Smoke can leave a long-lasting –and undesirable–scent in a car. Smoke is also an odor that's hard to get rid of for good. But, by giving the car a thorough interior clean-up, you should be able to reduce, if not eliminate, the unpleasant smell of smoke.
The best place to start is to clean out any debris that might contribute to the smell, such as leftover ash in the ashtray or stray cigarette butts. Eliminating the source of the unpleasant smell is going a long way to get rid of the smells.
Once the odor-causing debris has been removed, you should clean any cloth seats or leather surfaces in the vehicle. The absorption of these materials means that smoke can build up and linger. Depending on the degree of smell, you may need a steam cleaner to get your hands on. Be sure to check your owner's manual for any special care instructions on the fabric or leather upholstery in your car to avoid damaging it.
If, in addition to vacuum or steamer, you decide to use chemical spray cleaners, use caution and test a small patch of upholstery material to ensure that the cleaner does not damage it.
You're going to want to take care and be sure to clean any surface made of fabric. This can include the headliners, the door trim, carpets and even parts of the dashboard. If you have removable floor mats, you can take them out to clean them thoroughly. Make sure they're completely dry before you put them back in.
If the smell of smoke isn't too bad, you may be able to put some kind of odor-absorbing product in your car and let it sit down overnight or over the weekend. Products such as baking soda, cat litter or vinegar can absorb strong smells like cigarette smoke. In contrast to air fresheners, baking soda actually eliminates the smell, rather than just masking it temporarily.
If you're cleaning a car driven by a smoker, it's important to clean hard surfaces that get a lot of hand contact. Cigarette residues can be transferred from the fingers to the steering wheel and other surfaces, allowing the smell to permeate. Wiping down plastic interior surfaces will help to remove any residues that contribute to the smell of smoke.
One system that is often overlooked when trying to remove the smell of smoke from a car is the heating and air conditioning system. Clean the vents and replace any air filters. Depending on the severity of the smell, you may want to look at the use of an odor-removing product that can be sprayed into the car while these systems are running through the air. This should help to clean up any cigarette smoke odors trapped in these systems.
If you've tried everything, and you still can't seem to get rid of the smell of smoke, it might be time to talk to a professional. Many automotive manufacturers have access to equipment and chemicals that they also have experience and training to use. Some even offer mobile services so that they can come to your home or office. For the sake of good, a qualified professional detailer should be able to get rid of that pesky smell.