How to Remove Smoke Smell from Car

I made a big mistake in buying my 2012 Kia Forte LX. It used to be a smoker’s car. When I was signing the paperwork, I thought that I could easily get rid of the smoke smells. But I was wrong! Don’t ever make my mistake. If you’re not a smoker and are looking to buy a used car, run away as far as you can the moment you smell even the faintest traces of smoke smell in the car. If you’re a smoker, anyway, then you can probably just get on with buying it.

Just a quick disclaimer: Proceed at your own risk. I’m detailing how I did things in my own car. You are responsible for anything that happens in your car resulting to any activity or task. So, make sure to test and be mindful of potential damage of any chemical or mechanical things that you do in your car.

How to remove smoke smell from car

It sucks to have a car that used to belong to a smoker. The smell grew too overpowering that I felt gagged while driving. Thankfully, my office is just 11 miles out from home. I searched online for information on how to remove the nasty smoke smell.

But after spending two weeks of cleaning it up, let me just say that IT IS VERY DIFFICULT to remove the smoke smell from the interior of the car. You can brush and clean up the fabric of the seats, clean the floor carpets of your floor, and the smell might still linger.


I can still smell the smoke inside my car, but it is no longer as overpowering as it used to be. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve, and I will keep trying until the smoke smell is totally gone.

Get a professional detailing shop to remove the smoke smell for you.

If you have the money, and don’t have the time to worry about doing this yourself, go to the professionals and let them do it for you. It could cost a lot, I don’t know how much since I didn’t do this, but a quick phone call should do the trick for you. I won’t be surprised if it costs more than $100 though.

DIY Remove tobacco odor from your car

I searched lots of information online, bought all the stuff I need for removing the smells (don’t worry, I will put list all the stuff I used below).

Change the cabin air filter.

The cabin air filter maintains the cleanliness of the air inside the car. If the former owner of your car smokes while the AC is on, and the windows closed, chances are, a lot of those tobacco residue and smell will be captured by the cabin air filter.

In choosing a cabin air filter for your car, make sure to get one that fits your car. I bought Fram Freshbreeze from Walmart, but you can also check for this product.To make sure that the cabin air filter fits your car, go to their website: They have an online application that will let you choose the year, make, and model of your car; then their website will let you know which Fram Freshbreeze product will fit your car.

My previous cabin air filter was really dirty and smelled strongly of tobacco. Changing it didn’t improve the car’s smell right away, but at least I got rid of one source of that bad smell.

Check out the photo of the old cabin air filter below. As you can see, it is really dirty, and caught a lot of those tobacco residues.


Vacuum all carpets and seats.

This is the first of several vacuum sessions in your car. You will get a lot of the bigger tobacco residues and other pieces of trash inside the car. Be prepared to use the vacuum cleaner again in subsequent steps.

I use the Shark portable vacuum cleaner and found that it is enough for my needs. It is small and handy, but after about 30 minutes of using it, you’ll need to plug it in to recharge the battery.

Wipe down the interior with a solution of distilled vinegar and water.

Distilled vinegar works great in cleaning up fabric and other surfaces. It is inexpensive, too. Get a microfiber cloth, put the solution in a spray bottle, spray surfaces inside the car — including the dashboard, and the ceiling of your car, scrub lightly with a microfiber cloth. Be careful not to get your car ceiling too wet.

I also put some distilled vinegar on two bowls and left those inside my car overnight. Then, I did another option after that. I placed two small towels on their own bowls, put some distilled vinegar onto it and placed under the front seats, I put another one inside the trunk. The idea is for the vinegar-soaked towel to absorb the smoke smells inside the car.

The morning after, the vinegar smell got really strong, but it wasn’t enough to remove the smoke smell.

Cut apples into quarters and leave them in the car overnight.

I read somewhere that apples are great at absorbing stuff. That’s why some people recommend eating apple before drinking alcohol. It’s also supposed to help absorb smoke smells inside the car. So I took two apples from our grocery pile, cut them into quarters, and I placed one quarter in different places inside the car.

The result? Nothing really. It didn’t help remove the smell.

As you can probably notice in this post, it is VERY DIFFICULT to remove smoke smell in a car. So the best solution really is to avoid buying a smoker’s car, and if you are a smoker, do not smoke inside your car.

Remove the seats to clean your car’s hard-to-reach areas.

To remove the car seats of your car, you will need a socket wrench. Since i didn’t own one, I  ordered a Stanley branded socket wrench via Amazon. Before it arrived in the mail, I watched several videos online showing how to remove car seats safely. I will write a separate blog post for that purpose in case you also want to do the same thing.

Once the car seats had been safely removed, I vacuumed the area under the seats. Tobacco residues could be spread under the car seats, and in all areas where the smoker’s cigarette hand rests. If the previous owner used to smoke inside the car with the windows closed and the AC turned on, then the AC fan will have blown tobacco residue in all the nooks and crannies of the car.

I sprayed the carpet with Scotchgard Auto Foaming Fabric and Carpet Cleaner. You can also use Tuff Stuff in cleaning the carpet and the fabric. Read the instructions in the can to use these products properly.

I waited for a a minute or two for the foam to work its way into the carpet. I then brushed the foam, and after brushing the area with foam, I wiped it clean with paper towels.

Clean the Car Seats

Back to the car seats. Smoke smell stubbornly cling to fabrics and cloth inside your car. That’s why you also need to clean the car seats–its fabric and if you can, clean it up thoroughly with water and detergent.

Again, let me warn you, do not remove your car seats if you are unsure how to safely remove the wiring under the seats. Check back for another article on how to do just that.

I filled a small spray bottle with a mixture of one-part detergent and two parts water. I used that to spray the car seat and brushed it. I turned it over to clean every area of the seat. To remove the detergent from the fabric of the seats, I used a wet microfiber cloth, soaking it in water, then wiping the seat several times.

Leave the car seats in an open area and leave it to dry. You can either leave it under the heat of the sun, or just leave it in a well-ventilated shaded area until it dries.

After leaving it in our patio overnight and the whole day after, it smelled great! I put it back into the car.

Use Gone Smoke Smoke ‘n’ Odor Auto Fogger

After putting back all the seats, I was ready for the finale: the Auto Fogger. When I checked this product on Amazon, there were people who swore by it, saying that it completely removed the smoke smell from their cars. Some reviewers, however, were frustrated with this product.

So here’s my take on this. If you expect this to magically remove ALL smoke smells in your car, it will not work. I consider this the finale for my process of removing smoke smell. It will only be used after vacuuming the car, wiping down surfaces with the vinegar and water solution, cleaning up the seats, and all the hard-to-reach areas of the car.

Only then was I ready to use the Auto Fogger.

I turned on the car engine, set my AC to full and the air to recirculate. I squeezed the trigger of the can till it locked, then I set it in the center of the car, behind the front seats, then left it running for 30 minutes.

This process took a total of two weeks. And I have to admit, that there are still some traces of smoke smell in my car. But it’s nowhere near the way it smelled when I got the car first.

I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. Since I didn’t want for the smoke smell to mingle and compete with any air freshener, I decided to use coffee beans as my air freshener. I read in the web that coffee can also act like a deodorizer. That’s why I’m giving it a shot. I will update this post after a week to report on the progress of removing the smoke smell in my car.

1 Comment How to Remove Smoke Smell from Car

  1. kloey

    my gramma always used coffee grounds!! pour a little on the carpet and then let it sit then vaccum it up and then leave some sitting in a bowl in the car and let it sit for as long as you need and even change out the coffee. she used this for gas smells too!!


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