How To Get The Cigarette Smell Out Of Leather Car Seats

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Close up of a car black leather seat

It doesn’t matter if you’re a former smoker, a current smoker, or purchased a car from a smoker — the smell of cigarettes inside your car can be annoying. It’s off-putting to passengers, and it can cause you to arrive at work stressed out and with a migraine. Want to get rid of cigarette smells from your car? You came to the right place.

The key is to perform a deep clean on your seats. The cigarette smell is embedded in your leather, so you’ll need to vacuum, condition, and clean your seats. You should also take time to clean other parts of your car since the smoke from a cigarette is rarely concentrated on just the seats.

In this guide, I’m going to tell you exactly how to get the cigarette smell out of leather car seats. I’ll also give you some more general tips about getting the smell out of your car.

How Cigarette Smell Works

As you smoke a cigarette, the smell is escaping in a few different ways. All of these ways will make the smell linger on different surfaces, including your leather seats. After extinguishing the cigarette, you’ll still smell it thanks to these reasons.

The Exhale

Every time you exhale, the cigarette smoke is being pushed away from you through the air. If you look in a microscope, you’ll see particles of your cigarette, smoke, and ash flying through the air.

A young man holding the steering wheel while smoking a cigarette

Since air is so light, these particles can go absolutely anywhere within your car. If you look in a car that a smoker owned for a long time, you might notice a discolored glaze across most of the car. This is the aggregation of all the exhales.

The Ash

Next up is the ash from cigarettes. The ash is the burnt cigarette pieces that are flicked away. Sometimes they’re flicked in an ashtray in the car, but other times they’re flicked out the driver’s window.

In either case, there are still particles of ash that fall within the car. They’ll likely fall on the smoker, but it can easily be transferred to the seat as they move around and leave the car.

The Passive Smoke

Even when a cigarette isn’t being inhaled, it is smoking. You’ll notice that if you look at a cigarette between inhales.

This passive smoke works the same way that the exhale does. It coats the different surfaces of the car and can create a film. Of course, this film smells exactly like cigarettes.

The Good News: It’s Leather

There is a silver lining, here. Leather seats are the best option when it comes to avoiding smells. A fabric seat will trap all types of odors, resulting in a bad-smelling seat.

Since leather is sturdier and doesn’t have the same loose fibers, it avoids bad smells.

Close up of the rear leather car seats

They’re also easier to clean. If you were trying to get the cigarette smell out of a fabric seat, you would be at a huge disadvantage.

As annoying as this smell is, at least you have the better of the two options when it comes to getting rid of the smell.

The Problem with Smelly Leather Seats

When you smoke cigarettes in the car, the smell comes with a number of different problems. More specifically, these are the problems associated with smelly leather seats (for you and your passengers).

Can Cause Nausea

Smelling cigarettes for too long will cause you to feel nauseous. Sometimes, it’ll even cause someone to throw up.

People with Allergies Will Suffer

Smoke is a common allergen. For people who suffer from allergies, this could mean feeling congested for the rest of the day. They might sneeze during the trip and feel ill for an extended period after.

A young girl sneezing from allergies in the passenger seat while the young male driver is focused on the road

Can Stress You Out

Our bodies also respond to smelly leather seats by getting stressed. Depending on the person, it might be so much stress that other symptoms pop up.

Makes Your Ride Less Comfortable

The bottom line is that having leather seats that smell like cigarettes will make your ride less comfortable. Not only for you but for anyone who carpools with you or needs a ride to the airport.

If there was a choice between a car that smells like nothing or one that smells like cigarettes, I think I know which option we would all pick.

Leads to Migraines

It’s been clinically proven that unpleasant smells can lead to migraines in a majority of migraine sufferers. It’s a trigger for the head pain to start.

A young man holding his forehead due to having a migraine while stuck in a traffic jam driving a car

If they smell cigarettes for too long, a migraine can be sparked that won’t go away for hours.

Can Trigger Asthma Attacks

I had a buddy in high school who was really sensitive to the smell of cigarettes. Whenever we would pass someone smoking outside, he would have a wheezing fit and have to hit his inhaler a few times.

It’s not rare for people with asthma to have an attack from the smell of smoke. Well, the same thing can happen inside a car that has cigarette smoke in the leather seats.

General Tips for Removing Cigarette Smell from Cars

Are you positive that the smell is coming from your leather seats? When you smoke in a car, the smoke can coat just about every surface of the vehicle. To help minimize the smell, consider these general tips that will deodorize your whole car.

Air it Out

A little bit of fresh air can work wonders. A good place to start your deodorizing journey is by simply rolling down your windows. If possible, leave them down overnight. If not, then you can just leave them down as you commute and run your errands.

Car drver smoking a cigarette airing it out of the window of his car while parked

Use Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds are also very good at absorbing odors in the air. They can be used around the house, but they also come in handy in your car.

I like to put coffee grounds in a to-go cup and leave it in my cup holder for a few days, changing it out nightly. You can either use fresh grounds or the discarded grounds from your morning pot.

Try Citrus Peels

When odors are trapped in the different fabrics around your car, you can use citrus peels. A lot of cleaners use the smell of citrus, and it works really well. It kills odors and also masks them with a more pleasant smell.

Use Ozium

Ozium is a very popular product amongst smokers. It’s an air freshener that does more. Basically, it eliminates the smoke particles from the air instead of just hiding the smell.

Ozium Air Sanitizer 8 Oz. Spray

Ozium Air Sanitizer 8 Oz. Spray
Ozium Air Sanitizer 8 Oz. Spray

It comes as an aerosol. You spray it in your car and give it some time to work. You’ll probably have to apply it a few times to get the best results.

Clean Out the Ashtray

If you use an ashtray to collect ash from your cigarettes, you should regularly clean it out. Even though the tray is designed to hold all the ash, it isn’t designed to neutralize the smell.

The root of your smell could be simpler than you think.

Clean it out with a vacuum or just run soap and water through it before patting it dry and returning it to your car.

Replace Your Air Filter

When you exhale smoke, it can circulate through your HVAC air filter. For reference, this is a filter that takes pollen, dust, and smoke out of the air. Its primary use is to stop dust as it goes through your HVAC vent.

Mechanic removing the dirty cabin air filter from the vehicle passenger side dashboard

If the filters are filled with exhaled cigarette smoke, they will smell like cigarettes. Some drivers get very frustrated when they still smell smoke after cleaning their car. The air filter could be the culprit.

Clean the Driver’s Side Door

If the driver ashes their cigarette out the window, there’s a good chance that ash and smoke are all along the exterior of the driver’s side door.

Whenever you wash your car, pay extra attention to this area. Make sure you really wipe it down and get rid of any smoke that could be lingering there. If not, the smell could sneak its way back inside.

Put in an Air Freshener

An old tried-and-true method is to hang a few air fresheners in your car. Put them on your rearview, near your cup holders, and a few in the back seat. Sometimes that’s all it takes to mask the smell of cigarettes.

Car air freshner mounted to the vent inside the vehicle

Be careful though. Too many air fresheners can lead to similar symptoms that cigarette smoke in your car causes. Get some feedback from your passengers to see if the air freshener smell is too overwhelming.

Clean the Ceilings

It feels weird saying this, but you need to remember to clean your ceilings. If you have a fabric ceiling, run a vacuum over it and use some gentle cleaning products.

As a cigarette is smoked, a lot of the smoke is going upward. That means the ceilings of your car could be caked in cigarette smoke.

Since our seated position in a car is so close to the ceiling, it makes sense that these odors will be noticeable.

10 Ways to Get Cigarette Smell Out of Leather Car Seats

Now I want to talk about your leather seats, specifically. These 10 ways will help get the cigarette smell out. If one doesn’t work, you can use a combination of different methods until the smell is completely gone.

For some of the liquid cleaning solutions, I recommend starting on a less visible area. That way. if any staining or discoloring occurs with your particular leather, you can stop right there and use something more suited for your vehicle.

1. Vacuum the Seats

I like to start by vacuuming the seats, first. There can be little pieces of ash sitting on your seat that are producing a lot of the smell.

Man using a vacuum cleaner to clean the leather interior seats of a car close up

If you want to go the extra mile, you should also vacuum the floors and ashtray at this point, too. Remember, the ash can be getting all over the place.

Use a vacuum hose that has bristles around the tube. This will help loosen the ash so it can be successfully sucked up.

2. Use Vinegar

Ingredients: 1 cup of white vinegar, bowl, microfiber towel, 1 cup of water

Vinegar is the unsung hero of the kitchen. It can be used to clean a lot of different messes, and this is one of them.

White vinegar on a wooden table against a greyish white background

It works so well because it’s an acid and deodorizer. Mix the water and vinegar in the bowel and use the towel to transfer it to your seats.

You’ll want to rub the mixture across the whole seat, but don’t saturate the leather. Use just enough for the seat to have a nice gloss to it.

Don’t dry it by hand. Instead, roll down your windows and let the vinegar air-dry overnight.

3. Try Baking Soda

Baking soda is another product from your kitchen that can save the day. Put a decent amount into a Ziploc bag.

Baking soda and cleaning brush sponge and vinegar to remove stains

Take that bag and leave it in your cupholders. Make sure the bag is open. The baking soda will absorb the odors of the car overnight.

Another idea is to sprinkle baking soda on each of the seats. Leave it there overnight and then vacuum it all up.

4. Allow Charcoal Briquettes to Absorb the Smell

Charcoal briquettes are little compressed blocks of coal dust. Since the charcoal can be activated, it’s able to absorb smells around it.

CLEVAST Bamboo Charcoal Air Purifying Bags (4×200g), Removes Odors and Moisture

CLEVAST Bamboo Charcoal Air Purifying Bags (4×200g), Removes Odors and Moisture
CLEVAST Bamboo Charcoal Air Purifying Bags (4×200g), Removes Odors and Moisture

To activate them, leave them in direct sunlight for about 30 minutes. Put them in an opened Ziploc bag and leave them in your cupholder for a few days.

Charcoal also absorbs mold and mildew, so it’s working double-duty.

5. Use a Professional Detailer

For more extreme scenarios, you’ll benefit from visiting a professional detailer. They have a whole host of different products in their shop which will eliminate the cigarette smell from your leather seats.

A young man in a black uniform detailing the interior of a car with steam cleaning products to get rid of odours odors and dirt

A full interior detail could be a few hundred dollars. However, they’ll clean more than just your seats.

I think it’s a great thing to do from time to time if it’s within your budget. It’s probably the best way to get the cigarette smell out of your car since they’ll do a top-to-bottom deep clean.

6. Wipe it Down with Dryer Sheets

If you want a quick and easy solution, grab a handful of dryer sheets from the laundry room on your way out. The fibers have a static charge, so they do a decent job of absorbing some of the mess.

Gain Dryer Sheets Laundry Fabric Softener, Original Scent, 240 Count

Gain Dryer Sheets Laundry Fabric Softener, Original Scent, 240 Count
Gain Dryer Sheets

Wipe these sheets all over your seats. The first thing it does is absorb some of the ash particles. The second thing it does is absorb some of the smoke smell.

Finally, the dryer sheet (if it’s scented) will transfer some of its pleasant smell to your cars’ seats.

7. A Little Alcohol and Water

I call this solution the “vinegar lite” option. If you’re not crazy about bringing vinegar into your car, you can use rubbing alcohol. You’ll get similar results, and the application is identical.

Cleaning the interior upholstery surface of a car with alcohol mixed with water and a micro-fiber towel

Mix equal parts rubbing alcohol and water in a bowl. Use a microfiber towel to transfer this liquid to your car seats. Don’t oversaturate your leather seats. Let it air-dry and repeat the process if you need to.

The added bonus of using rubbing alcohol instead is that it actually removes some stains from your seats.

8. Let Your Seats Soak Up the Sun

There could also be bacteria that’s making your leather seats smell bad. Park outside during the day and make sure the car is exposed to direct sunlight. Roll your windows down and let the sun start killing the bacteria.

Premium brown leather interior car seats of a Mercedes-Benz soaking up the sun at sunset

9. DIY Conditioner

If you have access to coconut oil in your house, you are one step away from a DIY leather seat conditioner.

Get a microfiber towel, put a little coconut oil in it, and spread the mixture together by rubbing the towel between your hands.

Coconut oil in a jar and a fresh coconut split in half on top of a wooden table

Use this towel to apply a thin layer of coconut oil across your seats. Rub it in a circular motion. Put more oil on your towel and swap out your towel as needed.

The coconut oil will kill the ash smell as well as add a layer of protection to your seats. This is an all-natural way to remove the smoke smell from your leather seats.

10. Use a Chemical Leather Cleaner

There are also a number of chemical leather cleaners. These are synthetic options that tend to work the best (since they’re a more aggressive product).

Personally, I like using this upholstery and carpet cleaning interior kit by Relentless Drive.

Relentless Drive Car Upholstery & Carpet Cleaner Kit

Relentless Drive Car Upholstery Cleaner Kit - Car Fabric Cleaner Kit - Auto Carpet Cleaning Kit - Ultimate Carpet Cleaning Kit
Relentless Drive Car Upholstery & Carpet Cleaner Kit

Start by spraying the foam and coating a small section of your seat. Take off the attached brush and use a little elbow grease. You’ll want to focus on rubbing the brush back and forth aggressively.

After a little bit, wipe off the excess. Dry the area with a microfiber towel to ensure all the product is gone. Move on to the next section and repeat this process until every seat is cleaned.

You’ll most likely need to do every surface of the seats since cigarette smoke can be coating the whole seat.

Conclusion

There you have it — I just covered everything you need to know about getting cigarette smells out of your leather seats. The smell itself can be annoying and harmful, but the cleaning process is pretty straightforward. You also have 10 different options to choose from, which is nice.

If you want more car care guides, take a look at my website. If you successfully got the smoke smell out of your leather seats, drop a comment below and let me know. Share this article with your smoker friends who are having the same issue. I also have a full list of car care products that will help you clean the rest of your car.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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