors temporarily, it's better to use an odor eliminator spray designed to neutralize and remove smoke smells for a more permanent solution.

Q) What professional service is recommended for severe smoke odors?

- Consider a professional ozone treatment. Ozone generators can effectively neutralize and eliminate deep-seated odors.

Q) How effective are car interior deodorizers for smoke smell?

- Interior deodorizers can be effective if they are designed to neutralize odors, not just mask them. Look for products specifically targeting smoke odors.

Q) Can I use household items to remove the smoke smell from my car?

- Yes, items like baking soda, vinegar, and coffee grounds can be used as natural deodorizers to absorb and neutralize smoke odors.

Q) Is it possible to completely remove smoke smell from a car?

- Yes, with thorough cleaning, proper ventilation, and the use of deodorizers or professional treatments, you can completely remove smoke smell from a car.

Q) How long does it take to remove smoke smell from a car?

- The time can vary depending on the severity of the smell and the methods used. Simple cases may take a few days, while severe cases might require several weeks of effort and possibly professional help.

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