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How I got rid of the smoke smell in my new (to me) car

As I mentioned in my previous post, we purchased a 2009 Mercury Sable that had been smoked in by the previous owner. The smell of smoke wasn’t horrible, but it was enough to give both Tiff and I sore throats while test driving the car (we’re both sensitive to smoke.) If you’re interested in what we did to eliminate the smoke smell, please read more!

The first treatment was performed by the dealership. They use the Auto Vaccine product by Biocide Systems. While I was sitting in the dealership waiting for the salesman to get some paperwork done, I had done some quick research on my phone, and this is the solution that I found that most people recommended – so I was glad to hear that they use it. From the reviews I found, here is the recommended procedure:

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  1. Get the car in a garage or other area that is not exposed to sunlight (apparently sunlight breaks down the product.)
  2. Seal up the car – put all the windows up, make sure the seals on the doors are good, etc.
  3. Try to make sure the product can reach all corners of the car – open all compartments, if seats can fold down for trunk access fold them down, fold the visors halfway down — basically, if it can be opened without blocking access to another part of the interior, open it.
  4. Start the air conditioner in ‘recirculation’ mode. (Not sure if most people leave the car running for this, or put it on a battery charger, or what.) This will allow the product to circulate through the ventilation system.
  5. Place the Auto Vaccine in the car, and follow the directions to start the chemical reaction.
  6. Leave the car and make sure it’s sealed tight.
  7. Let sit for 24 hours.
  8. Open all windows and doors, and let the car air out for at least 3 hours.

When we picked up the car from the dealership after the treatment, there wasn’t a smoke smell in the interior anymore; it just had a slight chemical smell. However, when we fired up the air conditioning, there was a definitive smoke odor again (which faded to near-nil after shutting the AC off) — I have a hunch they didn’t let the product circulate through all the vents. The dealer included a second treatment in their deal, but we don’t have time to let the car sit for 24 hours at the moment, and I decided to try a few treatments myself.

The first one I did myself is a treatment with 1Z einszett Klima-Cleaner. It is basically a can of foam with a tube about two feet long that you feed into your center air conditioning vent and spray the foam until the can is empty (it took ~4 minutes for me – felt like forever!), which will cover the surface of the evaporator core with their foam. Then you let it sit for 30 minutes, and then start the car and run the AC full blast for a few minutes. This worked magic on the smoke smell from the AC – it was horrible before the treatment, and I couldn’t smell it at all in the air coming from the vents after the treatment was finished. I did read a review on the ‘net where the poster mentioned the foam sprayed all over the place; it turned out that he turned the can upside down while applying it, which apparently can cause the foam not to get all the way down to the core. So when you fire up the AC, whoosh, foam! If you try this, be careful and follow the directions on the can. They do warn on the can to follow the vehicle manufacturer’s cleaning instructions or to have a certified technician apply it – I’m imagining this is because of the possible damage that could be done if this product were to be applied incorrectly.

After that treatment, I could smell a slight smoke smell on the interior surfaces again (probably because it circulated out of the AC after the Auto Vaccine treatment.) When I purchased the 1Z cleaner, I also picked up a can of Dakota Odor Bomb – neutral scent. I figured I would give this a shot, as the reviews I had read of it said a few hours was enough time. I did the same steps I had read about for Auto Vaccine (above), except I didn’t run the AC during the process (since I had just treated that.) I went ahead and unleashed the bomb. The next morning, I let the car air out for a bit, and found that there was a nasty film all over the entire interior – blah! I spent the next half hour or so wiping down the interior to get the film off, and then went to work. The smell was really strong for a few days; once it started to fade, it was actually much better – no hints of smoke left, so it seems it did some good. However, if I were to do this again, I would probably not use the Dakota product, but find a time to do a full Auto Vaccine treatment again – it costs a bit more, and takes more time, but we didn’t have any of the nastiness with it!

A picture of the car while being fogged with the Odor Bomb

I also noticed that the leather on the car seemed a bit dry (not sure if it was because of the Auto Vaccine, Odor Bomb, or if it just hadn’t been treated before), so I picked up a container of Lexol 3-in-1 Leather Care Spray. I applied it using a microfiber cloth, rubbed it in with a small brush, and let it sit for about 5 minutes before wiping it off and polishing with another microfiber cloth. I had great results with it; the leather feels much better than it did before – smoother and softer. I will probably reapply this a few times over the next few months to ensure the leather’s in good shape, and then keep it up on a semi-regular basis to keep the leather nice.

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The steps above have much improved the smoke scent in my car – as of right now, I can’t even smell that it was ever smoked in. If you try any of these, or have other tips for getting rid of the smoke odor, I’d love to hear about it!

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Peter April 27, 2010, 1:29 pm

    Phew, that’s a relief! I’m not sure i would be brave enough to even buy a car that had been smoked in, it would have to be a pretty darn good deal. :) But it sounds like you found a good solution, congrats!

    • nc April 27, 2010, 9:22 pm

      Heh, yeah, we were pretty careful, and worried for a little while.. but it was indeed a heck of a deal for the car, and we were having a lot of trouble finding other cars that matched our “specs”.. we’re glad it worked out too!

  • DM December 19, 2011, 8:32 am

    It was good reading this story. I have a similar story but not with a smoke smell but a chemical farm smell.

    I tried the dakota odor bomb which shifted the smell, however; has gave me a very painful sore throat! I left the car to air out for 3 hours but it didnt seem to go away. I can’t get rid of the chemical dakota scent smell!! I have a funny feeling this scent is now within my air vents and will not go away any time soon. I dont want to use my car as I get imediate sore throats!

    I would not use Dakota product ever again!

    • nc December 19, 2011, 11:04 am

      Yikes! I hope that you’ve complained to their customer service reps, and posted reviews wherever you purchased it. ;(

      As far as getting it out of your vents – the Klima-Cleaner product seemed to work pretty well at cleaning out that system for me.. may be worth a shot?

    • Larry Gibson March 4, 2012, 12:30 am

      We sell a similar product and you can get soar throats depending on the fragrances. The issue is people will use the whole can for a car when a whole can is capable of doing 6000 square feet which well exceeds the inside of the car. We have trained our customers to only use 1/4 or 1/2 of the can rather than the whole thing with better results.

    • Ben November 6, 2013, 8:17 pm

      I just purchased a car that had a very faint smell from a smoker. It was not too bad so I bought it. Four days later and I can’t sit in it for more than a few minutes without getting a sore throat, headache, crappy taste in my mouth, etc. I think it is from whatever they used to get rid of or hide the smoke smell. I bought some Fabreze to see what it would do and I thought I was going to die! It seems that a common ingredient to in the Dakota Bomb type odor products and Febreze is cyclodextrin. Apparently it is quite an irritant for some of us. Let me know if you figured out how to get rid of it. I am about ready to stuff a garden hose in the vents. It is water-soluble. Also, heat makes it release the smell as well. They use it in dryer sheets.

      • nc November 11, 2013, 4:49 pm

        If you think it’s in the HVAC system, it might be worth trying out one of the “1Z einszett Klima-Cleaner” above..

        • Ben November 17, 2013, 5:57 pm

          You are absolutely right! I ended up using a product like the Klima cleaner ( because that is what was available) and it worked pretty good but I still had some faint issues. I followed it up with a commercial ozone shock treatment directed right into the evaporator ducting. I also sprayed some bleach water on my outside vent intake (by the front window). The coil cleaner and ozone seemed to do the most. I also verified the drain was clear for the evaporator tray.

          In short, I no longer believe it from the Febreze type stuff rather more from some kind of growth in my HVAC that I am sensitive to.

          Thanks for helping me get it sorted out.

  • Mark Wilder December 21, 2011, 7:33 pm

    I had just bought a used Honda Civic that had a horrible cig smell. I told the dealer that I wouldn’t buy it unless they got rid of the cig smell out of the car. A couple days later they called me and said that they took care of the problem and when I went to pick it up I asked them how they did it and they said they used this product called the Auto Shocker quick release and that you can buy it at biocidesystems.com for your own personal use. I bought the car and I’ve had it for a year now and not one bit of cigarette smell has been noticed so the product works great, I highly recommend it for any odor problems in your car!

    • dingus magee July 11, 2013, 2:50 pm

      How fake is this review from Mark Wilder! Jeeze.

  • mike January 15, 2013, 3:44 am

    No one thought to replace the cabin air filter? I would have done that before spraying foam into vents.

    • nc January 15, 2013, 6:19 am

      Great point! I actually did think of it on my vehicle.. unfortunately, it doesn’t have one. ;) But yes – that would certainly be the first step to take if your car has one.

      Appreciate your response!

  • caroline November 14, 2015, 3:36 pm

    I took over a company car from a heavy smoker who masked the smell with some sort of chemical spray which worked well, (although I wouldn’t have minded, as used to smoke myself many moons ago ) only it has made me feel so tired and sick every time I have to drive the car. I wonder what chemical she’d used and how to eliminate or neutralise it? Any ideas gentlemen?

  • Scott March 20, 2016, 4:01 pm

    I know this is an older thread but thought I’d share another way to get funky vent odors out. While the car and AC are running lift the hood and spray Lysol into the air cleaner box and it should kill and clean the sources of the stench, including molds. Also replace your air filter but do the Lysol treatment with the filter out of the car.

  • JaLissa December 1, 2016, 2:46 pm

    I used to work at a car dealership. One of the first cars I ever sold had smoke odor inside of it so we bombed it with a strong orange can spray within 24 hours the smoke smell had completely returned. We had this machine that the body shop would put in the car for 24hrs it would make the car smell like a swimming pool but even than the smoke odor would return usually after 6 moths to a year. I’m extremely sensitive to smoke smell one thing that works is coffee grounds which will help soak up the smell.

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