Get Rid of Tobacco Odors in Cars

Whether you've turned your car into a '40s VIP lounge or you've just bought a car that is suffering from a case of the smelliness, getting smoke odors out of your vehicle can be done effectively with the right tools. Take a quick sweep of your car, then use a combination of chemical and natural cleaners to help snuff out the malodorous smell. You'll have your car smelling downright pleasant in no time.


Making an Initial Sweep Through

  1. Clean your mats with a carpet cleaner and vacuum them. A regular old carper cleaner should do a good job here, or you can spring for heavy-duty if the smell is particularly bad. Then go through the mats and give them a good vacuum.
    • Even if you can't clean the mats at least vacuum them. This alone may help the smell. You're likely to remove small particles that have been thoroughly soaked with or cloaked by smoke, if not remove some of the smell itself.
  2. Clean out the car's ashtray. It goes without saying, but it needs to be said. After cleaning the ashtray out, spray some ordinary air freshener into it out rub around with an absorbent kitchen paper. This will leave a thin layer of the air freshener in the ashtray. The layer is not enough for the ashtray to be flammable but it is enough to have retain a pleasant scent.
  3. Hang a car freshener or a vent clip in the cabin of the car. Of course, if you're trying to hide the fact that you've been cleaning the car, or that the car needed cleaning in the first place, then hanging a loud car freshener is likely to attract some suspicion. But if you're just concerned with removing noxious odors from your vehicle, then hanging an air freshener or vent can make a big difference.
  4. Put the car's heater and air into recirculate for 30 minutes. Unlock the doors, turn the engine on, and put your car's heat and air into recirculate while you clean the rest of the car. As you continue to clean the car and remove some of the smoky odors, the new, fresh air will recirculate throughout the entire cabin and improve the quality of air in your car.
    • If you really think your car needs it, consider replacing the cabin's air filter. Consider changing your car's air filters every {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}}, or at least once a year. If you can't remember the last time you changed them or had them replaced, do yourself a favor and go for it. It should make a difference.

Using Chemical Cleaners

  1. Go at it with fabric and upholstery cleaner. Fabric and upholstery cleaner, such as Scotchgard fabric and upholstery cleaner, does a pretty good job of neutralizing offending odors. Spray on seats, floor mats and even seat belts — pretty much anywhere there's exposed fabric. Following manufacturer's directions, scrub the cleaner into the fabric with a soft-bristled brush big enough to do the job.
    • You may want to consider getting an antibacterial one, as these can work better with smoke smells. Either way, this shouldn't be your last resort.
    • This may be less convenient, but removing your seats from the car before you clean them will have a drastic effect on removing the odor. There is a lot of carpet under seats that is difficult to reach but that still absorbs smoke smells. Removing the seats and then cleaning them will allow you to get at the hard-to-reach areas where the smoke odors may be hiding. This makes a huge difference.[1]
  2. Go at your seats and carpeted area with a pet odor eliminator. It may sound odd, but it really works. Pet odor eliminators, especially those used to remove urine stains and (most importantly) smells, can work wonders. Try out a product like Nature's Miracle for a miraculous finish.
  3. Make use of dryer sheets. Dryer sheets also work to keep a car smelling fresh. Just place several sheets or a small, opened box of dryer sheets someplace in the car, like under the car's four seats. When exposed to heat from the sun, the dryer sheets will release a fresh scent. A box of dryer sheets will freshen your car for a long time and could be less expensive than buying numerous car fresheners.
    • Dryer sheets will absorb unpleasant odors after a while. Not only this, but their ability to release pleasant odors will be somewhat diminished after time. Be sure to replace them every so often.
  4. If the odor is still particularly pervasive, consider spraying a highly diluted cleaner through the heater ducts. Use Lysol, for example, or very low concentration bleach water, for best results. Find the air intake (typically under the hood right close to the windshield) and, with the fan on in the car, spray with a water bottle. This will clean out some odor that's stagnated inside the ducts.
  5. Give your car's fabric a timely shampoo. Apply the shampoo directly to the carpets and/or seats. Work the shampoo into the fabric with a brush or cloth (brush works best). Then vacuum up the remaining shampoo with an extractor, which you may be able to rent from an auto detailer or local supply store.

Using Natural Cleaners

  1. Make use of baking soda. Baking soda is a natural deodorant that has so many uses it's almost criminal. Especially for cars with fabric interiors, this option works great. For heavy-duty smells, you'll need about a whole one-pound packet of sodium bicarbonate. Here's what you do:
    • Sprinkle the baking soda over as many porous surfaces as possible. These include the mats, seats, roof (try using a duster to fling the baking soda onto the carpeted roof), and wherever else the smell may have permeated.
    • Work the baking soda into whatever surface it's on. You can use a cloth, a brush, or even your hands to work the baking soda into the fabric.
    • Wait for at least 30 minutes, or up to a day. The longer you wait, the longer the baking soda's deodorizing properties get to work on your smelly ride.
    • After the allotted waiting time, vacuum up any remaining baking soda. Be sure to take at least two whole passes to remove any baking soda, along with particulates that may be causing the car to smell.
  2. Wipe the interior of the car, including the glass, with vinegar and water. To make the mixture, combine 1/4 cup of vinegar (white not cider) with 2 cups of water. Pour into your sprayer and shake. Mist the windows and the cloth interior with the vinegar-water mixture before wiping any any excess. As it's applied, mixture may be redolent of vinegar, but the vinegar smell wears off quickly once it's dried.
  3. Try placing roasted coffee beans throughout the car for a day. If you don't like the smell of coffee, you may be out of luck on this one, although the tactic really does work. Place six paper plates strategically throughout the car; onto each plate, spoon one cup of roasted coffee, evenly spread out across the entire plate. Keeping the windows down about an eighth of an inch, allow the coffee smell to permeate the car on a warm, sunny day. After a day, remove the coffee beans and enjoy the smell of your latte... er, car!
  4. Use crumpled up newspaper. Although not a surefire way of removing bad smoke odors from your car, this method is reputed to work because newspaper is an odor absorbent. Crumple up a good number of old newspaper sheets and place them strategically throughout your cabin. Wait 48 hours for the newspaper to absorb all the smoke smells, and then remove the newspaper and recycle.
    • As much most of the methods detailed in this article, this method can work in combination with other methods. Use this method to increase your chances of removing odors while placing coffee beans in your car, for example, or when coating it with baking soda.
  5. Place activated charcoal in your car's interior to act as local filters. You can find activated charcoal at pet supply stores, health food stores, or even bigger department stores. Place a cup or so of activated charcoal, which comes in powder form, in a bowl, and then place that bowl in your car. Wait for a day or two, after which time the charcoal should have worked its magic and absorbed a lot of the smells of smoke from your car.
    • Some animal products have activated charcoal in them, at far less cost. Kitty litter, for example, may contain it. In the end — it might be cheaper — and just as effective to place a bowl of kitty litter in your car rather than buy a huge supply of activated charcoal and only use it once.[2]
    • Activated charcoal is a quite strong natural odor eliminator. If you've tried using baking soda and it's not eliminated the smell of smoke completely, try this method. It should neutralize the odor very well.
  6. Try leaving a small amount of ammonia or vinegar in the car overnight. A cup or so will do the job. Ammonia is very harsh, so be sure not to bunk up in the car while the ammonia is work on eliminating the car's odors. After removing, open the windows and air out the car for an hour or two before using the car. Repeat this every night for a week or two if the odor isn't eliminated after a single use.

Other Options

  1. After the car has been cleaned, remove any residual odor with an ozone shock treatment using an ozone generator. Instead of masking the odor, the ozone generator will completely remove it. The ozone actually oxidizes and denatures the residual organic compounds causing the odor.
  2. Spend a little bit of money to have a professional worry about it. Getting your car detailed by a professional will cost a little bit more money, but you won't have to worry about removing the smell yourself, and you rest assured that the car detailer is drawing on a wealth of experience and resources in order to get your car back to its cleanest, natural state.


  • Test all cleaners in an inconspicuous place first.
  • Don't use too strong a cleaner or you could ruin your upholstery or dash
  • Put coffee grounds in the ashtray to soak up the odor.
  • Buy a bouquet of eucalyptus and leave it in your car as a lovely decoration and air freshener. This does a lot to freshen up the car, although it may need to be used in conjunction with other strategies.
  • Take dryer sheets and rub down seats. For quick fix use blunt power at any convenient store. If you can't find any go to store run by Asians, they tend to sell it.
  • Another good aid is: 1. cut an apple into quarters and put toothpicks around the sides so each quarter can rest in a cup of water. 2. Put the apple quarters in strategic places of the car and leave them during the day or overnight. (It works best with the windows down during the day). 3.It may take a week of repeating the procedure, in this case repeat steps one and two for a week.
  • Although exact figures are not well established, it is possible to damage interior components of a vehicle (e.g. rubber seals) through overuse of an ozone generator. Generators rated at 4000 to 8000mg/h should generally be safe to use for two hours. More powerful ones will work just fine in less time. Repeated treatments separated by airing out periods may be safer than one long, continuous treatment.


  • Ozone generators can be harmful to your car's materials and dangerous to your health if used improperly. Read all manuals before using any ozone machine. It is extremely important that no person or animal be in the vehicle during an ozone shock treatment.

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