Given the prevalence of used cars, it’s entirely possible that you’ll wind up with one from a former smoker. You may have even inherited one from old Uncle Roy, the last cigar smoker that you knew. And now you have a perfectly good car that smells like a wet ashtray. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to get that “smoker smell” out of your car.
First, this isn’t a small job, so you may want to hire a professional cleaning service. If you choose to go this route, look under auto detailing in the yellow pages or do an internet search to see who does this work in your area. Find out if the shop in question has the “ozone kit” from U.S. Products. This kit has a sealed ozone generator that’s most effective in removing smoky odors from your car. Smoke odors are organic, and one of the best ways to get rid of organic smells is through oxidation. Ozone is one of the strongest oxidizers that exist, making oxidization one of the best ways to get rid of the cigarette smell. This is the same technology, incidentally, used to eliminate the smoke smell from a rebuilt home after a house fire.
On the other hand, there are several home remedies that can sufficiently mask the odor, whether or not it’s actually eliminated. First, go to any local hardware store or big box retailer and rent a carpet cleaner with brush attachments. You may have to call around to find exactly what you want. You should also find an odor eliminating shampoo that, like ozone, works on the smell at a structural level, using enzymes to break down the residue molecules that harbor the odor. Now for the hard part – use the shampoo in the carpet cleaner to clean the inside of the car. Don’t just do a once over on the floor mats, wash everything – seats, carpet, all the interior and the non-fabric surfaces too. Put the shampoo on a sponge and scrub the hard surfaces as these can trap odors as well.
Plan for a full day’s work scrubbing your car. Use a glass cleaner on the windows, although unless there’s a brown film, the windows won’t hold the smell like the fabric, leather and the plastic. After all this, sprinkle baking soda, or a baking soda based cleaner, into the dry carpet. Wait about one week and then vacuum that up.
To keep the odors away after your cleaning is done, put some dryer sheets under the seats. Try to keep the windows open whenever possible, as air circulation will go a long way to deodorize the car. Activated charcoal kept in a spill proof container is another good idea.
In the case of leather seats, you have a bit of an advantage. The smell may not have penetrated as deeply into the seats as it would have with cloth seats. Get a reputable leather cleaner and that should do the trick. If it isn’t a surface problem, you may have to do repeated cleanings of the leather in order to fully rid the car of the smell.
Finally, a word about the popular deodorizing sprays like Febreeze. When it comes to removing the smoker smell from a car, they’re simply out of their league. They’ll cover the odor at best, and as soon as the concentration of the deodorizer wears off, the smell will be right back. Don’t just try to cover the odor – spend a day cleaning your car the right way and you’ll be rewarded with a clean, fresh ride in no time.