How To Clean A Smoker’s Car – Used Car Smells Like Smoke

Let me guess, if you’re reading an article about How To Clean A Smoker’s Car, then I’m guessing that you’ve tried car washes a few times and have probably used every freshener and deodorizer out there. And the last bottle of Fabreeze just got tossed in the trash.

I hear ya. I’ve been there. And lucky for you, you may have accidentally stumbled on to the right place because only recently, I bought a used car from an ex smoker.

Nothing worked. I had literally been to my car wash 3 times in 10 days. Even they were beginning to question their own abilities. On the 3rd time, the main guy at the wash told me:

“Your car is cursed.”

Beautiful, I thought.

Just what do you say to someone who thinks they’ve bagged a deal because the car used to be smoked in. I didn’t for one second think that 3 visits to the car wash would only the cover the smell for a day. At best two…

I didn’t realise that the only reason I got a deal on the car was because no one was able to get the smoke smell out.

Well, if the car wash didn’t work, I thought let me just air out the car for a few days. I don’t love the smell of air fresheners and I knew deep down that they weren’t the solution. They, like deodorizers would probably just mask the smell (for a while).

So whilst I was at home, during the day, I’d leave all the windows and doors of the car open. Of course my neighbors must have thought that I was showing off; perhaps trying to model my car as if to say:

“Mine’s better than yours…”

Unfortunately, the fresh air did nothing for it. The car still stank.

Remove Smoke Odor From Car Interior

The smell of smoke in a car, especially if you’re driving long journeys can just be too overwhelming. And if you have a family, there’s the health benefits you have to deal with too.

I did feel a little defeated and was very much contemplating selling the car. Even if it meant I’d take a small loss, at this point I was prepared to. It was past a joke and getting serious. Like the guy who couldn’t stop hiccuping for a month. At first it must have been hilarious, then……you know not so funny.

So now you know how I feel..

So I gave myself one last week, but this time I was going to take it more seriously than ever. I searched the internet, on forums, I went on social media – I even called professional valeters and asked them for their advice.

The moment I started getting people giving me tips that I’d never heard of, I’d immediately try it.

Before I tell you the method that worked for me, I will say I was hoping for a one thing fixes all.  I had been told about some ozone machine and was so excited to try it, but that, on it’s own as the SINGLE magical solution – just didn’t work. I tried.

However, that machine did have its uses as you’ll see below.

I had to change my mindset about the car. And really think about all the insides of the car that would be affected. The previous owner had already tossed the ashtray but after a month of dealing with the stench there was more to it than the missing ashtray.

How to Eliminate Cigarette Smoke Odor in Car

Cleaning the inside of a smoker’s car isn’t easy. It does take some work and that’s because the smoke, nicotine and tar from a cigar or cigarette really stick to the surface. And generally the smoke embeds itself quite deeply within the fibers. So in a car, that would generally mean the carpets, the headliner and the seats if they’re made from cloth. This means that no car wash, let alone an air freshener is going to fix the problem.


ou’re willing to go and pay for a rather expensive valet – I suggest you get ready to get scrubbing.

Now given this is the first time I had this problem, I did a number of things before even starting on the car. I went online and read a bunch of posts, watched a heap of videos but better than all of those, I just rang a few detailers and asked them the steps involved. A few of them were actually overly friendly and pretty much gave me the whole plan.

I then took all the things that were said in common, e.g. from the youtube videos, web articles from valeters to even what the valeters said and that formed my checklist.

Remove All The Junk

I know this is going to sound really obvious, but, clear the car of all the junk. Everything. If it isn’t part of the car, e.g. empty Dr Pepper cans – toss them all out. Look under the seats and see if there’s anything there. Keep a look out for used cigarettes that could have fallen there. There’s absolutely no point in spending hours of your life cleaning a car, just to realise that the smoke never went away because of the burnt but underneath the driver’s seat.

Use a good flashlight or the one on your cell phone. But make sure there’s no butts around.

Car that smells of smoke


Air the car out. If it’s parked in a garage or in a place where your car is 100% safe then keep the windows and sunroof open. When it came to my car, I sadly wasn’t sure if I trusted my neighbors enough to leave everything open all day and all night. So in daylight one day, when I was at home, I left all the windows and car doors open, as well as the sunroof.

Surprisingly, without any chemicals or deodorizers, I found that the horrible stench of smoke, had dropped from a 10/10 to a 7/10. But of course I knew that wasn’t going to be enough.

That said, I still hoped it would drop further down so I left my windows and doors open on another day. But no, it was still at a 7/10. To be excepted and I wasn’t worried. I closed and locked all the windows and doors.

In fact, I was relieved because I could see that some of my neighbors thought that leaving all the doors and windows open was an invitation for them to take it.

Especially Burt. I never liked him. If my car goes missing, I’ll know it’s Burt.

Don’t Reuse Microfiber Cloths

This was one of the best pieces of advice that I came across. And that was to never reuse a microfiber cloth. The point would be to use them once to clean parts of the car and then toss them away so as not to contaminate other parts of the car. As the valeter who shared this gem with me said:

“You can’t wipe a door panel down and then use the same cloth on another panel. It doesn’t matter how much you think you are cleaning it or how many chemicals you think you are using, you simply will just be transferring the bacteria from one dirty door panel to another one. Don’t be cheap, buy more cloths.”

And so I did. I actually bought the 50 pack. There was a deal going and given my love for my new car – I knew that over the course of the year I’d use the rest of them.

As I looked at the inside, I could see that the potential for smoke to be everywhere couldn’t be truer. I started making a list of things that would 100% retain a smokey odor and noted them down.

Headliner – So much smoke gathers that it’s unreal. And to clean a headliner takes some work. Now before working with a headliner, it’s worth noting that they’re very delicate and are held in place by 2 bits of glue. If you start to be aggressive in your cleaning, then what’s going to happen is that the glue will loosen and may start to crease or worse allow the headliner to drop. I knew I had to be delicate but I also knew that I needed it clean.

I grabbed my steam machine, placed a towel over the nozzle and set it on the lowest settings. It was important to make sure that I didn’t get the headliner wet at all. I started to run the towl over the headliner, ensuring that I got all of it.

Again all the while making sure I didn’t get it wet.

I then went over it with a towel and started to agitate it. I began lightly scrubbing, and really worked all the areas that had stains. Once that was done, I aired the car out again for an hour and began doing a blot with a fabric cleaner. I ended working on the headliner by pulling out the steam cleaner and going over it one final time.

Next it was time for all the windows in the car. I cleaned the outside of all the windows first. The windscreen was really bad, as was the rear window. I cleaned the outside first because I wanted to ensure that when I was cleaning the inside I could comfortably see all the marks.

Cleaning Car Ashtray

Smoke has a nasty habit of sticking to all the windows, placing a film across the windows. This film causes a horrible glare that’s really prominent at night. What adds to this film is more surprising than the smoke. It turns out that the film across the windows and particularly the windscreen can happen due to the fact that in hot weathers, the oils from the plastic and vinyl in the car start to evaporate too.

Use alcoholic or Mr Clean Erasers and get your microfiber cloths ready. It’s time to start wiping all the windows of the car down. Ring it out completely. Be sure to use circular motions and get wiping. Remove all the dirt and streak marks that exist. Mr Eraser activates in warm water. Ring it out and start.

Use a glass cleaner to do a good job – and be sure to spray the glass cleaner on your cloth. DO NOT spray it directly on your glass. If you do that, it’ll start to drip and trust me – you really don’t want that stuff dripping on your dashboard.

And if you have tints on the rear windows, just use soapy water to clean those. Avoid the glass cleaner as they can eat into the tints.

To finish the windows, wipe them down one more time but this time with Zep Glass Cleaner. I am very partial to this product and can tell you that it works a treat every time.

Ashtray – tossed away. I suggest you do the same. Buy a new one.

Seatbelt – I had managed to clean my seatbelt with relative ease. If you’d like to know how I cleaned my car seat belts, buckle up. Get it?

Filters – Change these. If you don’t know how to do them, ask a mechanic. It literally takes minutes.

Carpets – Personally I tossed mine out and bought new ones. However that’s not to say that you can’t clean the smoke from them. To do so you’d need a heavy duty degreaser that isn’t harmful and spray the entire carpet. Really apply a good coat to it.

After allowing it to soak for a minute or so, a lot of the debris will start break apart and that’s the time to pull out your brush and start scrubbing. Use a brush with stiffer bristles and add some soapy warm water into a bucket. Dip the brush in and start scrubbing. After a minute or so (probably even less) – you’ll start to see foam all over the carpets. This is the time you want to take all the water and excess moisture from the car carpets. Grab your wet/dry vac and work your carpets in straight lines. Suck all the water out. Keep repeating this process till they feel dry. Then blot as much of the moisture out as possible with cloths and towels. Leave in the sun to ensure they are fully dried.

As I said, it’s a lot of work, and for me personally, just made more sense to buy new carpets.

Convertible Roof – If you happen to have a soft top then I hate to break it to you. It’s probably absorbed more smoke than a hard top. But don’t despair, cleaning a soft top is actually pretty simple.

Cleaning Car Vents

Vents – the chances are the vents were likely to have ash in them. And leaving that unattended would just be pointless. As ridiculous as this sounds, I found a video online which suggested pointing a leaf blower down one of the vents for a few seconds. The idea would be that it would blow out all of the ash from all the vents. So I tried it. It took some body work to get the angle right so I didn’t scratch the vents, however I did it. And it worked. All the ash came flying out..Win.

Seals – surprisingly the rubber door seals are a magnet for smoke. I didn’t believe it, till I stuck my nose to it as if smelling a robust Bordeaux red. Big mistake. It stank of smoke. OMG. Too much. Well, these were easy enough to clean. Use your soapy water and a soft sponge to clean this. Avoid damaging the inside of the car or the paint. Once you’re happy enough with the state of the cleaned seals, it’s time to add a rubber protector on to the seals. This is good habit and really does keep a lot of day to day grime and dirt off them.

Plastic on the inside – Well this was easy enough. I sprayed this cleaner on the inside and wiped it off immediately with a microfiber cloth. I used a soft brush and started really working on the inside panels. Making sure to remove as much of the dirt as I could. I then repeated the process with an interior scrub pad.

Once I was satisfied enough with the state of all the plastic in the car, it was time to finish the job with the steam cleaner. Again, I wrapped a towel around the nozzle and started working the inside of the car. Again, making sure to not allow it to get wet. Once that was done, I  quickly dried it.

Seats – In this instance leather is easier to work with than cloth. Not to say that cloth can’t be cleaned. For cleaning cloth seats, I’d advise a good fabric cleaner and a good scrub. Followed by a good steam clean. I had leather seats and decided to use a PH balanced Shampoo. I needed to ensure that I didn’t use the wrong shampoo which would simply dampen my seats and take away some of the lushness. Before doing that I steam cleaned my seats thoroughly and then applied the shampoo. After that, it was time for the leather conditioner. I had to bring back its suppleness and nothing beats a good leather conditioner.

Door Handles – For the door handles I used Super Clean. Smokers generally will have smokers fingers and not even working your door handles and window buttons, etc is a bad idea. You’ve got to the Super Clean out and really clean all of that. After I was done, I dried it thoroughly…

Trunk – Whilst you’ve got the Super Clean handy, spray it all over the trunk carpet. Give it a minute or so to settle and start to scrub it. Lift all the dirt and much off this carpet fibers. I was surprised to discover how much the trunk smelt of smoke. How so much of it had dissipated through the seats and into the trunk carpet. After the scrub, I pulled out my wet/dry vac and went to make sure all the water was out. To be extra careful, I even left the trunk open for a few hours so the Miami sun could beat down on it and do its thing.

Ozone Machine

Flush out the a/c system – Now I must admit, I do find the Chemical Guys products very pricey but some of them are worth the money. I used the strawberry one and kept the car on and the AC on full blast. Next I sprayed the strawberry scent under the driver and passenger seats. The scent was slightly too strong for me so I left the car running for 5 minutes and stepped out.

Smoke Bomb For Cars

Only now was it time for the Ozone Machine. I had borrowed one to do my car, however since then I decided to buy it because it’s just such a fantastic piece of kit. Before even using it, I made sure that the car was fully dry. Then I closed all the windows, switched on the machine and left it in the car for 3-4 hours. Long time right?

Worth it !! Let it just fog up your whole car. Better that smoke than cigarette smoke.

I could feel the change was coming. The scent was barely noticeable if at all. And luckily for me, even the smell of strawberry had gone too.

I wanted to neutralise any scents in the car whilst also ensuring any reminance of smoke, tar, nicotine or bacteria were all gone. Enter Dr Beasley Nutrascent. What a fantastic product. Few sprays all over and I was home free.


I’d love to tell you that doing all of this worked. Sadly it didn’t. It got the smell right the way down to a 2/10 and I just couldn’t live with that. I decided to wait a wait, further the air the car out as and when I could and then go ahead and repeat the whole exercise again. And BINGO!!!! Finally!!! It worked. It’s been a whole month since I’ve written this post and my oh my. What a lovely car to drive. And smell of smoke is a thing of the past. As if it never happened.