How to Remove the Cigarette Smoke Smell From Your Car

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Rug Doctor machines cannot be used for flooding purposes

rsz  rug how to remove the smell of smoke in your car   blog

Aug 27, 2020

How to Remove the Cigarette Smoke Smell From Your Car

Smoke that coats a surface and leaves a trace (usually in the form of discoloration and odour) is known as third-hand smoke and it's a notoriously lingering smell that can seem almost impossible to get rid of.

If someone's had lit cigarettes, cigars, or tobacco-based vape instruments in your car then you may be left with a stale, pungent smell that makes travelling unpleasant potentially devalued your vehicle.

Luckily, getting rid of the smell of smoke from your car can be a relatively straightforward process that you can do yourself!

Is it possible to remove the smoke smell in my car?

The good news is, yes, you can remove the smoke smell from your car.

Tobacco smoke is comprised of thousands of different chemicals which take the form of waxy, oily droplets that cling to surfaces, particularly fibrous materials such as car upholstery and carpet.

Over time this chemical residue builds up and leaves a deep-set odour. Cars are particularly prone to absorbing the smell of smoke as they are a confined space lined with fibrous and porous materials which hold the smoke smell.

Some evidence suggests that this third hand smoke (nicotine and chemicals that set into upholstery and surfaces) can even create some health issues with long term exposure. That's why it's so important to ensure your passengers have minimal contact with these long-lasting toxins by giving your car a thorough clean.

How Do I Remove The Smell of Smoke From My Car?

As smoke is a gas, it has reach over your entire car. You are going to have to clean the carpets, upholstery, and hard surfaces within your car. Here's a step by step guide to get the job done.

1.  How to Clean the Car Upholstery and Carpets

Smoke smells easily absorbs and clings to car upholstery and carpet mats, smoke can also cause discolouration so you'll really need to ensure you’re getting right to the cause of the smell, rather than just disguising it.

Wash any removable seat covers and air dry in the sun to allow them to breathe. Prepare for a thorough deep clean by vacuuming your car interior and make sure to get into the gaps between the seats and back of the seats. Then use a Rug Doctor Machine and Hand Tool attachment to finish the job. Just add the Rug Doctor Upholstery Cleaner and Odour Remover into the red tank of the machine and run the Hand Tool along the carpet and upholstery in your car for a deep clean.

Hot Tip: Using Rug Doctor Odour Remover can lift the deep-rooted smells and leave your car with a pleasant fragrance. Also, slide your seats back/forward so you can get into those hard to reach places under and around the seated area.

Don't forget! Remember to clean the carpet in your boot.

See our tutorial below on how easy it is to use the Rug Doctor with the Hand Tool Attachment:

2.  How to Clean Hard Surfaces

As smoke can cling to all surfaces, even hard materials will need a good wipe to remove the film.


If your car has an ashtray and it has been used before, this could be a direct source of smoky odours. Remove the ashtray and dispose of the ash. Give the ashtray a good wash with dish soap or a cleaning spray, and once thoroughly dry, use Odour Remover to eliminate remaining smells. Do not reinsert your ashtray until the smell has completely been removed.

Air Vents

Use a gentle vacuum to clear your vents of any ash or dust that may have settled here.


Wipe your inner windows, rear view mirror and the glass covering your speedometer with a window cleaner and microfibre cloth.

Hard Interior Materials

Mix a mild dish soap and warm water, use a microfibre cloth and a soft bristled brush (a toothbrush will work for hard to reach places) to work the suds into the dashboard to loosen any particles that are lodged in the porous surfaces. Wipe any hard surfaces within the car with a cleaning spray – include the creases around the gear shifts, pedals, door handles doors, steering wheel and sun visors.

Note: For leather surfaces use leather wipes to clean.

3.  How to Deodorise the Car

Specialised Odour Removers

Rug Doctor Odour Remover can be sprayed onto your car’s upholstery and fabric to absorb the odour causing particles. It will deodorise by neutralising the smoke smells, plus leave your car with a fresh, pleasant scent. With the handy spray bottle you can spray this into areas you can’t quite reach by hand. Unlike it’s natural competitors, it will not just mask the smell but act to deodorise and eliminate the smoke. Don’t forget any fabric covered panels on your doors or the ceiling of your car!

Hot Tip: The Rug Doctor Odour Remover can be mixed into the Rug Doctor Machine, allowing you to cover larger surfaces in a shorter amount of time, with more powerful, specifically designed formulas to attack and remove the smoke smell from your car.

Air Fresheners

An aerosol or hanging air freshener can be a short-term fix for disguising smoke smells. Hanging air fresheners can often blend in with a strong smoky smell, creating a sickly scent. Try to use an air freshener at the end of your deep clean, rather than as a cure to mask the smoke smell in your car.

4.  How to Maintain and Upkeep

Air Out Your Car

A lack of ventilation and warm air can cause smoke smells to amplify by warming the smoke particles. Open your doors, windows, and boot to let some cool air in, which will allow your car’s interior to breathe and release some of the charged smoke particles out of the confines of your car.

Eliminate The Cause

Make your car a smoke free zone. Don't allow cigarettes or cigars to be lit in your car, as not only is it unsafe, but it can it discolour your interior and will continue to contribute to the smoke smell in your car.

For specialised advice on cleaning, and removing odours and stains, see our Stain Removal guide.


Gina Gibbs

Author: Gina Gibbs

Gina is the Business Manager at Rug Doctor NZ. With over 20 years at Rug Doctor, she's dedicated to helping New Zealanders keep their homes clean and healthy. Outside of work, Gina enjoys hiking, reading, and enjoying Vietnamese and Asian fusion cuisine. Oh, and let's not forget her expertise in cleaning up after everyone, especially her two kids!