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How To Get Cigarette Smell Out Of A Car: The Complete Guide

Get Rid Of That Lingering Smoke Smell In Your Car

how to remove cigarette smell from a car

Are you trying to get the cigarette smell out of a car just by using a car air freshener? Well, you’re going to need a lot more than that!

Whether you’re prepping to sell your car, bought a used car, or you just want to get the cigarette smell out of your current vehicle, there are numerous methods to eliminate the odor. The lingering smell of smoke in a car can feel impossible to remove, but with the right tools, it’s not.

Get Cigarette Smell Out of Your Car

The following seven easy-to-follow steps will get your car smelling, well, not like a cigarette! You’ll learn about common products and numerous methods for eliminating the smoke smell from your car.

7 Steps For How to Get The Cigarette Smell Out of a Car

Step 1: Gather Necessary Supplies

If you’re reading this article, you’ve likely tried air fresheners, Lysol, or perhaps some other home remedies such as using coffee beans or apple slices to remove the smell from your car. And perhaps, it seemed like they would work at first. Then, after a few days went by, that smoke smell was back!

The following products and supplies needed to get the cigarette smell out of a car aim at eliminating the smell instead of temporarily masking it.

You will need the following:

  1. Interior Cleaner 
  2. Glass Cleaner
  3. A LOT of Microfiber Towels
  4. Car Vacuum
  5. Air Freshener / Disinfectant Spray
  6. Car Steamer
  7. Detailing Brush OR Toothbrush (optional)
  8. New AC Filter (optional)

Even though the last two items on the list are optional, they are recommended if you want to cover all your bases in fully eliminating the cigarette smell from a car. To save time and optimize cleaning, work from the top of your car to the bottom. The steps below are listed in that order.

Step 2: Remove The Source of The Smell

Since you are trying to eliminate the smell, the first step is to get rid of the source itself. If there are any cigarette butts or ashes in the ashtray, remove them from your car. During the whole process, you will be removing the source of the smell, as ash from the cigarettes sticks onto essentially every surface in the car — windows, carpet, seats, and even the car’s headliner.

Step 3: Empty Out The Car

If the car has trash, to-go coffee cups or water bottles, and any other items in it, remove those items before beginning the cleaning process. This will make it much easier for you to fully clean the car.

Step 4: Wipe Down All Plastic & Glass Interior Surfaces

Ash from a cigarette will cling to anything porous. This includes nearly all of the car’s interior. Thoroughly wiping down all surfaces won’t mask the smoke smell, but it will remove the source of the smell.

Clean The Glass

First, begin with the car’s windshield and rear-view mirror using a glass cleaner and a clean microfiber towel. Then, wipe down the rest of the windows inside of the car. If the microfiber towel looks like it has gotten dirty with tar and ash, it’s time for a clean one. You will want to constantly switch out the microfiber towels for optimal cleanliness!

Wipe Down All Surfaces

Next, wipe down the rest of the surfaces in your car using clean microfiber towels. For this step, there are some options on what product to use. We recommend the All-Purpose Cleaner from CarGuys. It is safe to use on essentially all materials — plastic, rubber, vinyl, leather, fabric, and more — although you shouldn’t use it on glass, as it will cause streaking.

If you want to go the homemade route, you can wipe down surfaces using dish soap and water. Just add a few drops of dish soap to a bucket of water and dip your clean microfiber towel into the solution.

Use Lots of Towels & Maybe a Brush

Regardless of what product you use to wipe down the interior surfaces, we recommend using a clean microfiber towel for each section of the car. This will maintain cleanliness to remove the cigarette smell from the car in the same way it’s maintained when disinfecting a car. Wipe down your sun visors, dashboard, steering wheel, center console, door handles, grab handles, armrests, cupholders, display screens, buttons, seat adjusters, and any other surface areas of the car.  When wiping down the steering wheel, spend a LOT of time getting into every little crevice. This includes navigation, cruise control, stereo control, the gear lever, and the turn signals. These high-touch areas are often heavily coated in residue from cigarettes which is easily transferred onto the driver’s fingers.

To remove ash from those small places, go the extra mile and use a toothbrush to scrub the ash out. Also, because seat belts are sensitive to cleaners, wipe down your seat belts using a damp microfiber towel.

Step 5: Vacuum Entire Car

This step is vital to remove cigarette ash from a car. Use a car vacuum to vacuum the car seats, the floor carpet, the headliner, and any other crevices that could have dust, debris, and, most importantly, ash from a cigarette. If you do not own a car vacuum, head over to our list of the best car vacuums to pick one out. Consider using a vacuum that has nozzles that can get into the hard to reach areas of the car, as those areas tend to be sources of excess ash. Consider the ThisWorx Portable Vacuum, featuring three all-purpose nozzles.

After vacuuming, if you have removable floor mats, take them out of your car and set them in the sun to air them out.

Step 6: Clean Car Seats (And Other Upholstery Material Parts Of Car)

The methods for this step differ depending on the material of your seats and the severity of the smell. You’ve already completed the initial removal of cigarette ash from your car, the main source of cigarette smell. But now you need to do some more deep cleaning. Before cleaning the car seats, refer to your owner’s manual for any specific care instructions for the material of your car seats to avoid any damage.

Upholstery Cleaner

The first option is to use an upholstery cleaner specifically for fabric or leather. No matter what cleaner or brush you use, always test first on a small, hidden portion of the surface to ensure that the cleaner will not damage the upholstery. The CarGuys All-Purpose Cleaner is suitable for upholstery, including both fabric and leather. After spraying the cleaner on non-leather upholstery use an upholstery brush to lightly scrub the ara, and then dry it with a clean microfiber towel. If you have leather seats, blot with a clean microfiber towel after spraying or use a brush specifically designed for leather.

Steam Clean

The second option is to use a car steamer. We’ve compiled a list of the best car steam cleaners if you are looking to purchase one. Car steamers are excellent to use when dealing with stains and odors that are difficult to remove. If you’re looking to invest in a high-quality steamer that can be used for cars, floors, appliances, and more, we recommend the McCulloch Deluxe Steam Cleaner. Steam cleaners use no harsh chemicals and are proven to remove really difficult odors — cigarette smell included.

Depending on the severity of the smell, you could use both an upholstery cleaner and a steamer. In addition to cleaning the seats, use an upholstery cleaner or a steam cleaner on other parts of the car, including the carpet, headliner, and any parts of the car doors composed of fabric or leather.

Step 7: Clean Out Air Vents & Replace Air Filters

This step often gets overlooked, and yet this process is vital to remove the cigarette smell from a car.

First, turn your car on. Then, turn your car AC to max cold with recirculation. Once that is set up, use an odor-eliminating spray or disinfectant spray to spray into the vents.

Oftentimes, the car may need to have the AC filter changed entirely. You can find your AC filter location via your owner’s manual. A new car AC filter is generally inexpensive.

The Final Touch: Air Freshener! 

Now that you have quite literally removed every speck of cigarette ash, it’s finally time to add some air freshener for the final touch! As we’ve learned, using an air freshener alone will not get cigarette smell out of a car. But using air freshener after following all of these steps will do no harm. Want your car to smell like fresh citrus? Use the JDM Squash Scent Air Freshener from Chemical Guys. Or hang up a classic Little Trees Air Freshener for the final touch.

How To Get Cigarette Smell Out Of A Car In 7 Steps

  • 1. Gather Necessary Supplies
  • 2. Remove Source of Smell
  • 3. Empty Out Car
  • 4. Wipe Down All Plastic & Glass Interior Surfaces
  • 5. Vacuum Entire Car
  • 6. Clean Car Seats (And Other Upholstery Material Parts Of Car)
  • 7. Clean Out Air Vents & Replace Air Filters

Now, You’ve Got Your Car Smelling Brand New!

Make no mistake, getting rid of that lingering cigarette smell in your car requires patience, elbow grease, and sheer determination. If you’re selling your car, it’s now ready. If you bought a used car and it sadly came reeking of cigarettes, say hello to your FINALLY lovely smelling car. Or, if you’re just needing to freshen up your car for whatever comes next, we hope these steps have helped you get your car smelling brand new.

If you’re feeling motivated and empowered by the cleanliness of the interior of your car, why not wash the exterior of your car too? Head on over to our Step-by-Step Guide on How To Wash A Car to learn how to wash your car like a pro!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you smoke in a car without it smelling?

The short answer is that you can’t. With that being said, there are preventative measures you can take to avoid your car smelling terrible.

Always keep your windows down while smoking. After smoking, keep them down for 20-30 minutes. Never leave cigarette butts in your car even if you have a built-in ashtray. And, if you do notice ash after smoking, immediately vacuum and wipe down hard surfaces using the steps above.

Does Febreze get rid of smoke smell?

No, it does not. Though it may appear to work for a day or so,  the smell will come right back. Spraying the whole car down with Febreze will only temporarily mask the smell. It does not remove the ash, which is the main source of the lingering smoke smell in a car. Instead, removing the ash using the steps listed in this article is the best way to remove the cigarette smell from a car.

Do remedies such as baking soda, coffee beans, or vinegar absorb the smell?

Baking soda is a natural odor absorber. Coffee beans are often used to extinguish smell. And vinegar does neutralize smells. With that being said, the smell of cigarettes in a car is not only an odor problem. If you don’t remove the source by vacuuming, wiping down, and steaming, these DIY odor absorbers are only a temporary fix.

If, for instance, there is a slight smell from a person smoking in the car one time, you might be able to use these methods to absorb the order. In most cases, however, you will need to take more in-depth measures to eliminate the smoke smell from a car. After all, if the ashes are still in the car, it will eventually smell again.

If you opt for using odor absorbers, you will have to repeatedly use them over and over again. But, by removing the source through our steps, you could eliminate the smell for good.

How do you tell if a car has been smoked in?

If you can’t initially smell smoke in the car, odds are, it has been cleaned well to remove the smell. You should also look for stains on the seats, the carpet, or the car doors. To remove those stains, use a car steamer.

About Joybeth Sullivan

Joybeth Sullivan is an accomplished content creator. She does it all as a writer, photographer, and videographer. Her work has been published in local and international outlets. She graduated from the University of Georgia in May of 2020 with a dual-degree in English & Film. Today, she is based out of Denver, CO. When she isn't writing, you can find her on long drives in the mountains with her husky, Newman, riding shotgun.