How To Remove Smoke Odor From Car Interiors Like a Pro

Smoke particles easily get embedded in every surface they touch in a car — fabric or leather seats, dashboards, floorboards, and even into the air circulation vents.

Whether you’ve had a smoker in your car or you’ve purchased a smoker’s used vehicle, the unpleasant smoke odors lingering around can be hard to get rid of. 

Smoke smells can successfully be removed from cars in two primary ways, but it’s important to know some facts about each process and the safety precautions that should be adhered to. 

In this guide, we’ll cover those details and explain why the best route may be to have a professional car detailer take care of the smelly business for you.

Can Smoke Smell Be Removed From a Car?

Yes, smoke odors can be removed from a car, but the process can be tedious and may include off-gassing and handling harmful chemicals and substances. But with the proper knowledge, experience, tools, and resources, smoke smells can be removed from a car, restoring air quality without risking anyone’s health.

To get the job done right, a professional car detailer is the way to go

Our team at Loupe Detailing Service has the know-how and experience to guarantee that smoke odors are eliminated and the interior of your car is detailed to perfection.

Take a look at our interior detailing packages and book an appointment today.

how to remove smoke odor from car

How To Remove Smoke Odor From a Car: Two Options

Because smoke particles embed deep into fabrics and other interior car surfaces, cleaning the surfaces or spraying air fresheners will not eliminate the odors at the source. Rather, those techniques merely mask the smell, and eventually, once the cleaning agents or air fresheners wear off, the smoke smell returns.

To eliminate the source of smoke odors, you’ll need to use a technique that kills the smoke particles. 

Two effective techniques are using an ozone generator and chlorine dioxide tablets.

how to remove smoke odor from car interior

#1: Ozone Generator

An ozone generator is a tool that’s commonly used in the fire and flood restoration industry, but many people don’t realize this tool can be purchased to rid their car and home of bad odors.

After general surface cleaning, an ozone generator is placed in a car with the doors and windows closed and left for up to an hour. The car should be running and the air control set to recirculation mode. The air in the car goes through the generator and is circulated throughout the car. Anything organic — smoke, mold, pests — will not survive in the ozone environment.

Because of that, the ozone generator makes the area uninhabitable while the machine is running because it affects the air quality. After running the machine for the appropriate amount of time, the doors should be opened, and the car should be adequately aired out before being driven or occupied by people.

Ozone is a powerful gas, and an ozone generator should be used responsibly and with necessary precautions. Never use an ozone generator around people or pets. The ozone can irritate the mucous membranes and cause lung and sinus irritation.

Always make sure the area being treated is completely aired out before re-entering the space.

The Science Behind Ozone Generators

Every organic substance has a smell that is released, and smoke is no exception. When smoke is exposed to oxygen, it oxidizes, which eventually results in the odor being eliminated. However, when those odors get trapped in furniture or other surfaces, it makes the oxidation process difficult, resulting in lingering smells.

Ozone (O3) is an unstable gas and wants to cast off one of its electrons to become the more stable oxygen molecule (O2). When it loses that extra electron, it does, one of two things:

  1. It combines with another oxygen atom to form an O2 molecule; or
  2. It combines with another element (like smoke) and forms an inert gas that loses its ability to create odor. 

It is this second activity that causes ozone to eliminate odors.

Ozone generators work by pulling in air from the environment and treating it with an electrical charge as it passes through the machine. This splits some of the O2 molecules apart, causing them to form with other O2 molecules to form new O3 molecules. 

The ozone molecules then do their work to oxidize the smoke particles, eliminating the odors.

#2: Chlorine Dioxide Tablets

Chlorine dioxide was invented in 1814 by Sir Humphrey Day and has been used as an oxidizer for over 70 years.

Chlorine dioxide tablets are another method of eliminating odors from your vehicle. They are fairly inexpensive and are also generally considered to be safe. 

The tablets are placed in a special container and then water is added. The car is then closed and left for about an hour while the chlorine tablets let off a gas that removes the smoke odor.

Chlorine tablets effectively eliminate odors that have become trapped in the fabric and foam of the car seats as well as the other interior surfaces.

Like the ozone generator, harmful chemicals may be left behind in the air, so it’s important to air the car out thoroughly before entering the car and closing the doors.

The Science Behind Chlorine Dioxide Tablets

Chlorine dioxide performs oxidation similarly to an ozone generator in that it involves the transferring of electrons, thus changing the makeup of molecules.

Chlorine tablets work differently than the ozone generator because ozone is not created in the process. Instead, through a chemical reaction that results in a transfer of electrons, chlorine dioxide changes the structure of smoke molecules so that they no longer have odor-producing qualities.

Because chlorine dioxide is extremely small (100 times smaller than smoke molecules), it is able to oxidize smoke molecules effectively.

Chlorine dioxide tablets are readily available from a variety of vendors and don’t harm surfaces or leave a residue.

how to remove smoke odor from cars

Should You Let an Experienced Detailer Remove the Smoke Odor From Your Car’s Interior?

If you want to know how to remove smoke odor from a car, we’d suggest hiring an experienced detailer to do the work for you.

Though ozone generators and chlorine dioxide tablets are considered to be safe, there are safety precautions that should be followed. Ozone can be harmful to health by affecting the cells in the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system. This can result in coughing, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing.

Chlorine dioxide tablets can also produce harmful effects like:

  • Irritation to the eyes, throat, nose, and lungs
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Breathing difficulties

Additionally, to use an ozone generator, you’ll need to purchase the machine — one that you’ll likely use only once or twice a year.

To avoid these harmful effects and costs of buying a machine you rarely use, it’s best to trust the process to an experienced and knowledgeable professional.

At Loupe Detailing Service, we have experience using both ozone generators and chlorine dioxide tablets. And we also expertly detail the car and all its surfaces to make sure that odors are completely eliminated.

how to remove smoke odor from car

7 Steps for DIY Smoke Odor Removal

If you want to try your hand at removing smoke odors from your car on your own, you can follow these steps.

#1: Gather Your Materials

Having all your supplies on hand will help the process go quicker. You may want to have access to the following items:

  • Vacuum
  • Steam cleaner
  • Hard surface cleaner
  • Microfiber cloths or rags
  • Bucket
  • Gloves
  • Trash container
  • Glass cleaner
  • Upholstery cleaner
  • Odor neutralizer
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Charcoal

If you decide to use an ozone generator or chlorine dioxide tablets, you’ll need to purchase/gather those items and any other recommended supplies.

#2: Remove All Trash and Debris

You’ll want to get everything out of the car before cleaning it or using an ozone generator or chlorine dioxide.

With your trash can close by, remove all debris from the vehicle. Any trash in your car will hold in the smoke smell, so disposing of it is crucial.

Don’t forget to look under the seats and in seat pockets or other compartments. Getting trash out of the hard-to-reach places and crevices can be a challenge — all the more reason to let the professional detailer do the hard work.

#3: Vacuum All Mats and Surfaces

Follow these steps to vacuum and clean the mats and surfaces:

  1. Remove the mats from the car and vacuum them.
  2. Use a steam cleaner to clean the mats.
  3. If the mats are rubber or vinyl, use a degreaser to clean them.
  4. For carpet mats, use baking soda on the mats and then vacuum again.
  5. Repeat this process for the carpeted floorboards.
how to remove smoke odor from a car

#4: Clean All Hard Surfaces

Your car has many hard surfaces, so make sure to clean them all thoroughly. You can use a store-bought cleaning solution, or you can make your own using a mixture of vinegar, dish soap, and water. 

Clean the following surfaces of your car with your cleaning spray of choice:

  • Glove box (inside and out)
  • Dashboard
  • Windshield
  • Cupholders
  • Gear shift
  • Steering wheel
  • Steering column
  • Trim
  • Mirror
  • HVAC vents

In addition to these hard surfaces, you’ll also want to wipe down the seatbelts and visors with a damp cloth.

And don’t forget the car seats and the trunk. The car seats can be wiped with a damp cloth or a steam cleaner (for cloth seats). Remove all debris from the trunk, sprinkle baking on the carpet, and vacuum.

#5: Deodorize Your HVAC System

You can deodorize your HVAC system to remove smoke odor from the car’s interior by spraying a deodorizer through the system, which spreads throughout the car.

Do this by following these steps:

  1. Roll down all the windows.
  2. Start the car and set the HVAC system to recirculate the air. 
  3. Set fans to the highest setting and temperature to the lowest setting.
  4. Spray the deodorizer directly into the intake.
  5. Turn off the ignition.
  6. Let the car sit until the deodorizer settles.

#6: Replace Your Air Filter and Cabin Filter

Most of us don’t think about replacing our air filters, but they can get terribly filthy.

In most cars, you’ll need to take the glove box off the hinges to get to the air filter. Remove it and replace it with a clean one.

Most manufacturers recommend changing the air filter every 30,000 miles.

#7: Filter the Air

The most effective way to filter the air is with one of the two methods we mentioned above — an ozone generator or chlorine dioxide tablets. If you choose one of these methods, remember to thoroughly air out the vehicle before driving.

Some other popular methods for freshening the air include:

  • Wiping surfaces with dryer sheets
  • Leaving a bowl of coffee grounds in the car overnight to help neutralize the air.
  • Keeping citrus peels in the car
  • Sprinkling baking soda on cloth seats and floors and then vacuum after several hours

The individual steps for DIY smoke removal may seem simple enough, but they can be time-consuming, and in the end, the DIY approach may not be very effective.

For the best results, turn to Loupe Detailing Service.

Let Loupe Detailing Take Care of Your Vehicle’s Odor Removal Needs

Why spend your valuable time gathering all the necessary supplies, cleaning every nook and cranny of your car, using a steam cleaner, and vacuuming the cloth and carpeted surfaces of your car when you could be shopping or enjoying an extended lunch with a friend?

Whether your car is a little messy or it looks like you took the soccer team home after playing in the rain, we’ve got you covered with our comprehensive services. We take pride in delivering exceptional service and attention to detail.

Once the inside of your car is clean and smelling fresh, let us take care of the exterior. With both interior and exterior detailing packages, we can take care of every inch of your car.

how to remove smoke odor from car