How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell in Car

Savvy used car buyers have been posing hard questions for decades in their effort to not only land a good deal, but also to ensure that the price they pay is fair. Of course vehicle mileage and use patterns are important to know about. For some people, color is even a deciding factor.

But for many people, non-smokers and occasional smokers among them, a far more important question comes up. Was the former owner a smoker, and if so, did they smoke in their car? If the answer is ‘yes,’ you’ll want to restore the vehicle to a non-smoker friendly space.

Easier said than done—you’ll have some work ahead of you to remove the smoke residue! But it can be done and buying a smoker’s car can give you some leverage on price negotiations. Here are some steps to get a smoker’s vehicle looking and smelling fresh again.

Cigs Out!

Empty all of the ashtrays. Cigarette butts retain a lot of smoke odor, since they’re comprised of the burned ash that created the stench in the first place. The ash in the tray is also a strong source of odor. It’s important to remove the source of the smell.

How to get rid of smoke smell in car

How to get rid of smoke smell in car

Clean the ashtrays thoroughly with powerful, fresh smelling soap. Natural, citrus based cleaners can get rid of sticky tobacco tar, while adding a fresh scent. Vacuum the entire vehicle thoroughly. Cigarette butts can accumulate, especially in hard to reach places, such as beneath the front seats and under the floor mats. It’s a rare smoker who hasn’t spilled the ashtray once or twice while emptying it, leaving a few stubs, and a lot of ash, behind.

Clean Glass

Clean the auto glass thoroughly. In many deep auto cleanses, people forget that the insides of the windows retain both dirt and heavy odor. Use a powerful cleaner such as Windex with ammonia to cut through the smoke residue buildup. If the previous owner was a heavy smoker, you may need to clean the windows twice to cut through the buildup.

Finish the task by removing the Windex residue. This is easily done by balling up an old newspaper, and polishing the glass in a rapid motion. The fine particles of the newspaper ink remove residue while offering a scratch free cleanse. You won’t believe how clear the windows will look, and the smell will disappear from the glass surface as well.

Foaming Cleaner

Douse all fabrics inside the vehicle with a foaming fabric cleanser. The active nature of the foaming bubbles will lift out particles that inactive cleaning agents won’t. Be sure to thoroughly cover every fabric. Remove the floor mats and clean them outside of the auto. Spray the carpet that was beneath the mats. Pull the seatbelts out and spray them, too.

Every fabric will retain odor, so you’ll want to cleanse everything! Get that fabric inside your vehicles trunk. And don’t forget the cloth partitions between passenger seats and on the lower sections of doors.


Once the fabrics have been sprayed and the foaming action has occurred, use a brush to rub out dirt and odor that is trapped more deeply in the fabric. Follow that agitating action with a sponging to absorb the cleaner. Rinse the sponge frequently—it’s going to have plenty of dirt and odor attached. Frequent rinsing will allow it to pick up more dirt while getting more dirt off of the vehicle.

Now for Everything Else

The vinyl, wood, and plastic materials inside the vehicle will also be covered in smoke residue. By this point, you’ve got the glass and the fabric cleaned. Now it’s time to clean the rest. Every surface inside the vehicle is potentially smelly, so start squirting that natural citrus based cleaner onto everything! Everything!

Materials inside the vehicle

Materials inside the vehicle

The steering wheel, automatic shifter, center console, the stereo, speaker covers, seat belt buckles, the emergency brake, the dash, the armrests, rearview mirror, visors, and the glove box all need to be cleansed. Smoke is pervasive—it coats everything! So spray and wipe down everything.


If you’ve done all of the above but the car still retains a slight smoke odor—it won’t be nearly as strong as when you began!—there is another step. Place a portable humidifier inside the vehicle overnight, making sure that it’s full of water before you leave it. The next day, remove the humidifier and repeat the steps above. The added moisture should help to loosen any smoke residue that survived your first cleaning effort.

Air Fresheners

When the cleaning is done, place a few air fresheners inside the vehicle. Even if there are traces of odor, the pleasant smell from a few fresheners should mask them.


It’s not easy work to remove the odor from a car that has been heavily smoked in. But with a bit of effort, you can restore a car to a suitably pleasant odor level. Not only that, but the interior will look nearly brand new when you’re finished. You nose and your eyes will thank you every time you drive!

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