How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Your Car in 3 Easy Steps

Here’s exactly how to get rid of the smell of smoke from your car.

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So you want to get rid of the cigarette and cigar smoke smell—among other Coloradan varieties—out of your car? Well, you’ve come to the right place as when it comes time to sell your vehicle, that lingering smell of smoke, from whatever vice you may take part in, can drastically affect your car’s resale value. Yeah, you don’t just have to worry about smelling like Springfield’s tire fire. 

When dealers take in trades of known smokers, or begin their appraisal and immediately detect the odor, your car’s value drops faster than we dropped AP college algebra. Some can even say “No thanks” to your trade-in as it permeates every surface, especially the seats. The bottom line is that it needs to go, so here’s exactly how you get rid of it in 3 easy steps.

Basics

Estimated Time Needed: 30-minutes to 1 hour, plus time to let the car sit

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Interior 

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Safety

Working on your car can be messy, especially when you’re cleaning the surfaces you’ve never bothered to clean before—hello, air vents, seat crevice, and sun visor—so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless—hopefully.

  • Nitrile gloves: Protects your hands from the harmful chemicals.
  • Long-sleeve shirt: Protects your arms from the harmful chemicals.
  • A mask: Depending on the chemicals used, some people may want a mask to filter the chemical smells and odors. 
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Everything You’ll Need

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done. 

Tool List

  • Paper towels
  • 2 microfiber towels
  • A bucket for soap and water to clean easier accessed surfaces
  • A vacuum
  • A floor mat, carpet scrub brush

Parts List

You’ll also need a flat surface, such as a garage floor, driveway, parking garage, or street parking, though check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we ain’t getting your car out of the impound yard.

For this specific job, however, it’s best that you use somewhere safe enough to leave your windows open for a prolonged period of time as after cleaning your car’s interior, you’ll want it to sit in the fresh air for as long as needed to both dry and reduce the smell. 

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Arranging Your Workspace

Organizing your workspace and tools so that everything is easily reachable will save you hours hunting for the mythical 10mm socket, wasting time getting up and grabbing parts from your worktable, or waiting for your handy-dandy child helper to hand you the hammer or blowtorch—Ed. Note please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch. 

Here are our suggestions for making your life easier.

  • If you’re in your garage, open the door as the fresh air is better than stagnant.
  • Roll down your car’s windows.
  • Open up each of your car’s doors.
  • Fill your bucket up with water and soap.
  • Put your deodorizer and other cleaners just outside the driver’s side door for easy access. 
  • Remove and arrange the contents of your glove box so it’s easier to replace your in-cabin air filter.
  • Place replacement filter atop the dashboard.
  • Get ready to scrub your brains out.
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Here Are the 3 Easy Steps...

Let’s do this! 

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Replacing In-Cabin Air Filter

  1. Remove contents of glove box if haven’t already.
  2. Remove glove box from its hinges, no tools required.
  3. Remove old, smoke-saturated air filter.
  4. Replace with new in-cabin air filter.
  5. Reattached glove box and replace glove box’s contents.
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Cleaning the Interior 

  1. Remove the floor mats.
  2. Wet scrub brush with soap and water.
  3. Scrub removed floor mats until clean.
  4. Set cleaned floor mats aside to dry.
  5. Vaccum out your car, removing any leftover ash, cigarette butts, and paraphernalia.
  6. Use leather/cloth cleaners to clean the seats, headliner, and remaining carpet, wiping away the excess as you go with the paper towels.
  7. Using the microfiber towel, dry the seats, headliner, and remaining carpet. 
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Using the Deodorizer

  1. Locate HVAC intake, likely positioned somewhere near the base of the windshield.
  2. Turn ignition on.
  3. Turn HVAC system off recirculate.
  4. Turn HVAC system’s fans to high and lowest temperature setting.
  5. Roll down windows if you haven’t already.
  6. Spray deodorizer through the HVAC intake at the base of the windshield.
  7. Turn ignition off.
  8. Let sit with windows down for deodorizer to settle.

You’re done!

Tips From a Pro

Over the years, The Drive’s editors have made friends with professionals across the industry. For this specific job, we asked our friend Larry Kosilla, who’s the owner and operator of the car detailing company AMMO NYC, as well as being the detailer for Bugatti, to give us his top tips for removing the smell of smoke from your car. You’ll want to pay attention. 

  • The focus needs to be on the seat belts and headliner, then the HVAC needs to be cleaned and cabin air filter removed. 
  • As for my go-to products, AMMO SHAG, a scrub pad, and a shampoo machine.

How Often Do You Need To Deodorize Your Car?

If this was just a spring cleaning and you continue to smoke inside, you’ll likely have to repeat this process fairly often. If you’re selling the car, we’d recommend two cleanings, letting each sit for a few weeks so as you can determine how much of cleaning is needed during the second round to properly remove much of the smoke’s arid smell. 

How Much Does The Smell of Smoke Affect Your Car’s Value?

Unfortunately, no one has a concrete standard price reduction when it comes to a car that smells like smoke as there are too many other variables to consider, i.e. the prevalence, the intensity, and whether or not there’s any existing damage caused by the smoking itself. 

Anecdotal evidence found across the web, however, indicates that depending on those variables, cars that still reek of smoke likely see a $1,000 to $4,000 reduction in perceived value when it comes time to sell. 

Life Hacks

Since you may not have access to the right tools, or have a friend you can bum a wrench off of, we also compiled a list of our best hacks to make your life easier and drain your pocket less.

  • A cup or two of white vinegar in a container placed near the center of the car and left for a number of hours or overnight can reduce the smell of smoke.
  • While it won't get rid of the smell of smoke, unused coffee grounds can mask the smoke's foul odor if left for an extended period of time with the windows up.
  • If you've only had a few cigarettes, cigars, or other products since your ownership began, a handful of newspapers spread throughout can decrease the smoke by soaking up its smell.

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