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Even long-time smokers would probably agree that the smell of stale cigarettes is pretty unpleasant. Bad smells can be especially pernicious in cars, where the combination of an enclosed space, recirculated air and odor-trapping upholstery can make the smell of last week’s takeout last much longer than the food itself. And while food smells tend to eventually dissipate on their own, cigarette smoke can stick around for much longer. While it may be hard to completely eliminate the smell, there’s a lot you can do to make it much better. Of course, these basic techniques also apply to other kinds of smokable products (just don’t toke and drive, folks).
To understand the best ways to tackle odors, it’s important to note what odors actually are. Since they can’t be seen, it’s easy to envision them as some sort of abstract intangible like a radio wave or a beam of light. But everything you smell, from fresh bread to a not-so-fresh bathroom, gives off volatile molecules that attach to smell receptors on the inside of your nose. And while it may be unpleasant to think about molecules from a public bathroom infiltrating your nostrils, it does at least mean that if you can smell something, you can remove it.
Even if your car doesn’t smell like cigarette smoke, regularly cleaning it will help keep other odors at bay. These are some of the best techniques and products for tackling smoke odors in your car.
1. Start with a Vacuum cleaner
When it comes to learning how to remove smoke smells from your car, the best place to start is with a vacuum cleaner. If you can park your car close enough to your front door to use a canister vacuum or the hose attachment of an upright vacuum, then those will do the job. But if you live on a second story or otherwise can’t access an outlet near your car, then you might want to buy a handheld car vacuum. Handheld car vacuums are great to take on road trips, too. We have an entire guide to the best car vacuum cleaners, and you can check out one of our top picks below. A vacuum cleaner will go a long way in removing smoke and other odors from your car. A vacuum works great for the carpets on the floor and the fabric seats. If you have rubber mats or vinyl seat covers, you can take those out, hose them down, and let them dry.
Dyson V7 Trigger Cord-Free Handheld Vacuum Cleaner
This sleek handheld vacuum is a trim 3.77 pounds and comes with a charging dock. It also comes with a brush attachment and a crevice tool that allows you to get between the seat back and the seat. Most importantly though, it comes with a V7 motor which is crazy powerful. So regardless of what’s lurking beneath the seats, this Dyson will get to it.
2. How To Clean Leather
Leather can be a double-edged sword in terms of cleaning. While leather is durable and can be easy to wipe down, once smoke odors set, they can be harder to remove. Fortunately, cleaning leather doesn’t have to be difficult, and you can use the stuff you have around the house. Soap and water, lemon juice and toothpaste can all be used, as long as you avoid saturating the leather. Of course, this is best done when you’re at home, where you can get your supplies together. For something you can do on the go, consider getting car wipes, like the option from Armor All.
Armor All Car Interior Cleaner Wipes
These wipes from Armor All are easy to take on the go and keep in your car, so you can quickly tackle any messes as they happen. They’re designed as an all-purpose solution for leather seats, vinyl and even fabric. The tub contains 30 wipes.
CarGuys Super Cleaner
If you want to do a deeper clean, this spray from CarGuys is designed to get deep on upholstery, leather, vinyl and most other car surfaces. That makes it an easier solution than specialized products that only do one job.
3. Fight Airborne Odors
Cleaning your car seats and floor mats may remove deep-set odors, but there may still be airborne odors or air pollutants in hard to reach places. There are specialized products you can use to deal with odors, but once again, you can actually get a lot done with stuff you have at home. Coffee grounds and baking soda are both good at absorbing odor. You can sprinkle baking soda on fabric seats, allow it to do its magic, and then vacuum it off. Keep unused coffee grounds in a cup overnight to absorb odors, such as cigarette smells.
Marsheepy Natural Bamboo Charcoal Purifying Bags
These charcoal purifying bags can help eliminate set-in smoke odors. Charcoal fights odors by absorbing moisture and pollutants. They can be “reactivated” by setting them out in the sun. These come in a pack of six and are small enough to hide in your car, such as between and under seats.
Arm and Hammer Baking Soda
From odor-control to toothpaste to, well, baking, there’s no limit to what you can do with baking soda. Sprinkle it on your seats to clean a particular area or leave a box open to freshen the entire car. Baking soda can be a great ally in controlling smoke and other car odors.
EPAuto Premium Cabin Air Filter
Another way to keep the air in your car fresh is to make sure you’re not recirculating toxins into the cabin of your car through the air conditioner. You may not have realized this, but you can actually change the air filter on most cars by yourself. You don’t even have to open the hood. The air filter is housed behind the glove compartment, which can typically be detached from its hinges without tools. This option has activated carbon to effectively trap and block odors. It won’t fit every car, but you can use the handy tool on the Amazon listing to see if it’ll work with your make and model.
Meguiar’s New Car Air Re-Fresher
Another way to quickly clean and purify the air of your car is with this spray. Rather than masking and mingling odors like many air fresheners, this option is designed to release a continuous stream that eliminates odors throughout the car. Simply turn your AC on high and set it to recirculate mode, activate this spray, and leave the car for 15 minutes. The spray will work its way through the air system and cabin to eliminate odors. Then open the windows and let your car air out. The spray comes in a three-pack and is designed to make any old jalopy smell like a new car.
4. Find Fresh Fragrances
While air fresheners can’t remove bad smells, they can be a nice way to keep your car smelling fresh once you’ve dealt with the root of your odor problem.
Little Trees Car Air Freshener
Inexpensive, sold everywhere and available in a variety of scents, it’s no wonder that Little Trees are as enduring as they are. This option is True North, which has a crisp and slightly wintry scent. This option comes in a pack of six. There are a ton of other great options too (though please, for the love of God, stay away from the cheap body spray smell of Black Ice).