How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Your Car Quickly

Does the interior of your car reek of smoke? A strong smoke smell can make driving and even sitting in a car unbearable. Fortunately, even if the stench is strong, several strategies can safely and efficiently remove the smell and keep your car fresh. Read on to find out how.

3 Actions to Remove Smoke Smell from Your Car

Removing the smoke smell from a car is a multi-step process.

I. Clean the Car

First, you’ll want to give the inside of the car a thorough, traditional cleaning.

Tools and Equipment Needed:

  • Trash bag
  • Vacuum (either handheld or with a long nozzle)
  • Car upholstery cleaner
  • Brush or cloth
  • Automotive interior cleaner

Step 1: Remove Trash

First, get rid of any trash inside your car. Don’t forget to empty the ashtrays! You also want to remove the floor mats and clean them outside of the vehicle. 

Step 2: Vacuum

Once you’ve removed all the trash, you’re ready to vacuum. A mini vac made specifically for vehicles, such as the ThisWork Car Vacuum Cleaner, is easy to work with and will provide excellent results.

Aside from the upholstery, vacuum in and around the ventilation system as best you can (many vacuums have attachments for this purpose).

Step 3. Clean the Upholstery

Next, you’re ready to clean the seats and floors with upholstery clean, such as Armor All Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner. Spray directly on all the upholstery and then gently scrub with either a brush or microfiber cloth.

You might need to apply the carpet cleaner a few times if you’re trying to remove stains.

Step 4. Clean the Interior Surfaces

Next, you’ll want to clean the interior surfaces such as the dashboard, center console, and door panels. Armor All Cleaning Wipes are safe for use on vinyl, plastic, fabric, and more.

Removing trash, vacuuming, and cleaning the interior with standard products won’t remove the smoke smell entirely. However, it can diminish it, sometimes significantly. Plus, it prepares the car for other methods.

II. Steam Clean

A steam cleaner helps permanently remove the smoke smell. The steam opens up pores in fabrics, plastics, and other materials, freeing trapped smoke particles. Plus, the steam also disinfects surfaces.

Tools and Equipment Needed

Step 1. Steam the Seats and Floors

Use gentle pressure when applying the steam cleaner to the upholstery. Make cross-hatch patterns and cover each area as evenly as possible.

Move the steamer steadily. Never let it rest motionless against the fabric, as accidental burns can occur.

Step 2. Steam the Headliner

The headliner is the padding and fabric glued to the interior roof of your car. You don’t want to clean it with heavy amounts of cleaner because the chemicals can soak through and loosen the adhesive, causing the headliner to sag.

A steam cleaner is a safe and effective way to clean the headliner. Just put a microfiber cloth between the steamer and the headliner fabric to help protect the adhesive.

III. Ozone Generator

The final step for eradicating the smoke smell is an ozone generator. Also called activated oxygen, ozone is an unstable molecule created by splitting an oxygen atom.  What makes ozone unique is that it can “grab” odor molecules and turn them into oxygen, eliminating strong smells completely.

Tools and Equipment Needed

  • Ozone generator

Commercial level ozone generators are used in auto detailing shops, but high-quality options for home use are also available, including the Enerzen Ozone Generator.   

Step 1. Park Your Vehicle

Ozone can be dangerous to people and pets if inhaled. You need to park your car in a well-ventilated area. A driveway is better than an open garage, and a closed garage is definitely unsafe.

Step 2. Run the AC

Start your car (only the car, not the engine). Roll up all the windows.

Turn your AC on at the highest setting. You want maximum air recirculation throughout the car.

Step 3. Turn on the Ozone Generator

Place the ozone generator in the middle of your car. The top of the center console is usually the best spot.

Turn on the ozone generator and—quickly—close the door and step away from the car.

You might get a whiff of ozone but otherwise shouldn’t smell it once you’ve closed the door. It has a sharp, chlorine-like smell. If you can smell it away from the car, unplug the ozone machine at once.

Once you’ve determined it’s operating safely, let the machine run for an hour.

Step 4: Turn Off the Ozone Generator

Don’t open the car and reach in to shut down the generator. Instead, unplug the generator at the outlet.

Then, open each car door, standing as far away as possible.

Let the vehicle air out for about an hour.

Your car will smell factory fresh. While the ozone generator will result in the most dramatic difference, thoroughly preparing the car by vacuuming, shampooing, and steaming helps increase the generator’s effectiveness.

Effects of Smoke Odor in a Car

The lingering smell of smoke in a car has many adverse effects.

It’s Gross

First, it’s downright unpleasant. The stale smell is instantly disagreeable, even to most smokers. Many people say the residual smell of smoke is so heavy that it becomes a sensation they can feel on their skin.

It Drops Your Car’s Value

Also, the smell of smoke can significantly cut down on the resale value of your vehicle. Aside from the smell, which no non-smoker wants to deal with, smoking in your car can also lead to upholstery damage, further dropping the value.

Keep in mind these are only the effects on your car. If you smoke tobacco products, you’re also doing significant harm to your health.  

What May Cause Smoke in a Car?

There are several reasons a car might smell like smoke.

Tobacco Products

The most common reason is usually no surprise. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or other tobacco products, as well as other smokables like marijuana, in your car will make it smell like smoke.

There’s simply no way around it. Even if you roll down the windows when you smoke and spray deodorizer afterward, your vehicle will still smell like smoke.

Smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of which saturate fabric, such as car upholstery. Often referred to as “third-hand smoke,” this residual smell won’t fade away on its own.

Exhaust Leak

A cracked exhaust pipe or damaged muffler can cause a smoky smell inside your car. It might be subtle at first, especially if you drive on busy streets where the smell of exhaust is prevalent. However, if you have an exhaust leak, you’ll smell a smoky, exhaust-like smell all the time, even with the windows up.

The exhaust smell isn’t the only clue. If your car has an exhaust leak, you’ll likely also hear a loud, rattling sound whenever it’s running.

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Author: Dave Johnston

Dave Junior is a hands-on automotive technician with experience in performing service, diagnostics, and repairs on domestic and imported vehicles. He enjoys writing and sharing his knowledge far and wide.

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