New Year, Fresh Ride: Removing Smoke Odors from your Vehicle

As the new year begins, one popular resolution that many people consider is to quit smoking. If you happen to be a smoker who indulges in this habit inside your vehicle, this new year presents a perfect opportunity to make a positive change. Removing the odor of cigarette smoke from a car can pose a formidable challenge during a detailed wash of a vehicle’s interior. Smoke tends to infiltrate every nook and cranny, demanding a substantial amount of work for effective eradication. Relying solely on a basic vehicle cleaning kit may prove insufficient, so be ready to employ a generous array of cleaning supplies.

Here are the steps to follow in your attempt to eliminate lingering foul odors:

Step 1: Declutter and Remove Items

To start the process, begin by decluttering your vehicle and removing items and trash. This includes checking under the seats, in the door pockets, the glove compartment, and any storage areas.

If smoking has occurred in the vehicle over an extended period of time, it’s highly likely that the smoke smell has infiltrated all interior items, including clothing items, owner’s manual, and assorted miscellaneous belongings. Removing all these items also simplifies the interior cleaning process, allowing you to thoroughly clean without constantly rearranging objects as you clean.

Step 2: Wash the Car Mats

Regardless of whether your car mats are carpet or rubber, start by removing them and individually cleaning each one. Begin with a thorough vacuuming to remove any loose debris. Next, use a brush along with some soapy water and scrub the mats to remove any lingering smoke residue. When the mats are thoroughly cleaned, allow them to dry completely. If any odors persist, cover the mats with some baking soda, leaving it in place for up to 20 minutes, and then vacuum.

As a long-term solution, consider using mats that are all-weather floor mats that simplify the cleaning process and prevents future odors from accumulating.

If your vehicle has car seat covers, take them off and follow the cleaning instructions provided. Some cloth seat covers may be machine washable, while others may require hand washing to ensure they are thoroughly cleaned and dried.

Step 3: Vacuum the Interior

It’s essential to conduct a comprehensive vacuuming of the vehicle’s interior. This includes thoroughly vacuuming not only the front and back of seats but also the sides. Don’t overlook the carpet, ensuring you vacuum every inch, including underneath each seat. Keep in mind that smoke has a knack for infiltrating every nook and cranny, so a meticulous vacuuming of your vehicle’s carpeting and upholstery is necessary to remove any lingering odors.

Step 4: Apply Baking Soda

Proceed to evenly sprinkle baking soda over the upholstery and carpeting that you’ve recently vacuumed. Allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes to absorb any lingering odors. Baking soda is highly effective at neutralizing odors since it is alkaline and can counteract the acidic nature of unpleasant smells.

After the baking soda has had time to work its magic, vacuum surfaces once more, following the same thorough process as in Step 1. If any odors are still lingering, repeat the process by sprinkling more baking soda, waiting, and then vacuuming once again.

Step 5: Wash and Dry

If the odor stubbornly persists, another option is to rent (or buy) a carpet cleaning machine. Utilize the handheld attachment to inject soapy solution into your upholstery and carpeting, promptly suctioning it up.

Following the thorough interior wash, park your vehicle in a secure location and leave the windows open until the interior has completely dried out. This airing-out process is crucial for eliminating any remaining traces of odor.

Step 6: Addressing Leather Surfaces

When it comes to cleaning leather seats, avoid using a soapy water solution as you did for upholstery and carpeting. Instead, opt for a cleaner specially formulated for leather surfaces.

Keep in mind that, depending on the intensity of the smoke odor, you may need to apply the leather cleaner several times. Smoke can penetrate deeply into leather, so persistent efforts may be required to completely eliminate the smell. The stronger the odor, the more diligent your cleaning efforts may need to be.

Step 7: Clean Windows and Hard Surfaces

To effectively remove smoke residue from your vehicle, focus on cleaning both visible and hidden surfaces. This includes the gear shift,  steering wheel, inside windows, sun visors, dashboard, cup holders, center console, instrument cluster, and all the small, hard-to-reach areas. Use a soapy water solution, taking extra precaution to avoid wetting any sensitive electronics. For windows, a quality spray-on cleaner may be more effective. Be thorough, especially with windows, as multiple cleanings might be necessary to remove the greasy film completely. Don’t forget to clean the rearview mirror too. Additionally, clean less obvious places like the interior of the glove box, the storage bin between the front seats, and other compartments, which should be empty and easier to access from the start of your cleaning process.

Step 8: Attend to the Seat Belts

Extend seat belts to their maximum length, then gently wipe them down using a solution of soapy water on a damp cloth. Allow the seat belts to remain extended until they have thoroughly dried. If stubborn smoke odors persist, don’t hesitate to repeat this process as even the seat belts can hold smells.

Step 9: Clean the Air Vents and Replace the Cabin Air Filter

In modern vehicles, a crucial component to consider is the “cabin air filter,” typically found behind the glove box within the dashboard. It’s important to replace this filter if it’s contaminated with smoke residue. Before putting in a new filter, clean its housing with a soapy water solution.

Cleaning the air ducts in your vehicle can be tricky if they’ve accumulated a significant amount of smoke, due to their hard-to-reach nature. However, the air vents on the dashboard and under the seats are more accessible. These can be cleaned with soapy water or a steam cleaner. For the deeper air ducts, consider using a product specifically designed for cleaning vehicle air ducts. Be sure to follow the instructions on the product label to achieve the best cleaning results.

Step 10: Address the Headliner

Given that smoke tends to rise, it’s highly likely that the headliner—the fabric on the car ceiling—has accumulated smoke residue over time, potentially even discoloring to a yellow or brown hue.

To clean the headliner effectively, you can once again use a steam cleaner or a sponge with a suitable cleaning solution. Afterward, use a wet/dry vacuum to extract any moisture. It’s important not to over saturate the headliner, so it’s advisable to clean smaller sections at a time and promptly follow up with the wet/dry vacuum to both remove dirt and eliminate excess moisture.

Step 11: Professional Cleaning and Detailing

For a thorough and professional touch, consider taking your vehicle to a reputable auto detailing service. Professional car wash detailers have the expertise and specialized equipment to address stubborn smoke odors and ensure your vehicle looks and smells like new. They can perform a deep cleaning, use odor-neutralizing techniques, and apply protective coatings to surfaces, leaving your car refreshed and revitalized. This step can be particularly beneficial if the smoke odor persists despite your best efforts or if you want to restore your vehicle to its optimal condition.

Happy New Year! With these comprehensive steps, your vehicle should be on its way to being smoke-free and refreshed, making your journeys in the upcoming year more enjoyable. Here’s to a clean, odor-free, and fantastic year ahead!