How To Remove Smoke Smell From A Car

Cigarette smell is not just a nuisance. It’s also dangerous, as the smell indicates that the cigarette’s toxic chemicals are still present. Over the past few decades, cigarette smoke residue has been scientifically proven to damage your lungs and cause cancer – even if you don’t smoke. 

This article will show you how to remove the smoke smell from your car.

smoke in remix

How To Remove Smoke Smell From Car

Step 1. Get Rid Of The Source

There’s an ashtray in your car, right? Cigarette smoke is emitted from the entire cigarette – including the butts with no nicotine left.

Start your clean by emptying your ashtray and throw away every cigarette butt you can find. Make sure you empty and clean the cup holders, too. If there are ashes in the cabin, the smoke odor will linger no matter what you do.

car wipe

Cigarette smoke sticks to anything and everything. It clings so hard that it can last for months (when it’s called thirdhand smoke).

Though you may be tempted to try, driving around with the windows open will not help eliminate the smoke already stuck on various surfaces in the car. To rid those sticky smoke particles, you need to wipe down everything with a microfiber cloth. 

Start by grabbing your cloth. Dip it in a bowl of water mixed with a little bit of shampoo, vinegar, or soap. Then, wring out excess water and wipe every surface of the car interior – including the windows. Make sure you spend time on the headrests, too, as smoke will stick to fabric and leather the most. 

Finally, use a leather cleaner to clean leather seats or a fabric cleaner otherwise. Ensure you check the cleaner carefully, as a cleaner specially formulated for real leather may ruin seats made of faux leather (and vice versa).

Step 3. Vacuum The Interior

If your car seats have fabric covers, you vacuum them thoroughly. If possible., remove the seat covers and dry clean them separately. Then, vacuum the floors, mats, and remaining surfaces of the vehicle. 

Next, get a steam cleaner from your local hardware store. Steam-cleaning fabric seats will remove smoke particles on the surface and buried deep under the seats.

As a bonus, the seats will be free from grime, dirt, and stains too. If that still sounds too troublesome, just call a steam cleaning service in your area.

Once you have taken care of the seats, take out and vacuum the floor mats again. Let them air out for a while outside before you put them back in.

Step 4. Replace The Cabin Air Filter

car air filter

Cars usually have two air filters: One that filters the air going to the engine and one leading to the car’s air conditioner. This cabin air filter is usually hidden behind the glove box. It’s easy to replace on your own.

After you replace the filter, put your car on the driveway or any open space and run the AC on full blast. This will blow any residual smoke particles on the vents. Wipe the vents, too, to ensure any residue smoke dust is removed.

Step 5. Plug In An Ionizer

car air purifier

Get a portable 12 Volt ionizer to remove the cigarette smell from your car. Then, plug it into the 12 Volt cigarette lighter socket on the dashboard, and let it do its job. There are also car air purifiers that you can plug into the USB port. As these are small, it may take a while for either device to completely rid of the cigarette odor.

Alternatively, you can use an ozone generator. Ozone generators are specialized ionizers that use high voltage to create ozone molecules from oxygen. The ozone will attach itself to the cigarette smoke particles, oxidizes them, and breaks down the toxic molecules into simpler non-toxic ones.

Please note that you should not be in the car while you’re running the ozone generator. Plug it in, get out of the car, let the generator run for 15 minutes. Then, get back in, and remove the generator. The remaining ozone will break down to oxygen in half an hour or so.

Step 6. Use An Air Purifier

As it will take some time for the smoke to properly clear, make sure you get an air purifier. Take your air purifier, plug it in, and let it run on the highest fan setting with all the windows closed. For such a small confined space, an air purifier won’t need more than 15 minutes to clean the cabin’s air.

TIP: Make sure your air purifier has both HEPA and activated carbon filters. This combo does wonder when it comes to removing foul odors by filtering the particulates that cause them.

Step 7. Spray Odor Eliminators


Over the next few days, you’ll want to control the odor in your car. For this, we recommend either Febreze or Ozium.Febreze contains a chemical compound called beta-cyclodextrin. This compound is made of sugar molecules bound together in the shape of a ring.

Think of it as a donut molecule complete with a hole in the middle. As you spray Febreze, the water vapor makes the odor-causing particles get trapped by the hole in the middle.

The particles will no longer bind to your olfactory perception. This means they don’t disappear, but you won’t smell them anymore. This short clip will help you visualize the process.

Ozium follows the same principle. It traps the smelly particles and weighs them down, so they are no longer airborne. The downside is Ozium gives that thick feeling to the air after you spray it, so don’t spray too much of it.

Step 8. Use Natural Odor Eliminators

Not everyone fancies spraying Febreze or Ozium all over their car interior, as they’re supposed to be removing odors (not adding more into the mix). If you’re one of these people, it’s time to look at some of these natural odor eliminators.

Ground Coffee


Put a cup of ground coffee on a plate. Put the container on the car seat, and leave it overnight. Make sure all the windows are up. The coffee will soak up the odor from the air and leave the cabin smelling fresh.

TIP: Just don’t brew the leftover coffee afterward. It’s going to taste foul.

Baking Soda

baking soda

Baking soda/baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) is the go-to solution for various cleaning tasks around the house. It’s versatile, affordable, and does wonders as an odor-eliminator too.

Just like with coffee, put a cup of baking soda on a plate and leave it there. If you consider the aroma of ground coffee is too strong, go with baking soda instead, as it leaves your car odorless.

Activated Charcoal Bags

air purfying bag

Activated charcoal or activated carbon is also considered a natural way to eliminate the tobacco smell from cars. You can buy bags of these for cheap online. Just get the small bags. You don’t need a big one for a small space that is your car cabin.

Activated charcoal bags are not only excellent for removing odors. They also absorb harmful chemicals called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Gasses such as formaldehyde, ammonia, or benzene result from off-gassing from plastics, glue, carpeting, and various other materials used to build the car interior.

Using charcoal bags will not only rid toxic cigarette smell from your car but also leave the air fresher and safer to breathe.

Cat Litter

cat litter

Yes, we’re not joking. Put a bowl of cat litter inside the car and leave it for a day or two. Cat litter is super cheap, so if you don’t have a cat, you can always buy a box.

Cat litter contains activated carbon, and that’s why it’s great for removing odor. It’s also easy to find in almost any store. If you can’t find activated charcoal anywhere, this is the next best thing.

Remember to go with unscented litter. The scented ones mask the cigarettes’ smell, so it’s hard to tell if the cigarette smell is already gone or the scent just covers it.

Will These Methods Remove Vape Smell Too?

Of course. However, vape smoke is completely different from cigarette smoke. The smoke you blow when you vape is mostly water vapor. It doesn’t stick or linger as strong as cigarette smoke does. Opening the window while you’re driving is usually sufficient to get rid of any vaping odors. 

All things said, the best method to get rid of cigarette odor is by not smoking completely or switching to vaping if you must smoke in your car. While vaping is less dangerous compared to smoking cigarettes, it is still dangerous nevertheless.


Having followed our instructions, you may consider yourself a graduate in the study of Cigarette Odor Removal. No matter what kind of smoky situation you’re in, our steps will get rid of that cigarette smell without fail.


Karie is a science-obsessed writer with a sensitive nose. She has been using air purifiers for many years, and uses them obsessively to keep her home dust-free. She is passionate about helping people find the right air purifier for them.