If your car smells of smoke and you want to get rid of the stink once and for all, we’re going to show you how.

Why Would You Want to Remove the Smell? 

driver holding nose

If you smoke while driving, you probably don’t notice the smell too much, but for other people it can be overpowering. Getting rid of the ashtray smell from inside your car isn’t just about protecting noses though, it can lower the value of your car and put off potential buyers when you go to sell it on. 

Paying a car detailer to do the hard work for you can cost a small fortune, so learning how to do it yourself makes good sense.

Why It’s Difficult to Remove

Cigarette smoke is one of the toughest odours to remove from your car upholstery because it penetrates deep into the soft furnishings. When tobacco is burned, it releases a heady mix of chemical compounds into the air. If you’ve ever been into a house that smokers live in, you’ll recognise the effect. 

The nicotine and tar in cigarette smoke are sticky and fabrics are notoriously receptive to smells of all kinds. Add to this the lack of air movement in a car with the windows shit and you have a perfect environment for lingering smells. 

The other reason why smoke smells linger in cars is how often the smell is topped up. If you smoke regularly, you are adding to the layer of chemical compounds on your seats, carpets and headrests. In extreme cases, car interiors can take a on unhealthy yellow-brown stains from nicotine, especially on the ceiling fabrics and close to where the smoker’s hand rests. 

The less-obvious place for your smells to linger is inside the air blowers themselves. As smoke is circulated around your car, the chemicals will coat the inside of the air ducts and penetrate the cabin air filter as well. 

General Cleaning and Preparation

ozone generating machine

The first thing to do to prepare your car for cleaning is to air it out. Choose a dry day and open all the windows and doors to let the air in. Then you must clear everything out of your car. And we mean everything. This includes any papers in the glove box, the spare tire from the boot and your emergency stash of chocolate from under the passenger seat. 

Professional car detailers will start with an ozone generating machine to get to work on lingering smells, and so can you. Ozone, or O3, is brilliant stuff when it comes to removing organic compounds from the air. These organic compounds are what makes the air smell in the first place, and there’s nothing that O3 likes more than reacting with and oxidising bad smells. 

So, getting hold of an ozone generator is a great first step to take. Domestic units cost less than you might think, but professional-level ozone generators can be rented from tool-hire shops for a reasonable amount. If you have a large car or the smell is particularly bad, look for units that run at around 10,000 mg/h.

Before you run your ozone generator, you need to vacuum your car thoroughly throughout. You can use one of the coin operated ones at your local petrol station if your power cords don’t reach far enough. Use the fine nozzle to get into all the cracks and crevices to remove all the dust, grit and grime.

Setting up your ozone generator one up is easy if you can place it high up in your car. O3 is heavier than air, and will sink to the lowest point, so make sure it can work its magic on your ceiling by getting it as high-up as possible. Some generators come with a hose that you can shut in your window and keep the unit outside. 

Run the generator for at least 45 minutes, but no longer than a couple of hours at a time. O3 exposure can start to harm your interior if it’s left running for too long, but you can run the generator for multiple sessions to really kill off embedded smells. 

You’ll need to air your car out after killing the smells with ozone but winding the windows down and going for a drive should do the trick. You’ll notice that distinctive ozone smell for a while, but anything beats old cigarettes. 

Specific Areas to Target

An ozone generator is great for getting rid of smells throughout your car, but you might want to target problem areas in a different way. If cigarette or cigar ash has worked into your seats or carpets, you need to hit it and hit it hard to get rid of the smell for good. 

Wet & Dry Vacuum Cleaner

One of the secret weapons in the fight against embedded car stench is the wet & dry vacuum cleaner. Readily available from tool hire shops, they spray water or cleaning solution into your fabrics and then suck up the excess liquid. 

wet and dry vacuum in car

Soapy Water

We think the best way to deep clean stained and stinking car seats or carpets is to use a PH neutral soap or specialist car interior shampoo. Don’t use washing up liquid as it can be acidic and harmful to your soft furnishings. 

Use a spray bottle filled with water to wet the fabric, then add your soap to a nylon brush or clean paintbrush. Work the soap into the seats, concentrating on the ash spots and stains. 


The old favourite multi-purpose cleaner, distilled white vinegar, can be an effective spot cleaner for stains and stinky bits of your interior. You can also spray it into the air vents to help kill off smells stuck down there. Use it neat and let it soak in for the best results. 

vinegar and baking soda

How to Stop Your Car from Smelling Again

Now you’ve stripped the stink from your smoky car, it’s time to stop it happening again. You could just hang up those little tree shaped air fresheners, but they only mask the smell for a while. What you need is something to absorb nasty smells in the long term. 


Coffee doesn’t just keep you awake on those long journeys; it can help keep your car from picking up those nasty smells from cigarette smoke. Keeping an open container of fresh coffee grounds in the foot wells will eventually absorb a lot of smell. As long as you like the smell of coffee instead, that is.

Cat Litter

 If you’re a feline pet owner, chances are you have a lot of this lying around already. A dish of cat litter works wonders for absorbing smells in your car, just remember to change it regularly. 

Bicarbonate of Soda

The last natural remedy we like to use to keep those cigarette smells from returning is good old bicarbonate of soda. It’s a cheap solution to lingering smoke odours, simply open a pot and leave it in your car overnight. Repeat this each night to stop the smells from building up again.

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