How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Your Car

Sightseeing out driving window

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That pristine second-hand car for a great price has an unfortunate drawback: the interior smells like second-hand smoke. If you recently picked up a vehicle with an interior that smells like an ashtray, here's what you can do to correct it. If you are selling your ride and know it smells like smoke, take these quick and easy steps to increase its resale value.

Smoked Out

Smoking and vaping in a confined space like a vehicle causes the smell/flavor to embed itself into the surroundings. It happens in homes and, more noticeably, in much smaller areas like vehicles. Smoke sticks to your ride long-term because, unlike that temporary smell upgrade from hauling hot pizza, smoke is more than just a scent; it also includes microscopic particles that stick to any nearby surface. That coating of grime is what you continue to smell after the fact. That's gross, and one recent study found that a smoked-in used vehicle will drop over seven percent of its resale value compared to the exact car that wasn't smoked in. To maximize your profit, you need smoke remediation

What Doesn't Work on Smoke

If you search for how to get rid of cigarette smell in a car, you will get many potential solutions, most of them garbage. The inter-webs are full of clickbait DIY smoke treatments, such as leaving a box of baking soda in your car overnight or wiping down the seats with dryer sheets. Unfortunately, that's like using spray wax on a vehicle without washing it or someone eating a breath mint instead of brushing their teeth. The fundamental problem is still there, buried underneath, and the smell will quickly come back. Since smoke clings to the glass, headliner, carpet, under the seats, into the air vents, and behind every small gap or crevice, home-brew methods aren't enough to effectively clean an entire interior of the smoke smell.

How to Get the Smoke Out

A smoky car interior is a common problem, but fortunately, there is an easy solution. Professionals use a machine called an ozone generator that completely fills the vehicle with ozone, which breaks down the smoke molecules. This method is entirely effective, as the ozone gets under the seats and penetrates the carpet to attack the smoke smell where it is stuck. The downside is professional smoke remediation costs $150 to $400 depending on several factors like the size of the vehicle and location. Buying a professional ozone generator to do it yourself is even more expensive, as the machines sell for several hundred to a few thousand dollars. There is good news, though. You can do this yourself, with the same professional method, for way cheaper.

Odor eliminators are a type of aerosol or fogger that ensures the smoke-destroying chemicals get into every single area of your vehicle. It's incredibly effective and super easy to use.

  • First, clean out your interior. Those 20-year-old CDs, gas receipts, and fast food bags from last week must go. Taking out all of your stuff lets the fogger work effectively into the vehicle's surfaces.
  • Start your vehicle and turn on the A/C. Set it to high, with interior air circulation. Ensure the windows are all the way up.
  • Remove the odor eliminator's cap and set it in the center of the vehicle (such as the center console). Then, with the nozzle directed away from you, activate the fogger and close the door.
  • Let the odor eliminator work for 15 minutes. It will automatically spray until empty, and the A/C system will spread it throughout the vehicle.
  • Last, open all the doors and turn your vehicle off. Let it sit with the doors open for another 15 minutes to air out completely.

Wear gloves to remove the spent canister from your vehicle and toss it in the trash. Your vehicle should be entirely smoke-free now, with a choice of pleasant scents (including new car smell) replacing the smoke. The scent will fade over the next several days, but the smoke smell won't return. Now comes perhaps the most challenging part: keeping your ride clean and smoke-free to prevent any odors from returning.

Have a smelly vehicle that you solved? Or are you still dealing with a stinky situation? Let us know in the comments below how to remove cigarette smell from a car.

Last updated February 13, 2023