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Removing Cigarette Smoke Smells From Your Car

Unpleasant smells in cars can originate from two sources: chemical or bacterial. Bacterial odours, often the most pungent, result from factors such as dogs in cars, spilt milk, vomit, or ground-in food around the back seats. All these organic compounds create a food source for bacteria to thrive on, leading to the unpleasant smell. If you have experienced this issue and used an odour-killing spray, you may have found that the bad odour returns after the spray wears off. This recurrence happens because the food source for bacteria remains, allowing them to continue producing the smell. While not the focus of this article, the best solution for such issues is to use ValetPRO Enzyme Odour Eater, which consumes the food source, causing the bacteria to die off, along with the smell.

Cigarette smoke presents a different challenge, as it leaves behind an embedded chemical compound smell. According to research (, there are 7357 chemical compounds in cigarette smoke, many of which cause odours to embed in the fabric and upholstery of your vehicle’s interior. Therefore, using biocides or enzyme-based odour removals may not always eliminate the smell. While theoretically, sufficient airflow through the car could eventually remove the odour, smoke, being a gas and containing particulates, permeates every surface. Our recommended strategy for removing cigarette smoke is to thoroughly clean every surface of the interior. Then, once cleaned, fully aerate the interior to dry the upholstery and other surfaces, aiding in eliminating the smoke smell.

To ensure the best possible result, please follow our recommended process for a deep interior clean of the vehicle as described in this article.

Step 1 – Thoroughly Vacuum

Vacuum all the surfaces in the car and boot. Ensure thoroughness, as every surface will need washing and cleaning, and loose grit and grime make cleaning more challenging. If carpets are dirty, use the upholstery brush first to lift the grime to the surface for the vacuum cleaner to pick up. When vacuuming seats, including leather ones, lightly spread the stitched areas to access trapped dirt in the seams. Also, vacuum door pockets, glove box, centre storage areas, seat pockets, car boot, and spare wheel area. Empty ashtrays and brush the cigarette lighter filament to remove any attached ash.

Step 2 – Wash the Hard Surfaces

Wash and clean all hard surfaces. Work on one area at a time, using ValetPRO Advanced Interior Cleaner. Spray the surface and agitate with the Large Sash Brush to release grime, then wipe dry with a Multi-Purpose Microfibre Cloth. Avoid spraying cleaner directly on the dashboard; instead, spray onto the cloth. Cover all hard surfaces thoroughly, including areas under rear seats, sun visors, door handles, door pockets, spare tyre, inside the glove compartment, and other compartments. For cleaning the headlining, use ValetPRO Advanced Interior Cleaner sprayed in 30cm square areas, then gently agitate with a soft Leather Brush or Microfibre Cloth.

Step 3.1 – Wash the Fabric Areas

The next job is to clean the carpets and fabric seats. We will provide directions for both hand-cleaning fabrics and using an extraction carpet cleaning machine. For smoke removal in particular, we recommend using a wet vacuum extraction machine.

Wet Vacuum (Extraction) Machine Method: To start, dilute our ValetPRO Classic Carpet Cleaner up to 1:80. In the instance of cigarette smoke removal, we ideally recommend using a dilution of 1:20. As a process, start by cleaning the footwells, spraying cleaner on the surfaces ensuring good coverage, then agitate and extract. Repeat until the water comes through clear. Footwells can take more time as they collect more dirt. During this process, clean the foot pedals. Then move to the carpets under the back seats and any other carpets, including the boot. Next, move onto the seat covers, making sure to methodically clean the front, sides, backs, and headrests using the same process as with the carpet: spray on, agitate, then extract. Note: It is worth taking time over the seats and making an effort to extract as much liquid as possible. It’s also worth letting the cleaner penetrate the foam beneath the fabric to ensure that it reaches the smoke that will have gone deep into it. Once finished, leave the doors and boot open to air the car and allow it to dry.

Trigger Bottle Method: Using the ValetPRO Classic Carpet Cleaner, dilute 1:10, spray the carpets and agitate, then wipe up with a microfibre cloth. If you have a wet vacuum cleaner, you could also use that to remove the liquid. Do the same for the fabric seats. For stubborn stains, reapply the ValetPRO Carpet Cleaner and agitate, then use a microfibre cloth to absorb the grime.

Don’t forget the headlining. Whichever method you use, ensure that you don’t make the fabric headlining too wet when cleaning. This is to avoid compromising the glue layer adhesion, which could lead to the headlining sagging. *The use of ValetPRO Advanced Interior Cleaner would be a safer approach to cleaning fabric headlining due to its pH-neutral formulation, meaning that it is less likely to affect the glue layer adhesion.

Step 3.2 – Clean Any Leather

If you have leather seats or any other leather trim, then you must clean the leather thoroughly to remove the smoke smell.  Work a 30cm square area at a time. Apply the ValetPRO Leather Soap thickly with our Wax Applicator and allow 30-60 seconds for the cleaner to soften the dirt, then agitate with the ValetPRO Leather Brush. This should tease out the grime from the grain of the leather and also bring out any cigarette smoke as well. Wipe up all the excess dirt with a Microfibre cloth. Once the leather has been cleaned, protect it with ValetPRO Leather Protector.  Spray onto a wax applicator and then spread the product evenly on the leather before leaving to dry. Using a clean and dry Microfibre Cloth, buff the surface to remove any excess product. Again, work a small area at a time and continue until all leather surfaces are treated.  Please note: Cleaning will remove the odour from the surface of the leather seat but will not remove it from the foam beneath the leather. This can only be treated by airing the car. You may have to air the vehicle many times to remove the smoke odour fully from the seats.

Step 4 – Clean all the Glass

Time to clean all the glass. Cigarette smoke can leave a sticky residue on the glass which can make the process of cleaning the glass tricky. When cleaning the glass, ensure you get to the edges with the ValetPRO Glass Cleaner.  When cleaning interior glass, it helps to have two cloths. Spray the cleaner onto one cloth and use that cloth to spread the cleaner on the glass. Spraying onto the cloth rather than directly on the glass prevents the cleaner from over spraying on other surfaces and gives you more control over where the cleaner goes. Using a second Glass Cloth wipe the glass to remove the excess and buff.  Ensure the second cloth is dry and clean prior to use.  Repeat until all the glass is clean. Make sure to get all the smaller windows done and get into all the corners to ensure that any cigarette residue is removed.

Step 5 – Protect Clean Surfaces

Finally, treat the plastic surfaces with a dressing that adds protection and makes future cleaning quicker and easier. If you want a satin finish spray the protection onto a cloth and spread it over the surface. Our product ValetPRO Classic Protect would be a great choice of product to use. Spread the product thinly and then buff with a second cloth. If you want a gloss finish, apply ValetPRO Classic Protect using a wax applicator. Spray the product onto the wax applicator and spread it evenly on the plastic surface. Allow to dry only then, dry buff the surface to a gloss finish. Ensure, before use, that the buffing cloth used is clean and dry.

Final Word: With cigarette smoke being pervasive, it’s vital to clean everything thoroughly and fully air the vehicle, continually airing until the smell is gone.

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