How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Your Car for Good

Don't hold your breath on smoke smells disappearing on their own. These car cleaning tips will help you rid your car of smoke odors for good.

Published June 21, 2023
woman cleaning car window

Lingering smoke smells in your car make driving a dreaded task. But these tips for getting that pesky smoke smell out of your car once and for all will have you excited to get behind the wheel again. The best way to get smoke smell out of your car is to start with a proper airing out and then start cleaning as many elements in your car as you can until the stench is gone.

How to Get Lingering Smoke Smells Out of Your Car

If you're dealing with lingering smoke smell from campfires or exposure to cigarette smoke, follow these steps to rid the space of the smoky stench.

Run the AC With Circulating Air

If your vehicle has an air circulation option, definitely turn it on. As soon as you notice the smoky smell, run your car's air conditioning system with the circulation on to start cleaning the air and filtering out some of the smoke.

Air Out the Vehicle

On the first warm and breezy day, air your vehicle out by opening all the doors or at least lowering all the windows. A breeze will help blow the smoke out of your car while bringing in some fresh air. Allow the car to air out for at least a few hours. You can even run the air conditioning for a little while to circulate the fresh air through the system.

Vacuum the Upholstery

man vacuuming car

The upholstery in your car will hold on tightly to odors, so it's the first place in your vehicle you'll want to tackle. Use a handheld vacuum to clean the upholstery and lift some of the smoky odor up and away. After vacuuming, empty your filter and try one more round on the seats to make sure you catch all of the smoke that can be lifted with suction. Don't forget to clean your car's headliner

Helpful Hack

Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your vacuum's filter to leave a fresh scent behind as you clean.

Wipe Interior With Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets are handy for so many reasons, and they play two important roles in ridding your car of smoke odor. If you wipe your car's interior surfaces with dryer sheets - think your dashboard and door interiors - the sheets will absorb some of the smoky stench while leaving a fresh smelling scent behind.

Quick Tip

Leave a few dryer sheets in a plastic bag inside your car for odor absorbing emergencies.

Clean Upholstery & Carpet With Baking Soda

Vacuuming the interior of your car is important for lifting those lingering smells from smoke exposure, but you might want to do this step as well. Sprinkle baking soda on the upholstery and carpet of your car. Baking soda helps absorb and neutralize odors in the fabric. Allow it to sit for half an hour before you vacuum away the excess or lift it with a wet towel.

Use a Leather Cleaner if Needed

If your car has a leather interior, you'll want to take special care when cleaning it. A leather grade upholstery cleaner is the best way to lift stink and stains from your car's leather features. Avoid using any cleaners that aren't specifically designed for leather upholstery so you don't risk damaging the material.

How to Get Harsh Smoke Smells Out of Your Car

If the smoke smells you're battling are pretty harsh - like exposure from a wildfire or long-term cigarette smoke exposure - you may need to use some more intense cleaning methods to tackle the odors. These steps will help you amp up the elbow grease and odor-fighting powers in your car cleaning journey.

Use a Steam Cleaner on the Upholstery

Vacuuming your car's interior is an important step, so definitely don't skip it. But you might want to use the cleaning power of an upholstery steamer as well. Reach for a powerful tool like the Bissell Little Green to lift set-in stains and offensive odors as you work your way across the upholstery.

Need to Know

Use a steam cleaner detergent with an odor-fighting ingredient like Febreeze for those extra-tough upholstery smells.

Clean Every Surface of the Interior

Here's the thing: you're going to have to clean every interior surface of your car. From the dashboard and windows to the floorboards and roof. The best way to get the smoke stench out is to clean the surfaces it's lingering on. Use a multi-surface cleaner and a glass cleaner with a refreshing scent to clean away the smoky residue and leave a pleasant smell behind. You can also use white vinegar as you clean to neutralize the smoke odor.

Leave Coffee Grounds in the Car

Did you know that coffee grounds can absorb odors? Leave a cup of coffee grounds in a container in your car overnight or up to 24 hours. The nitrogen in the grounds will neutralize the unpleasant smells inside your vehicle. The best part is that instead of smoke, your car will now be filled with the delicious aroma of coffee.

Use Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal works wonders when it comes to absorbing odors. It's not a quick fix, but over time it will definitely improve the air quality in your car. Add activated charcoal to a container with a perforated lid - or seal the container with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and punch in a few small holes - to neutralize the odors and absorb the smoky stench. Leave the charcoal sitting for at least 24 hours and up to two days to notice an improvement in the smell of your vehicle's interior.

Replace What You Can

The truth is that some odors can be so powerful that the effort and cost needed to remove the smell from items is far greater than the cost to just replace them. If your car has a particularly bad smoke exposure problem, replace some of the items you are able to swap out easily. Floor mats, air fresheners, seat covers, steering wheel covers, and seat organizers can all be replaced if they are compromised by the level of smoke smell in your car.

Try a Portable Air Filter

This investment is a great idea even if you aren't battling a smoky car interior. A portable air filter for your car will clean the air from smoke and other pollutants. Once you've thoroughly cleaned the car's interior, pop in the air filter and let it get to work. This air filter sits nicely on your car's dashboard and removes smoke odors and bacteria from the air in your vehicle.

Wash Your Car's Exterior

If the interior of your car is riddled with smoke odor, the exterior probably needs a thorough cleaning as well. If smoke exposure has recently occurred, you may need to wash your car's exterior in order to preserve the paint job as well. Give your car a full wash - whether by hand or through the car wash - and banish those smoky smells for good.

Take Your Car to a Detailer

man detailing a car

If you've exhausted all the other cleaning options and your car still smells strongly of smoke, it may be time to call in the professionals. Take your car to a vehicle detailer for the full interior and exterior cleaning service. Let them know you're battling a tough smoke smell and relax while their professional methods and tools take care of those final lingering odors.

Send Smoke Odors on a One-Way Trip

If you try all these methods together, you're most likely going to get rid of that frustrating smoke smell. It may take time and quite a bit of effort, but knowing the air in your car is safe and pleasant is well worth the time and energy spent on refreshing your vehicle. Once your car is cleaned, top to bottom and inside and out, you can wave goodbye to smoke stench and take a nice long drive to celebrate.

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How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Your Car for Good