Smoke is very difficult to remove unless you’re using the right products and equipment.
Smoke works its way into every crevice of your car or trucks interior, penetrating deep into foam cushions and padding underneath carpets.
The very best method for removing smoke odors from your car or truck interior is to use an ozone generator.
There are some other products that will help get the job done though that should be teamed up with ozone but if you’re serious about removing cigarette smells from your vehicle interior this is the tool you’re not going to want to skip.
You’ll also want to know how to most effectively use an ozone generator to ensure that it works most effectively. Heating and air conditioning vents are often overlooked and unless addressed the smell won’t be eliminated.
When running your ozone generator you’ll want to make sure that you are running your air conditioner or heater at full blast so that the ozone can get deep into the systems ductwork and neutralize areas deep within the dash area you wouldn’t otherwise be able to easily tackle.
Obviously there’s a lot more to getting the offending odor out of your car or truck so let’s get to work.
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know to solve this problem permanently.
Clean the Interior
Clear out all trash and junk
Get everything out of the vehicle that doesn’t need to be there. Especially items that could potentially absorb odors. If there are any items that you want to eventually remain in your car or truck that can be washed, do so before placing them back inside. Throw away any trash and clean out cup holders, cubbies, glove boxes and the like.
Ashtray, Dashboard, & Plastics
Before you do anything else you’ll want to do a thorough cleaning of the entire interior of the vehicle. The most important area to deal with first is the ashtray and immediate area around it. Ashes and butts need to be removed and the ashtray itself will need to be thoroughly cleaned with a good quality all-purpose cleaner.
Continue with the all-purpose cleaner on all other surfaces that it is appropriate to use it on. Prime examples are the dashboard, steering wheel, console, and every other plastic surface. You want to remove any tar or nicotine residue from all surfaces.
Pay special attention to all areas where hands touch surfaces such as seatbelts, shift knobs or levers, steering wheel, door handles, etc. Fingers will easily transfer tars and oils that build up from smoking and embed on frequently touched surfaces.
Carpets & Upholstery
Vacuum all carpets and upholstery thoroughly. If you have leather seats you should get a soft bristle brush and use it to sweep debris out of cracks and crevices and into the vacuum inlet. You should also do this in any other particularly dirty areas that you may not want to physically rub the vacuum inlet over. Consoles can trap a lot of dirt, ashes, and food particles in nooks and crannies. Be sure to get it all out.
Shampooing your carpets and other upholstery is also a must. Smoke can penetrate deep within fabrics and properly shampooing all of them will go a long way toward preventing odors from resurfacing later and requiring additional treatment. You may even want to get a steam cleaner to really help lift the odors up and out of cushions and padding.
An easily overlooked area is the headliner. It’s especially important to work on the area of the headliner by the driver’s window and behind it as this will be where a lot of the smoke odors will be embedded.
You will not want to use heavy steam on the headliner as it can weaken the adhesive used to adhere it to the ceiling but you will want to gently shampoo it with an interior detailing brush that can work the shampoo into the fabric of the headliner.
If you decide to use a steam cleaner on your headliner be sure to double-wrap the outlet with a microfiber towel and be sure not to oversaturate the fabric of the headliner. If you get it too hot and too wet the glue holding the thin fabric of the headliner will definitely weaken.
If your headliner isn’t fabric you’ll have to determine what approach is most appropriate.
Leather, similar to your dashboard and other interior surfaces, should be cleaned well. You should thoroughly clean all leather surfaces with a good leather cleaner. Once it has been cleaned well you should go back over it with a proper leather conditioner. The leather conditioner will ensure that the leather doesn’t dry out and it will also provide a nice leather-like smell. While this smell will only mask odors it is going to help with the overall end goal and is just one part of the process.
Finishing Up the Initial Cleaning Process
Check the trunk area to ensure it doesn’t need to be shampooed or cleaned. Depending on how your car or truck is laid out you may or may not need to address this area. Continue searching other areas you may have overlooked that could harbor smoky smells.
Disinfect and Deodorize with an Ozone Machine
Setting Up Your Ozone Generator
It’s important for you to understand that it isn’t healthy to breathe ozone. Read all instructions prior to using your ozone machine to keep yourself safe and healthy.
Ozone generators are often used as a way of sterilizing things and can be a powerful method of disinfecting things. Ozone breaks down quickly and the O3 molecules will revert to O2 leaving a free oxygen atom. This free atom will bond with and neutralize stubborn odors such as cigarette smoke.
You’ll want to place your ozone generator outside your vehicle and extend a hose from it into your car or truck’s cabin. You don’t want your ozone generator simply sitting inside your car with the windows rolled up. The ozone machine needs a source of fresh oxygen to make ozone.
Open the driver’s side window and run the hose in through the top here. This is the ideal location to run the hose in because the ozone will eventually float to the bottom of your interior so you want it to start at the highest point possible. Also, the upper area of the driver’s window is going to be one of the most smelly locations you need to neutralize.
When running a hose into the cabin you’ll need to try to block off the remaining area of the window that is open. You can use some painters tape for this. Painters tape is low-adhesive so it shouldn’t damage any surfaces and it should seal enough that it will achieve the goal of blocking off the gap and keeping the ozone inside the cabin.
Note: Ozone generators don’t generally come with hose attachments. You’ll need to pick up some duct tape, a mounting plate and some cheap ducting. Don’t worry, it’s easy enough to duct tape together and run through a window.
Running the Ozone Machine
You’ll want to run the ozone generator for a few hours ideally. 3 hours if you can. You also want to try to do so when the humidity outside is low so that the effectiveness is higher.
You will need to break up the running of the generator into multiple blocks of time so you can run it while your vehicle is running since you will want to have your air conditioner running for an hour or so and your heater running for an hour or so. You’ll also want to alternate your vents if you can’t open all of them at once.
When finishing an ozone session you will want to stay out of the vehicle as much as possible since ozone is harmful if inhaled. Open all doors and allow it to air. Just reach in and turn the car or truck off quickly. 30 minutes or so should be a good amount of time for it to air out if you’re outdoors. If you must do this in a garage or other confined space you will want to find a means of allowing the ozone to escape. Opening the garage door and placing a fan near the vehicle is a good idea.
Ozone Generator & Ducting
If your cigarette smell problem isn’t too intense you can try using a chlorine dioxide cup. It works similarly to an ozone generator but it is a simple container that you open and leave in your car. It’s an inexpensive option that’s worth exploring and may be able to solve your issue easier and for less money.
It would be wise to turn on your heater and run it at full blast while allowing the chlorine dioxide to do its work just like with Ozium or an ozone machine.
Ozium is an aerosol product that is very effective at eliminating odors, especially cigarette smoke. You can use it to spot-treat specific areas, spray heavily inside your cabin, or deodorize your heating and air conditioning system.
Deodorize your Heating and AC System with Ozium
Remove your cabin filter
Many newer cars have what is commonly referred to as a cabin filter. It is usually located under the hood near the windshield. Don’t replace it just yet. We’ll do that at the end of the process. If you can’t find where your cabin filter is located you may need to do a quick Google search for your make and model to get the info you need to locate it. If you don’t have a filter that’s not a problem. You still want to find where the fresh air inlet is however.
Deodorizing your Vents
Turn your Air Conditioner on full blast and spray a product like Ozium into the location where you removed your cabin filter or where your fresh air intake is located. Make sure all vents are open and blowing strong. You may have to alternate opening and closing sets of vents. Spray plenty of neutralizing spray into the air intake for each set of vents.
Once you’ve done this you’ll want to turn the Air Conditioning off and turn the heater on all the way. Now repeat the process of spraying the odor neutralizer. Alternate the vents if you need to do so.
Replace your cabin filter with a new one
Once you’re done deodorizing your heating and cooling vents you’ll want to replace your cabin filter with a fresh one. If you don’t have a cabin filter in your vehicle don’t worry. The cabin filter is just an extra place smoke odors could have accumulated. A new cabin filter will eliminate a potential source of lingering smells. It will also filter out pollen and other contaminants in the air so it’s a good idea to keep it changed out regularly.
Less effective options that neutralize or cover smoke smell found around the Internet
Some suggest leaving some charcoal in your cabin to absorb odors. Charcoal is an effective filter but I doubt it would be very helpful sitting in a bowl.
There are recommendations online to sprinkle baking soda on your carpets and upholstery and then vacuum it out. This isn’t a bad idea but it won’t be as effective as other methods already mentioned. It wouldn’t hurt to add it to the cleaning process outlined above. Sprinkle some baking soda around prior to vacuuming up dirt, ash, and other debris in your carpets and upholstery.
It’s suggested that you wipe upholstery with dryer sheets. This is only going to temporarily cover up the smell. Don’t waste your time.
Coffee grounds do smell very nice but like dryer sheets, this is only likely to cover up the problem temporarily. Skip it.
This also isn’t very likely to produce the desired result. Cat litter often contains strong fragrances that will mask odors but isn’t likely to do much more than that. Pass on this trick.
Leaving a bowl of white vinegar in the cabin of your vehicle overnight will allow the vinegar to evaporate some and it may have some neutralizing effect. It may also partially cover up the smell. You may want to try this if you’re waiting for your ozone machine, Ozium, or chlorine dioxide order to show up. If it works, let us know. I wouldn’t expect this to be the only method to help you solve your problem though.
Smoke smell is a difficult problem to tackle but it can be conquered. The very best solution is an ozone generator. This is the go-to solution of the pros and it works when done properly. Ozium and chlorine dioxide are good alternatives but they don’t have the same effectiveness as an ozone machine
Deep cleaning your vehicle is also essential to effectively removing cigarette smoke odors from your car or truck’s interior. It’s a big job when done thoroughly and properly but it is worth the extra effort.
While there are other suggestions you can find around the interwebs I honestly wouldn’t bother. Their effectiveness is not going to come close to that of an ozone machine, Ozium, or chlorine dioxide. Do the job properly the first time and save yourself some frustration.