You may not think of your car as being like a living room on wheels but it contains an awful lot of fabric. And that means a lot of material to absorb the smell of smoke. If a car has been smoked in at some point, the smell will linger for months, if not years. But you can get rid of it, and other smells.
Give it a good clean
You could go down the Magic Tree air freshener route. But chances are this will just mask one pungent smell with another. You need to do a proper deep clean. First of all, clean the windows. You may barely be able to see it, but smoke builds up on hard surfaces such as the dashboard and windows. Give these a good clean with the right products for the job.
If you can, get any used ashtrays out and put them in some soapy water to soak (as long as you’re sure it won’t damage any delicate spring mechanisms).
Then remove the carpet mats. These too will absorb the smell of smoke and will probably have fragments of ash clinging to them. Give them and the carpets a good vacuuming.
Baking powder or carpet cleaner
Sprinkle baking powder around the fabrics, leave it for as long as you can, then vacuum it up. The theory is this will attract the fragments of smoke and neutralise them. If you don’t have any baking powder, you could use a carpet cleaner such as Shake n Vac.
Pay attention to the roof lining
As you may have noticed, cigarette smoke rises. That means the roof lining of your car (fabric on most motors) will absorb it. You can tackle this with a steam cleaner. In extreme cases, it may make sense to have the car’s roof lining replaced. This might sound drastic (and expensive!). But bear in mind if you buy a car that’s been smoked in, you should get it for a sensible discount.
Or go to a motor retailer
How to get rid of smoke and other pungent smells from car interiors is a familiar request. So unsurprisingly, you can buy products to help. One is from car product cleaner Turtle Wax. You spray this around the car before vacuuming.
Or you could follow the professionals’ example. The trouble with cigarette smoke is that it gets into the air vents too. What the pros frequently do is let off a fogger in the car. This is the car equivalent to the ones you use to get rid of flies or moths in the house.
You start the car, somewhere it’s going to be safe and can’t be stolen from, with the ventilation system running. Then you place the fogger (a small aerosol can) in a cupholder. Set it off and leave it for 15 minutes or so during which time it works its way round the car and its ventilation system destroying the odours at molecular level.
Go to the pros
When you take your car in for a service, ask them to replace the filters in the ventilation system. This should be a relatively straightforward job to do and should make a significant difference.
What a lot of professional valeters do to remove the smell of cigarette smoke is use an ozone generator. They shut the car, pump it full of ozone then leave it. The theory is the ozone will kill any bacteria and remove the smell.
Some valeters do claim you can never truly get rid of the smell of smoke from a car. But follow the steps above and you’ll at least go some way to reducing it.
I’ve been writing about cars and motoring for more than 25 years. My career started on a long-departed classic car weekly magazine called AutoClassic. I’ve since pitched up at Autosport, Auto Express, the News of the World, Sunday Times and most recently the Daily Telegraph. When I’m not writing about cars and motoring, I’m probably doing some kind of sport or working in my garden.