How To Get Smoke Smell Out Of A Car

Rebecca Lindland | April 7, 2020

Prepping different types of cars for sale often requires a significant cleaning to get the best price. Whether you're a dealer or selling a personal vehicle, prospective buyers carefully compare cars, looking for the best example of the one that suits them. But what happens if the car you're selling smells of smoke or some other foul odor? What's the best method to get smoke smell out of a car? What are the resale value implications of smoke and smells?

How To Get Smoke Smell Out Of A Car

"The price guidebooks like Kelley Blue Book and Black Book won't give you a dollar figure on how much a foul-smelling car will cost you in resale value,” said Jack R. Nerad, editor of Driving Today. “Depending upon the level of odor, the effect could go from a minimum of $100 or so to making the car completely unsalable. Would you buy a car that reeked if you were uncertain you could make the smell go away?"

In a report from September 2013, Manheim Consulting, part of the Manheim auction company, reported that there was about a 3% reduction in value for vehicles with a foul or smoky smell. In other words, a $300 reduction in value for a vehicle with a $10,000 price point.

How to Get Smoke Smell Out of a Car

The best method for eliminating smoke or odor from a vehicle is to start is at the beginning: clean the car. Begin with a thorough vacuum, sweeping up what might turn out to be leftover cigarette butts, long-lost soggy French fries, loose change, and assorted debris. Sort through the glovebox and don't forget to clean the trunk, removing every item that could smell of smoke.

Once the vehicle is cleaned out, focus on any cloth and leather material. The smell of smoke clings to fabric like a Millennial to his phone. Before scrubbing these materials, check the owner's manual for any special care instructions to minimize potential damage.

Depending on how bad the smell is, and what the owner's manual says, a steam cleaner may be necessary to dissipate the odor. Treat all upholstered surfaces including the carpet, floor mats, seats, headliner, door trim, and even the dashboard. Once you’ve finished steaming the interior, make sure the car is thoroughly dry before closing it back up. If you don’t you could trap moisture and dampness, which will be another headache to resolve.

If after a thorough cleaning the smell isn't too bad (get multiple opinions on this), consider leaving an odor-absorbing product in the car overnight. This can include fragrance-free cat litter (any odor-eliminating kind will work) or open containers of baking soda or white vinegar. These products eliminate odor, while an air freshener only masks the smell.

Smoke is insidious, soaking into plastics, wood, even electrical components including the heating and air conditioning system. Replace all the filters in the vehicle and clean out all the vents. Spray plastics and wood with the strongest cleaner within the manufacturer's guidelines, using a soft cloth to wipe up excess foam or spray.

Do I Need a Professional Detail to Eliminate Smoke Smell From My Car?

If all of these methods fail, it may be time to call in the pros. Professionally detailing a vehicle sets you back anywhere from $50-$125 for a typical car, and up to $75-150 for a van or SUV.

Automotive detailing shops have the right chemicals and equipment to eliminate smoke smell, plus the training and experience to get it done right the first time. If your own efforts to get smoke smell out of a car fail, using a pro detailer will be worth the time, effort and money if it maximizes the value and appeal of your car to future buyers.

What’s Next

Want to take action? Shop Cars For Sale Online Want to dive deeper? Compare Cars Online Want to know how much you can afford? Read Expert Reviews

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