How To Get Smoke Smell Out of Car

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The distinct smell of cigarette smoke can linger for years, even after the last cigarette has been put out. Cigarette smoke is universally regarded as being unpleasant and can have a significant effect on the overall value of a car. 

In fact, one study found that cars being sold by smokers were consistently found to be valued between four and five percent under the standard Kelly Blue Book value. To put that number in perspective, cars sold by nonsmokers were found to be valued at a premium of 10 to 13 percent higher than the Kelly Blue Book value. 

Whether you are trying to increase the value of your car or just remove the lingering smells of previously smoked cigarettes, you might find the process pretty challenging. Similar to stickers on your windows or paint, smoke is notoriously very difficult to remove.

However, with enough elbow grease and the right products, you can restore the upholstery of your car and eliminate all the unpleasant odors that might be bothering you. Read on to learn more in this article of shine armor blog!

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Why Is Smoke So Hard To Remove?

You’ve probably heard of secondhand smoke before; the concept has been around for a long time. Secondhand smoke is the name for the cloud exhaled by someone who is smoking a cigar or cigarette.

A much newer concept is the idea of thirdhand smoke. First appearing in print back in 2006, thirdhand smoke is the name for the toxic particles, dust, gases, and other compounds that are absorbed into fabrics, carpets, paint, and other surfaces. 

Once these contaminants have worked their way into these physical objects, they will then re-emit back into a gaseous phase and enter back into the nearby environment resulting in the distinct smell. 

Obviously, more tobacco being smoked in a car will result in a more intense and longer-lasting smell. However, the overall pollution of smoking just one cigarette in a car can have more of an effect than you might think. 

One study looking into tobacco smoke pollution used units of measurements called PM2.5 which are the number of microns found in an area of meters cubed.

Smoking in the car when the car was moving, engine was running, and all the windows open was found to have a mean peak of 142.1 PM2.5 on average. Smoking with the car parked, engine off, and the windows up had a mean peak of 6,950.5 PM2.5 on average. 

Even though the overall PM2.5 levels might be much lower under certain circumstances, they can still contaminate your car and linger for a long time.  

How Can You Remove the Smell Of Smoke? 

The residual effects of smoking can linger for a very long time unless you are able to thoroughly clean the contaminated object on an almost microscopic level. 

While that might sound like a near-impossible task, there are lots of different methods and products that can provide a deep clean and eliminate the odor once and for all. 

What You’ll Need 

  • Vacuum
  • Spray bottle
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Liquid soap
  • Baking Soda
  • Car odor neutralizer
  • Fabric freshening spray
  • Rags and microfiber towels

Step One: Get Rid of All Physical Residue 

Before you focus on the remnants of tobacco products, you’ll first need to get rid of the products themselves. You’ll need to inspect your car and look for any cigarette butts or ashes that might be in your car and get rid of them. 

Be sure to remove the ashtray if your car has one, as you’ll need to thoroughly clean it to remove the odors before replacing it.

Step Two: Vacuum Everywhere

The softer surfaces of your car are the ones most likely to absorb and retain smoke residue. You will need to thoroughly vacuum all carpet, upholstery, and other soft surfaces of your car in order to suck up as many smoke particles as possible. 

Use any attachments that you may have in order to get into the tiniest nooks and crannies, underneath the seats and floor mats, and other hard-to-reach areas that might be neglected during normal cleanings. 

Step Three: Clean the Hard Surfaces 

Use your spray bottle to create the following mixture: ¼ cup of vinegar, ½ teaspoon of liquid soap, and two cups of water. Shake up the bottle to mix it up and spray your windows, mirrors, plastics, and any other hard surfaces you weren’t able to vacuum. 

Wipe these hard surfaces down using a healthy amount of your cleaning mixture and circular motions. After the area has been cleaned, use a microfiber towel and blot it dry.     

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Step Four: Air Out The Ducts

The air conditioning and heating system of your car recirculates the air that’s inside of your car. That means that if someone was smoking when the air conditioner or heater was on, the smoke was probably sucked into the air vents and then blown back off of them. Replacing the air filter in your car should help to reduce the odor coming from your vents. 

You should also take the time to spray some odor neutralizer directly into the vents before turning your air conditioner to the maximum. Repeat this process once again, only using your heating system instead. Let the air circulate for about 15 minutes each time.

Step Five: Apply Baking Soda 

Vacuuming the soft surfaces of your car will be enough to clean it, but probably isn’t enough to eliminate the smell of smoke once and for all. Baking soda is a very powerful odor absorbent that can help soak up the smell of smoke. 

Sprinkle baking soda all over your carpet, upholstery, and anywhere that you vacuumed previously. In order for it to work, you’ll need to let it sit for a while. For best results, you’ll need to let it sit for about an hour or two. 

During this time, you can clean your ashtray, floor mats, or other items you removed from your car or change your air filter.

Step Six: Vacuum One More Time 

After the baking soda has settled deep into your upholstery and fabrics, it’s time to use your vacuum once again. Follow the same path as you did in step two, and make sure to hit every possible area that you can. You should be able to see the baking soda, which will make it easy to vacuum up. 

Step Seven: Create a New Scent

Now that your car has been thoroughly cleansed of the smell of smoke, you can create your own scent. Use a fabric freshening spray of your choice to improve the smell of your upholstery and fabrics. You can also use an air freshener or perfume to help get your car smelling the way that you enjoy the most. 

Finish up with a quick protection coat for the perfect shine, and get ready to head out on the open road.

Help With Smoke Smells 

The deep cleaning process listed above is the most effective to eliminate the smell of smoke from your car. However, there are a few other methods that can also help you to eliminate unpleasant smells as well. It’s important to note that these remedies might not be as successful, but feel free to try them if everything else isn’t working out.

Try These Odor Busting Home Remedies

  • White Vinegar: is a very effective odor absorbent and can help neutralize tobacco smoke residue. Pour some white vinegar into a bowl and leave it overnight in your car until the smell improves. 

  • Charcoal: is another effective odor absorbent. Place a few charcoal briquets into a bowl and leave it overnight for a few days. The charcoal should help to absorb the odors in your car.

  • Cat Litter: has several odor absorbing properties and can help to get rid of the smell of smoke. Just leave a bowl full of cat litter in your car for a few nights, and it should help draw out and absorb smoke smells.

  • Coffee Grounds: will work faster than some of the other items on this list but are less effective at absorbing the odors. This option is more effective at quickly masking the smell as opposed to eliminating it.

  • Dryer Sheets: can be rubbed on the fabrics of your car to help quickly cover up the smell of the smoke. Similar to coffee grounds, this method won’t eliminate the smell and only help to cover it up.

  • Cinnamon Sticks: can provide a clean smell in your car that can help cover up the smell of smoke. Boil a few sticks and put them into a travel mug to cool, and then place the mug in your car and leave it.

  • Citrus Fruits: can help provide a better smell in your car and help absorb some of the odors. A cup full of peeled fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruits can sit in your car and improve the smell.

Eliminate the Smell of Smoke Once and For All 

The residue of tobacco smoke is very clingy and can linger for a very long time after being absorbed. Getting rid of the smell of smoke can be quite a hassle, but it’s not impossible with some hard work and a little bit of time. 

You can try using one of the home remedies listed above to mask or remove some of the odors. However, for best results, you would need to undertake a deep cleaning of your car and thoroughly cleanse all fabrics and hard surfaces of any lingering tobacco residue.

The hard work will be worth it because once you’ve eliminated the unpleasant odor of tobacco smoke, then you’ll be free of it once and for all. At Shine Armor, we know that jumping into your car is often the start of a great adventure. With proper care, your car can set the tone for an amazing drive. 


Tobacco use and asking prices of used cars: prevalence, costs, and new opportunities for changing smoking behavior | NCBI

Does the Smoke Ever Really Clear? Thirdhand Smoke Exposure Raises New Concerns | NCBI

An experimental investigation of tobacco smoke pollution in cars | NCBI

Car Odor Removal Guide | Consumer Reports

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