Whether or not you are an active smoker, in today's health conscious world many people hate a very strong tobacco smell. And as a former smoker myself I would occasionally light up in my car, only to find that (the smell it left behind) would negatively affect my social and love life. Which is why I have put together these helpful tips to assist those in a similar (stinky) situation.
Depending on the material used for your car's upholstery, its ventilation system and other factors; getting a smoke/tobacco smell out of your car can be extremely difficult. Therefore results may vary. That being said, I hope that by following this guide you can eliminate lingering tobacco odors from your car's interior. (Note*** -- Many of the steps in this guide can apply to other types of odors as well (not just getting rid of tobacco odors in your car). Cleaning the vehicle's interior will occur in the following steps.
1.) Wash The Outside of Car Thoroughly
Washing the outside of your car may sound strange (isn't the smell on the inside); but this step is simply a matter of eliminating all possible variables that may contribute to the foul odor in your vehicle. Simply put...you never know. Sometimes there could be something stuck in the air filters underneath the windshield. Or maybe a few skunks made passionate love on your car trunk. Who knows? It's just better to be safe. Besides the servicemen at many car washes car begin the process of vacuuming / cleansing the inside.....which brings me to my next point.
Don't want to read, here's the video summary
2.) Cleaning The Inside of You Car (Multi-Step)
When cleaning smoke and tobacco smells from your car, treating the inside will be your top priority. You goal is to simply get a baseline of cleanliness to see exactly how bad the smoke smell is in your car. You will probably want to start with a general vacuuming and sweep out of the car (like you see the young man doing in the above picture). Pay particular attention to the narrow crevices of the car where human eyes rarely visit (underneath the seats, seat pockets, between the folds of the backseats, etc). (Who know you may find the offending cigarette butt in the process, fingers crossed.)
a.) Use Chemical Cleaners
Now it's time to give your upholstery, dashboard, knobs, and various panels and good scrub down. Now if you choose to do this yourself I would highly suggest one of the more highly rated items cleansers that you can find in your local Auto Zone, O'reillys, (Insert Your Favorite Auto Store Here). These brands tend to be highly tested, both by the companies that make them and the customers and business and use them continuously. Additionally, some of these products already come with an odor neutralizing chemical mixed into the finished product. My personal favorite has always been Prestone Interior Cleaner. It's a spray can applicator with a brush attached....perfect device for scrubbing car upholstery.
However, admittedly there are some chemicals in these cleaners that more eco-friendly, health-conscious Americans would balk at (I'm looking at you California). If you want to get rid of smoke and tobacco smells in your vehicle the natural way, I would a trial and error process with the following items (Warning, I've never really tried this):
b.) Use Natural Alternatives to Chemical Cleaners:
Baking Soda: Logically speaking, this is probably one of the best ways to clean vinyl or fabric car upholstery (Leather is another thing entirely). Baking Soda naturally has a tendency to absorb foul odors, thus making it an ideal product to rid your car of tobacco smoke. The process is relatively simple. You should generously cover the surface of the car upholstery, especially areas where the smell of tobacco smoke is emanating strongly.
After all surfaces are covered, rub the backing soda into the upholstery with a cloth (or if your concerned about ruining your upholstery, you can use unused T-shirt). After rubbing in the baking soda, (this does not include dashboard and plastic surfaces), leave the baking soda on the upholstery for 24 hours. After 24 hours have passed. Come back to your car and vacuum the baking soda from the upholstery surfaces as best as you can.
Natural Shampoos and Soaps: If you are using the baking soda method to get rid of a smoke smell from your car; you may want to use a natural shampoo and/or soap before turning your car into a snow globe. The application is relatively simple. Using a soft-toothed brush or soft cloth material (i.e. t-shirt again), vigorously scrub the surface of your upholstery. There are a variety of products that are described as ideal for this purpose. However, from the experience of personal friends and online reviews, I have heard that the top-rated market Castile Soaps such as Dr. Woods or Dr. Bronners make for very good cleansers. My suggestion would be to test things out. Pick a small spot on your upholstery and see if you can get a good clean without damage. When it comes to getting rid of smoke smell in your car, don't leave anything to chance. Moreover, if you have any great suggestions for a natural cleanser, please include them in comments section below.
Wow! You Made It This Far. How About Taking A Poll?
3.) Absorb or Mask The Odor (The Dramatic Steps)
Ok, so you're done cleaning the inside of your vehicle "thoroughly". You've tried the synthetic chemical cleaners; hell you've even tried using Baking Soda and a bottle of Dr. Bronner's All Natural Peppermint Soap. Yet, somehow after you come back and sit in your newly-cleaned vehicle, it still smells like an old-timey gentlemen's bar. (Who knew, cleaning tobacco smell out of your car was going to be so difficult.)
Now it's time to take dramatic steps. Your main goals now should be to both absorb the remnants of this foul stench and mask it so completely that not even your dog could detect it. Let's start by going through the list of available and effective odor absorbers:
Again, this is a method that I have not personally tried. But seems to be popular with a variety of people. However, if you really do not like the smell of coffee...it's probably just best to skip this and go to the next section. The great thing about coffee grounds is that they can simultaneously perform two functions in getting tobacco or smoke smell out of your car interior. First, coffee grounds are natural absorbers of odors. Secondly, the already pungent smell of coffee will probably overpower and replace the smell of tobacco any day of the week.
All you really have to do is let the coffee grounds sit openly in the car. The coffee will take care of the rest. You preferably want to put the coffee grounds in a bowl.
b.) Fabric Softener Sheets
You know how those fabric softener sheets remove odors from your laundry in the dryer. Well, what do you suppose would happen if you put those same sheets in your car interior....might as well try it out right?
To remove tobacco smell from your car interior using dryer sheets, you should first obtain a substantial number of dryer sheets. For example, the 80 count box of Bounce that I get from the pharmacy is adequate. Methodically, cover the surfaces of your upholstery with the dryer sheets. Note: In some cases, this may mean actually taping fabric sheets to the vertical portions of your upholstery so that they actually stick.
Once that's done, you want to turn on your car's heating system. The reasoning is simple. Since dryer sheets are used in a dryer, you should simulate the actual conditions of a dryer inside your car to get the best performance out of them.
c.) Activated Charcoal or Carbon
Another not often considered method for getting rid of smoke odors from your car is to use Activated Charcoal and/or Activated Carbon. These products often come in either a pellet, powder or tablet form; and most importantly have proven effectiveness in removing odors and toxins from their surroundings.
The usage of these materials is very similar to that of coffee grounds. An open bowl of either Activated Carbon or Activated Carbon should be all you need for the absorption process to start working. (Note: Activated Charcoal is much easier to obtain commercially, activated carbon is more geared towards industrial applications). (Also Note: Activated Charcoal is not the same as the charcoal you get for your barbecue grill. Regular charcoal is chock full of toxins, activated charcoal has been processed so that those toxins are largely removed.)
4.) Ozone Generator (Absolute Last Resort)
Scientifically speaking the reason why tobacco smoke is so difficult to remove from the inside of a car or any enclosed space is that tobacco smoke is full of very complex particles that dissipate at very different rates. However, what all these particles have in common is that they can be oxidized and thus neutralized.
The most effective way to do this is to use an ozone generator. An ozone generator should cost anywhere from a hundred to $2,000 depending on the size the area you are trying to detoxify. However, the price is not the reason that this is a last resort. Simply put, ozone also called (O3) is a toxic substance to humans when breathed in. Therefore, if you know of an expert who can handle the ozone generator for you; I would highly suggest using them.
The procedure is simple. Place the ozone generator in your car, and activate it for a set amount of time per the manufacturer's instructions. Leave the car doors and windows sealed during the operation of this machine and do not be inside the car while it is in operation.
Come back to your car after the ozone generator has shut off...crack open the windows so that any remaining ozone can dissipate safely. Leave the car alone for an hour. After the hour has passed, come back to the car and check is the odor is still present. Hopefully it is gone. Good Luck.
Ijeoma Peter from Lagos, Nigeria on July 20, 2018:
Nice one and well written. I never thought of using some of the tips which you mentioned above. Thanks for sharing.
WheelScene from U.S.A. on May 05, 2017:
Awesome article thanks for sharing, these are some good tips I never thought of to remove smells from a car such as using Coffee, mmm I like the small of coffee in the morning!