If you’ve found yourself in possession of a car that smells strongly of cigarettes, the first thing you’ll want to do is get it smelling fresh and clean again. Exactly how easy it is to return it to a state of showroom freshness will depend on a few factors, like how long your car has been exposed to smoke and what sorts of materials are inside.
It's an unpleasant prospect, but there’s hope for even the whiffiest car interior to gain fresh perspective if you’re prepared to put in the work. From clearing up the surface debris to bringing the sparkle back to your windshield, this handy guide has everything you need to get you en route to that new car smell.
So roll up those sleeves, grab a sponge and prepare to deodorise your drive…
Before you even attempt to deal with smoky smells, you’ll want to eradicate any physical traces of cigarettes or cigars. Ash and other residue can easily build up on floors, in footwells and in upholstery. Check storage compartments for cigarette butts or ash. Open all the doors and windows of your car, and from the front footwells to the boot give it a thorough vacuum, including any upholstery on doors and the backs of the seats. Don’t forget to use your hoover nozzle on the air vents – this will help dredge out any sneaky particles that may have built up inside.
Once you’re confident you’ve banished the ash, pull on some heavy-duty rubber gloves and give your upholstery and footwells a thorough scrub with some upholstery cleaner. Make sure whatever shampoo you use is specifically designed to be used on car seats. You’ll also need a stiff sponge, a cloth and a bucket of hot water. Be methodical, working your way around the car one section at a time, replenishing the soapy water as soon as it looks murky. This is hard work, so be prepared to expend a bit of elbow grease! Then, leave your seats to dry, preferably with the windows partly open for a bit of ventilation.
Once your seats are completely dry, use something that’s dry and porous to soak up any pervading pongs. If you fancy another round with the vacuum, you can liberally scatter baking soda over the seats and floor and let it work its magic for a few days before hoovering it up thoroughly. Cat litter will work too; just remember to close the windows or you might find next door’s cat leaving an unwelcome surprise on the seat! If you don’t mind the smell of coffee, lorry drivers swear by leaving bowls of freeze-dried instant coffee around the car overnight to wipe out any unpleasant whiffs.
If a smoke-scented fug has been circulating in your car for a while, it could have built up over time in the air-con. No matter how spotless your car appears, if you don’t address the air circulation, it can still smell awful and pump cigarette smells through your clean cabin. Panic not: less-than-aromatic air con is easily remedied if you switch out the air filter, which may have become infused with stinky tar and residue. We’d recommend you get in touch with your local Arnold Clark Service department, who can give your car a full air conditioning service for a welcome breath of fresh air.
Over time, tobacco smoke will coat surfaces with a grimy brown film, so you’ll want to give hard materials a thorough scrub to lift any ingrained stains. First, start with an ammonia-free household cleaner and hot water to wash every surface. Then, to leave the inside of your windows and glass clean, use white vinegar diluted in water and a soft, lint-free cloth, polishing to a squeaky sparkle. Just remember to open the windows so that the vinegar smell doesn’t leave your vehicle smelling like a bag of chips.
Once you’re confident your car’s spic and span on the inside, you can defend against any lingering tobacco traces by leaving rolled up newspaper under the driver and passenger seats, and popping a few blocks of charcoal in concealed spots like the door bins. These should redress any recurring smells over time. Then, simply hang up your favourite air freshener and enjoy an odour-free onward journey!
Want to keep your car smelling fresh and looking sharp? Read our general guide to keeping your car clean.