Please note: The following blog mentions a number of cleaning products, some of which may be harmful to people if used incorrectly. This blog is for information purposes only and does not constitute advice from startrescue.co.uk.
Cigarette smoke is notoriously difficult to remove from car interiors. It can make selling a car considerably more difficult, and if you inadvertently buy a used car that smells of smoke, you could have your work cut out trying to remove the unpleasant odours.
According to Sam from YouTube channel Samcrac, who received more than 700,000 views for his video “The Only REAL Way to Remove Cigarette & Smoke Smell From Your Car”
the following food stuffs/products merely cover up - or combine - with the smell of cigarettes and do not provide a long-lasting solution.
- White vinegar
- Coffee beans
However, not everyone thinks the above are ineffective. Some maintain adding a bowl of coffee grinds to your car’s interior will get rid of the tobacco smell.
Samcrac believes most chemical cleaners also simply mask the cigarette smell in the car. After application, the smell tends to return after a few weeks.
Tip: If you're buying a used car, beware of any strong perfume-like smell, as it suggests the seller/dealer has tried to mask an unpleasant smell - which is likely to return later.
Be aware too that some chemicals stain seat covers and other interior fabrics.
Samcrac did find two chemical solutions to be effective: Lysol, an inexpensive cleaning fluid; and Zero Odor, a more costly product - but one that Samcrac says is effective in removing smoke odors from a vehicle’s AC system.
Having tried a multitude of different cleaning methods, Samcrac found that the ozone generator was one of the most effective. YouTuber milanmastracci agrees that “only an ozone machine will fully remove all those odors”
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describe the technology behind ozone generators as follows: "Ozone is a molecule composed of three atoms of oxygen. Two atoms of oxygen form the basic oxygen molecule--the oxygen we breathe that is essential to life. The third oxygen atom can detach from the ozone molecule, and re-attach to molecules of other substances, thereby altering their chemical composition."
While he was impressed with the results, Samcrac urged viewers to be "extremely cautious" if using ozone generators. These devices are placed in the empty car and switched on, then all doors and windows are shut.
The EPA notes that ozone may have a harmful impact on health: "When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation."
Ozone generators are not to be confused with ionisers, another air purifying device that removes unwanted particles from the air.
The following tips are compiled from various online resources.
First, thoroughly clean the interior of your car using a vacuum. Sam from YouTube channel Samcrac suggests investing in a "dry foam carpet and upholstery cleaner" for your car's soft surfaces.
Next, use a mild detergent or all-purpose cleaner to wipe down hard surfaces - such vinyl and plastic. Be sure to wipe down door jambs, where ash can get trapped.
YouTube Channel Chemical Guys recommends using "streak-free glass cleaner" to remove ash from the windscreen interior and rear view mirror.
Sam from YouTube channel Samcrac recommends running the air conditioning system with circulation mode off, then spraying "Lysol" (mentioned above) disinfectant spray into the exterior AC intake. This system is the easiest way to clean your AC system without actually removing the dashboard.
How successful you are at removing the cigarette smells from your car depends on how ‘smelly’ the interior is to begin with. It seems sensible to try traditional cleaning products before considering stronger chemicals, and it’s clear using an ozone generator could be costly and may impact health if not used correctly.