How can I get smoke smell out of a car?
March 5, 2011 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Smokey car. How to fix?

We bought a used car that smelled fine during our test drive. Alas, as we've owned it for about a month now, we'd discovered that the previous owner was a smoker (and it is especially bad when the heat or AC is on.) I hate smoke smell in cars a lot.

I've tried spraying orange spray which only helps momentarily and I've tried Googling, but eHow and the like are all that I come across.

If it matters:
- We generally only drive on the weekends, so if something needs to sit for awhile, that's okay.
- I am sensitive to chemicals, so would prefer not to just mask it.
- I assume that it was detailed clean before we bought it. It looks nearly brand new inside.

What can I do to get this stink out?
posted by k8t to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ozium is fairly hardcore: it's definitely a "leave it sit" treatment. However, it sounds like you're dealing with smoke residue in the blower system, and you're going to be treating the symptoms and not the cause until you clean off the fans and vents. Perhaps wipe down the directional vent outlets for starters?
posted by holgate at 2:16 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might try baking soda, coffee grinds, charcoal, vinegar, vodka, ammonia, kitty litter, Ozium, and Febreeze.
posted by Houstonian at 2:16 PM on March 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Replace the air filters!

Also, rent a smaller steam cleaner and give it a go. Letting the upholstery dry out afterwards is very important.
posted by jbenben at 2:50 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you spray with Ozium (or similar) I would start the engine, set the heater to "recirculate", temp to "high", turn the heater fan on, then spray heavily into the heater's inside air intake (wherever that may be--maybe under the dash). Then repeat with A/C set to "recirculate", temp "cold", fan on. That stands a good chance of treating all the system's fans and duct work, eliminating the heater & a/c as sources of smoke odor.
posted by exphysicist345 at 3:46 PM on March 5, 2011

Step one, replace cabin air filter.
Step two, use baking soda and charcoal spread throughout the car and headliner (smoke rises, gets trapped on the roof), sprinkle liberally and leave for a few days.
Step three, vacuum, repeat as necessary.
posted by handbanana at 4:41 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

What they said^^^^^

PLUS take a bunch of newspapers, crinkle the pages up and throw them into the car willy-nilly. Close the doors and let sit a day or two, and the newspapers will absorb the odor. I swear this works! (Good for stinky shoes too)
posted by ~Sushma~ at 5:40 PM on March 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding the newspaper advice above. If possible, leave the car in a spot where it will get plenty of sun so you get the heat effect which should help a little. Cracking the windows a tiny bit will help with venting.

I can't emphasize this enough -- if you have a light interior, say cream or white -- be very careful about the newsprint. Some newspapers use a really cheap ink that may cause staining.

You could probably work around this by putting the crumpled newspapers into brown paper bags. That would probably make the clean up easier too.

If all else fails, contact one of those after-fire restoration places. A friend who owned one of those businesses had a nice side job using the oxygen machine - or whatever the heck that thing is - to de-smoke rentals cars back in the day. It might cost you some money but it will make your driving experience much nicer.
posted by jaimystery at 6:29 PM on March 5, 2011

seconding other suggestions, but wash anything you can in the interior, like with windex or 409 or whatever is safe. i inherited a car from a smoker, and realized only upon cleaning the windows, seats, dashboard, etc. how much tar or gook or whatever smoky smelling stuff was actually physically deposited on interior surfaces. luckily the seats were vinyl, but that's probably not going to work for you.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:29 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used a product called ZeroOdor to get cat urine smell out of my mattress. I think cat urine is possibly one of the most horrific smells to remove, so perhaps it will work in your car. It leaves a very slight "cleaner" scent behind, similar to bleach, but that also vanishes. Good luck!
posted by littleflowers at 9:11 AM on March 6, 2011

Rent an ozone generator locally or online. That's how most detail shops and car dealers get rid of the smell.
posted by white_devil at 11:23 AM on March 7, 2011

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