Of all the odors that can penetrate upholstery and carpet in a car, smoke from cigars and cigarettes may be the most difficult to get rid of. The smell may not bother smokers who are still in the habit of lighting up, but it can quickly become a nuisance for smokers who are in the process of quitting and any new owner of a used car that is still haunted by the ghost of smokers of the past.

The easiest way to remove smoke smell from your car is to see a professional, but it can also be done at home if you want to get your hands dirty and work with some cleaning methods that might not be very good. is familiar with.

Tools needed to remove cigarettes and smoke odors

Since there are several types of surfaces in a car that smoke odors can cling to, there are also several different methods for removing lingering cigarette smells. So before you get started, you need to have at least a few basic tools and supplies on hand.

An illustration of the tools needed to remove smoke odors from a car.
Maddie Price © Lifewire
  • A vacuum cleaner — use a vacuum cleaner, to thoroughly clean carpet and upholstery. This removes stinky particles such as tar and ash that may have settled on the floor and seats of your car. You can also vacuum dashboard inside air vents and other places.
  • Baking soda When vacuuming isn’t enough, spraying baking soda on carpet and upholstery can help. The baking soda can help trap or absorb odors, after which you vacuum it up.
  • Window cleaner Unpleasant odors such as cigarette smoke can also linger due to translucent deposits on your windows. You can also use the window cleaner on the dashboard, steering wheel, center console, door panels and other places, but first check if your cleaner is designed for this purpose.
  • absorbents or adsorbents. Baking soda can help absorb bad odors like cigarette smoke, but it’s far from the only option. Common kitchen supplies like white vinegar and coffee sachets also help, as do activated charcoal and various gel-based products.

Preparing your car for smoke removal

Whether you’ve recently kicked the habit or suddenly found yourself holding the keys to a car that used to belong to a smoker, the first step to getting rid of that smoke smell is to clean the interior.

If there are still any cigarette butts or ashes in the car, or hidden in ashtrays, or trash on the floor, they should go first. The only way to remove smoke smells from your car once and for all is to start with a clean slate.

Smoke odors can penetrate and penetrate any porous surface, so car cleaning doesn’t stop with the removal of old cigarette butts and ash. The next step is to clean out any things or other things that are sitting on the floor or car seats so that you can vacuum everything.

Vacuuming carpet and upholstery can be done with exhaust odors, but this may not be enough.

Removing smoke odors from car upholstery and carpets

Vacuuming is a good start, but sometimes you have to go even further to neutralize the smell of smoke that has soaked into the upholstery and carpet. There are upholstery and cleaning products specifically designed for this purpose, but baking soda can also help neutralize these odors. according to reports for consumers .

Removing smoke odors from a car with baking soda is a multi-step process:

  1. Clean and vacuum the seats and floor of the vehicle.

  2. Make sure the seats and floor of the vehicle are completely dry.

  3. Sprinkle baking soda on upholstery and carpet.

  4. Leave the baking soda on the upholstery and carpet for a few minutes.

  5. Vacuum the baking soda.

Baking soda absorbs bad odors like smoke, which is why some people leave an open box in their refrigerators. Leaving an open box in your car can have the same effect as sprinkling it on the carpet and not vacuuming it right away.

What to do if baking soda doesn’t work?

If treating your upholstery and carpet with baking soda doesn’t neutralize the lingering smell of cigarette smoke, you may need to take more drastic measures. One option is to steam clean the upholstery, which requires equipment that most people just don’t have.

While you can rent a steam cleaner and do the job yourself, it’s also a good idea to contact a professional service that specializes in removing odors like the one you’re dealing with.

Cleaning smoke residues from other car interior surfaces

Cigarette smoke has a habit of seeping into porous surfaces like upholstery and carpeting, but it doesn’t stop there. Smoking also tends to leave an oily residue on other surfaces, which can contribute to the smoke smell even if you vacuum and use absorbent materials like baking soda and activated charcoal.

The main surfaces to worry about in terms of cleaning oily residue from smoking are the windows and dashboard, but it doesn’t hurt to clean every surface of the car well and thoroughly. Water usually doesn’t cut it, literally, but a good, foaming window cleaner often does the job on windows, dashboards, and other surfaces where oily smoke residue builds up.

Smoke residue can also get into your car’s cabin air filter, so it’s a good idea to replace that. If you leave the cabin air filter in place, you may end up just polluting the air inside your car whenever you drive it.

Before applying a cleaner to any surface inside your car, it’s important to read the warning label and ingredients to make sure it’s safe to use on glass, vinyl, plastic, or whatever surface it’s made from.

Dealing with a lingering smell of smoke in the duct

Unless you break your dash to gain access to all of your ducting, physical cleaning of the interior surfaces of your entire ducting system will more or less not happen. You can change the cabin air filter and clean the compartment it plugs into, but the rest of the system is more or less out of reach.

One option that sometimes works is to locate the fresh air supply for your HVAC system, turn on the fan and air conditioner, and make sure the car is parked in a well-ventilated area. Next, you’ll want to spray deodorizer onto the fresh air inlet. While it’s not as good as physically cleaning the inside of the air ducts, it’s the next best thing you can easily do at home.

Use only a product designed for use in automotive HVAC systems. Spraying a product intended for a different use may result in unwanted residue or other unintended consequences.

Absorbing smoke odors in cars and covering them

Baking soda works to absorb bad odors, unlike air fresheners which just hide bad car odors . In addition to baking soda, there are a number of other substances you can leave in your car, hidden under your seats, that can absorb bad odors over time. Activated charcoal, white vinegar, coffee grounds, and various commercial products can be used to absorb bad odors such as smoke.

The idea is that leaving a cup of white vinegar, coffee grounds, or activated charcoal sachets in the car overnight or even for long periods of time will absorb some or all of the smoke. When you remove the absorbent and remove it, you also remove all the bad odors that it absorbed while in the car.

Products like Febreze are similar in that they are designed to remove or modify odor-causing molecules rather than just masking them. Specifically, Febreze uses a chemical that traps odor molecules. The smelly molecules are still there after you spray Febreze, but they can no longer bind to your odor receptors so you can no longer smell them.

According to consumer reports products such as Febreze may not be as efficient as the ads may lead you to believe, their testing involved spraying the product into a room where the source of the bad smell was still present.

So while Febreze may have neutralized some of the nasty molecules in the room during tests consumer reports the source was still there to stink even more . So by first removing the source of the odor, cleaning out the ashtrays, vacuuming and cleaning windows and other surfaces, a product like Febreze is more likely to work.

Removing smoke odors from cars with ozone generators

In some cases, you can vacuum and use odor-absorbing products for as long as you like and the bad smoke smell will continue. This is where ozone generation technology comes into play. Professional car cleaners and separators often use ozone generators to eliminate stubborn odors, so you have the choice of taking your car with one of these professionals, or renting an ozone generator and doing the job yourself.

It is important to note that ozone generators are not the same as air purifiers or ionizers. Automotive air filters and cleaners can filter out bad odors if the molecules are large enough and the filter media thin enough, but ozone generators are on a completely different level than plug-in ionizers .

Ozone generators work by using corona or ultraviolet light to split normal O2 molecules into individual oxygen atoms. These individual oxygen atoms then bond with O2 molecules, creating O3 or ozone.

Ozone is inherently unstable, as the extra oxygen atom tends to break apart and bond with other molecules. When this happens, the ozone molecule turns back into ordinary O2, and the other substance changes if an additional oxygen atom is added to it. It can effectively neutralize bad odors when oxygen atoms bind to molecules of smelly substances such as smoke and change the chemical structure.

While ozone can effectively eliminate bad odors like smoke, it can also be hazardous to your health. This is why ozone generators are typically used in unoccupied areas and are turned off before the area is reused.

The general process for using an ozone generator to remove smoke odors from a car is:

  1. Clean the interior of the car and remove all sources of unpleasant odors.

  2. Place the ozone generator in the car, or connect a hose to the generator and point it into the car.

  3. Start the ozone generator to fill the interior of the car with ozone.

  4. Run the HVAC fan on recirculation several times during the ozone treatment to ensure the ozone passes through air duct and heater .

  5. De-air the vehicle before driving, then lower the vehicle by rolling down the windows, wipe surfaces and apply a vacuum to remove residual ozone odor.

Since ozone can be hazardous to your health, it is important to minimize exposure when operating an ozone generator. With that in mind, it’s a bad idea to do this kind of work when the vehicle is in an enclosed space like a garage, and you need to avoid breathing in too much O3 both during and after work.

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