There are a number of unpleasant smells that a car’s interior can carry around for the entire duration of its time on the road. Among these are the particularly foul smells that develop from long-term exposure to one specific source: smoking cigarettes.

Luckily, if a car has been exposed to smoke, there are a number of methods for removing the odor from the upholstery and interior surfaces of a car. Before any work goes into cleaning the car, first assess the situation. Here is how you can get rid of the tobacco smell from your car.

How to get the smoke smell out of your car

  1. Gather the right materials - Before you get started, first gather the following materials: Baking Soda, Bowl,Carbon Air Purifier, Fabric freshener, such as Febreze, Hanging air freshener, Spray bottle, Vacuum or shop vac, Vinegar, Water

  2. Get rid of any cigarette residue and ash in the car - Empty the ashtray and clean it thoroughly. Leave it outside the car after it is cleaned, so it can be cleaned again if it still smells like tobacco after airing out.

  3. Vacuum the whole car - Make sure to get into small spaces like between the seats and between the cushions. Remove the floor mats and vacuum the carpet underneath. Just like with the ashtray, leave the mats outside of the car for the duration of the cleaning to air out.

  4. Remove odor from soft surfaces - Now it’s time to confront the parts of the car that got most exposed to the tobacco smoke: the soft surfaces. These softer surfaces like seats, carpets, and the headliner absorb the smell of tobacco smoke very quickly.

    Tip: These need to be cleaned with some material capable of removing the odor from the fabric. There are a number of ways to do this as well, depending on the preferences of the driver.

  5. Sprinkle baking soda - Take a box and sprinkle it over literally every soft surface in the car. Get into the seats and the spaces between the seats.

  6. Rub baking soda on headliner - Take a handful of baking soda and lightly rub it onto the headliner so that it is visibly applied to it. After this sits for 12 to 36 hours, vacuum it all up.

  7. Empty the vacuum cleaner and repeat - You should remove all baking soda from the vacuum bag and vacuum one more time. The fine powder gets embedded far into the fabric of the seats.

  8. Clean your ventilation - To freshen the ventilation system, first check the air filter feeding air into the car. If this is dirty, then replacing it will noticeably improve the air quality.

  9. Recirculate air - While the doors are all open, turn the vents on ‘recirculate’ and let the air move through the whole system for an hour or so.

    Tip: Adding air freshener to the car before this can achieve more noticeable results.

  10. Clean the hard surfaces - The hard surfaces inside of the car need to be cleaned. Make sure the cleaning supplies used are approved for use on the surfaces present inside of the car. Glass cleaner should be used on the insides of the windows and mirrors. Other cleaners, either all-purpose or designed for one type of surface, should be used on all available hard surfaces.

    Warnings for chemical cleaners: Certain plastics and types of wood can react badly to certain chemicals. When in doubt, test the cleaner in one little spot that isn’t too visible.

    Tip: If the driver is looking for a more natural solution, vinegar and water can be sprayed through a spray bottle over the surfaces. Wipe the surfaces down thoroughly.

  11. Restore removed items - Once everything is nice and clean, the mats can be put back into the car and the ashtray can be restored to its home. If an odor remains in the car, then there are still some solutions.

Tobacco odor is not a life sentence - through thorough and efficient cleaning, any car can smell as good or better than the day it rolled out of the factory. If you need assistance in your car maintenance, hire a certified mobile technician from YourMechanic today.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Get the Smoke Smell Out of Your Car and was authored by Olivia Marsh.


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