How to Get Smoke Smell out of a Car

Getting the smell of cigarettes out of your car is a great way to improve its resale value. If you drive for a popular rideshare service such as Lyft or Uber, removing smoke odor is a surefire way to get happier riders and better driver reviews. These tips are for removing cigarette smoke, but they can also help you remove other troublesome smells from pets, food, and spills.

A. The quick fix

Even with a strict “no-smoking” policy, a car can still pick up the scent of cigarettes just by having a heavy smoker ride in your car. Taxi drivers, limousine chauffeurs, and airport shuttle drivers know all too well the problems in store when someone puts out a cigarette just before getting in. A heavy smoker goes through life surrounded by a blanket of stale, burnt tobacco. The smoke saturates hair, skin, and clothing, so having a smoker ride shotgun for just a few miles can really stink up your car.

The good news is that the second-hand smoke odor left behind by such people tends to leave almost quickly as they do. Drive a few miles with the windows down, follow up with some quick sprays of an airborne deodorizing mist, and you should be good to go! Cleaning up “second-hand” smoke smells such as these are perfect use cases for Big Green Aerial Tonic. Unlike those heavily-scented “air fresheners” that hang on your rear-view mirror or clip to your vents, Big Green has almost no scent at all. In fact, it actively binds with and neutralizes airborne scent molecules to remove smells from the air.

B. The complete makeover

It's a different story when someone has actually been smoking in your car. Cigarettes spew smoke and ash, so the scent gets onto and into all the surfaces of a car. If you've bought a car from a smoker—or if you are the smoker—you can still rid your car of these unwanted smells. Block out few hours one morning and we'll guide you through the steps to reduce or eliminate the smells.

There are three different methods of odor removal: physical, atmospheric, and chemical. Effective odor elimination will require all three, and will vary depending on the car's interior surfaces and the type of upholstery you are cleaning.

You'll need

  • Time. For bad cigarette smells that have built up for months or years, you might need a morning. Sunny mornings work best.
  • Baking soda. Baking soda has natural odor-absorbing powers.
  • A vacuum with hose and brush attachments.
  • Paper towels and ammonia-based glass cleaner (such as Windex).
  • A bucket of warm, soapy water and a clean cloth or rag.
  • A deodorizing spray such as Big Green Aerial Tonic.
  • Optional: A replacement cabin air filter (not the engine air filter)

The first step is physical: you need to clear out any trash, papers, or clutter from your car. Paper and cloth are very good at holding onto odors, so get rid of them. Of course, you also want to completely empty any ashtrays.

The second step is atmospheric: You want to fill your car with fresh air to blow away all the residual stale smoke. Roll down all the windows and take a drive through your neighborhood. As you cruise around, you'll also want to clear out your car's ventilation system. Put your heater on full blast for two minutes. Then run the air conditioner on full blast for two minutes. Finally, run plain air (no heat, no AC on full blast for two full minutes. Toggle the ventilation settings between recirculate and non-recirculate—these use slightly different ductways, and you want to clear out both of them.

Head back to your driveway for the remaining steps, which involves both physical and chemical techniques.

Soap and Water

You want to wipe down all smooth surfaces. Use glass cleaner for windows, windshields, mirrors, and any cockpit displays. Dip a rag in warm, soapy water, wring it out well, and wipe down the dashboard, rear passenger deck, and any other smooth surfaces: think armrests, door handles, knobs and buttons, seat belt buckles, and so on. Give extra attention to the steering wheel and shifter if the driver has been smoking: a smoker's hands spread smelly residue. Spend time wiping down each slat of the air vents: these often collect dust, and that dust hangs onto odors.

If your car has leather upholstery, consult your owner's manual about the best way to clean it. While a damp rag shouldn't be a problem, you want to be sure you aren't wiping away essential leather oils and conditioners.

Window-cleaner and paper towels

If people have been smoking in your car, you may be startled by how much yellow haze you can wipe off the insides of your windsheilds and windows. To avoid getting harsh chemicals on your car upholstery, spray glass cleaner to the paper towels, not to the glass itself.

Make sure your car interior is completely dry before you proceed to the next step.


Vacuum everything. That means the obvious stuff: seats, floors, and rear deck. It also means the less-obvious stuff: you want to remove any floor mats to vacuum under them, and you even want to vacuum the ceiling. Use a brush attachment on any cloth upholstery, and use a nozzle attachment to get into the crevices of the seats.

Your floor mats themselves should already be out of the car. Vacuum them thoroughly if they are carpeted mats. Wash them with soapy water if they are made of vynyl, plastic, or rubber. Don't forget the backs of the mats—cigarette smoke can get everywhere!

Baking Soda

Baking soda is your first chemical step in the process of removing unwanted scents from your vehicle. Gently sprinkle pinches of baking soda into the carpets, floor mats, and cloth seats of your car. Baking soda crystals naturally soak up and bind to tiny particles of smoke and ash. This is no time to be stingy: plan on using half a box (about 4 oz) inside a full-size car. Leave the baking soda in your carpets and upholstery for an hour or more, if possible. To help pass the time, read your owner's manual on how to change your cabin air filter.

Changing your cabin air filter

Most cars made since 2000 have had a separate air filter—not the engine air filter!—to strain particles and microbes from the ventilation system. On most cars, changing this filter is only a little more work than changing the engine air filter. If that still sounds daunting to you, make an appointment soon with your mechanic to have this filter replaced.

Vacuuming (Again)

Once the baking soda has had time to absorb residual cigarette odors, you want to vacuum it always. Use the brush attachment on your vacuum, and brush both with and against the nap or grain of any felt or fuzz on your upholstery.

Big Green Aerial Tonic

By the time you get to this point, chances are your car is looking better than it has in months. You have already:
You can absolutely use Big Green Aerial Tonic for quick treatments of the air in your car. But Big Green can also be the final step in a top-to-bottom deodorizing process. Use Big Green after you have:

  • Cleaned out all the junk: newspapers, wrappers, napkins, and the ash tray.
  • Driven around to fill your car with fresh air.
  • Blown all the stale air from your heating and air conditioning vents.
  • Wiped down all smooth surfaces and vacuumed all upholstery.
  • Sprinkled baking soda over the rugs and cloth seats to absorb odors before vacuuming again.
  • Changed the cabin air filter (if possible).

Now you're ready to put Big Green to work.

First, you want to blow some Big Green deodorizing spray through your vents, to pick up and neutralize any smokey smells that linger after your atmospheric cleanse in Step 1. Turn your blower on to blow plain air through your vents. No AC, no heat, just regular air. Then, spritz Deep Green into the air intakes—on most cars, those are in the crease between the hood and your windshield. You may want to gently lift the windshield wipers up to get more of the mist down into your system.

Now, back into the car. For the first time today, you actually want to roll up your windows and shut your doors. Standing outside your car, open your doors one at a time and lightly mist Deep Green into the air so that a fine mist settles on your cloth upholstery and rugs. Big Green doesn't have any dyes or colors, so it shouldn't stain most fabrics or leathers. Still, Big Green isn't intended to be a surface cleaner: please don't blast it onto your car's seats or rugs. Nothing should feel wet to the touch.

Once you've got the hang of how Deep Green's fine mist atomizer pump works, spray a light mist towards the ceiling of your car. After all, smoke rises, and any cigarette smoke wafting up would likely leave plenty of stinky residues up there.

For a big, deep cleanse such as we're doing here, you should plan on using all or nearly all of a standard two-ounce bottle of Deep Green Aerial Tonic. It's okay to keep a little in reserve for a touch-up later, if needed.

After spraying Deep Green into the air and allowing a light mist to settle over your seats, upholstery, floor, and ceiling, close up your car and leave it alone for 30 minutes to allow the ionizers and deodorizers to absorb the unwanted odors.

Wrapping Up

It might take the better part of a morning, but these steps will have your car looking good and smelling like–nothing at all. Remember, Big Green isn't a perfume or scent. With a clean, deodorized car, you'll get better driver reviews on rideshare services, and your friends and relatives will enjoy riding with you.

You can use one, two, or all of the above steps to keep your car smelling fresh and clean; regular vacuuming and occasional spritzes of Big Green will do wonders to keep unwanted odors at bay. But the most important step is to make sure nobody smokes in it! After all, why undo all your hard work?

If you pick up enough smokers, you'll start to pick up their smell, too.

If you drive for a rideshare service such as Lyft or Uber, you will sometimes have to get unwanted cigarette smoke odors out of your car. Even with strict no-smoking policies in place, your car can still pick up these smells. Habitual smokers have clothes, hands, and hair that are simply saturated in smoke, so a passenger can leave your car smelling all smokey without ever having taken a puff.

For those times when a heavy smoker has just exited your car, odor removal is easy: Use Deep Green Aerial Tonic. Spray it in the air, spray it where the smoker sat, and spray it lightly on anything the smoker touched—think windows, armrests, and door handles.

But if the smoker wasn't a temporary presence in your car? What if the previous owner smoked? What if YOU smoked?

If your car has been subjected to frequently smoking sessions, there's still hope! This article contains proven, affordable, effective ways to rid your car of unwanted smells and odors.