Smoke can leave a lingering – and undesirable – scent in a car. Smoke is also an odor that is hard to get rid of for good. But, by giving the car a thorough interior cleaning, you should be able to mitigate, if not eliminate, that unpleasant smoke smell.
The best place to start is by cleaning out any debris that could be contributing to the smell, such as leftover ash in the ashtray or stray cigarette butts. Eliminating the source of the unpleasant odor will go far in getting rid of the smells.
Once the odor-causing debris has been cleaned out, you should clean any cloth seats or leather surfaces in the vehicle. The permeable nature of these materials means that the smoke can build up and linger. Depending on the degree of the smell, you may need to get your hands on a steam cleaner. Be sure to check your owner’s manual for any special care instructions for the upholstery fabrics or leather in your car, as to avoid damaging it.
If you decide to try using chemical spray cleaners in addition to a vacuum or steamer, use caution and test a small patch of the upholstery material to make sure that the cleaner doesn’t damage it. You will want to take care and be sure to clean any surface made of fabric. This can include the headliner, door trim, carpets and even parts of the dashboard. If you have removable floor mats, you can take those out to clean them thoroughly. Make sure they dry completely before putting them back in.
If the smoke smell isn't too bad, you may be able to put some sort of odor-absorbing product in the car and let it sit overnight or over the weekend. Products like baking soda, cat litter or vinegar can absorb strong odors like cigarette smoke. Unlike air fresheners, baking soda actually eliminates the odor as opposed to just temporarily masking it.
If you are cleaning a car that was driven by a smoker, it is important to clean hard surfaces that would get a lot of hand contact. Residue from cigarettes can transfer from the fingers onto the steering wheel and other surfaces, allowing the odor to permeate. Wiping down plastic interior surfaces will help to remove any residue contributing to the smoke smell.
One system that often gets overlooked when trying to remove the smell of smoke from a car is the heating and air conditioner system. Clean out the vents, and replace the any air filters. Depending on the severity of the smell, you may want to look into using an odor-eliminating product that you can spray into the car while these systems are cycling the air through. That should help clean up any cigarette smoke odors trapped in those systems.
If you have tried everything, and still can’t seem to get rid of the smoke smell, it may be time to talk to a professional. Many automotive detailing professionals have access to equipment and chemicals that they also have the experience and training to use. Some even offer mobile services, so they can come to your home or office. A qualified professional detailer should be able to get rid of that pesky odor for good.