How to Remove Smoke Stains in Cars


Jackie asked: How do I remove smoke stains in cars. My spouse and I both smoke in my car. The ceiling and other parts of the car have dark, black residue. How can I clean the fabric without it pilling?

Unfortunately, there is no easy cleaning method for smoke stains of this type. The method you should use depends on the condition of the ceiling fabric and the adhesive holding it up. The rest of the upholstery should be more durable, but even that can easily be damaged if it’s weak or compromised (as might be the case with continued exposure to smoke). As a result, you should be extremely careful as you work. Start with gentle motions and test as inconspicuously as possible to prevent damaging your vehicle’s interior.

You Will Need:

  • A foam upholstery cleaner
  • Sponge
  • Water
  • Vacuum

Steps to Remove the Stain:

  1. Begin by vacuuming all areas of the car that are going to be cleaned. This will remove any loose dirt or dust.
  2. Spray foam upholstery cleaner, following the directions and precautions on the can. For best results, choose a product specified for automotive use.
  3. Use a damp sponge to scrub carpets, seats, and the more durable stained fabrics (not the ceiling). Rinse the sponge frequently with clean water.
  4. Allow the upholstery cleaner to remain on the ceiling for a while (or as directed on the label) to give it more time to work. Gently dab or wipe the dry foam away. Repeat as needed.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • An alternative method is to use a steam cleaner with an upholstery attachment.  However, the suction action of the steam cleaner could separate the ceiling fabric from the roof of the car, so use extreme caution if you attempt to do this.
  • Avoid scrubbing the ceiling. Using pressure may cause piling or separation. Most vehicle seats can withstand gentle scrubbing action without damage to the upholstery.
  • For best results, ensure that the area to be cleaned is free of loose debris, dust, and grime before you begin.
  • If the stains are not removed with the cleaner, try pre-treating it with some vinegar. The acid in the vinegar will cut through the nicotine that leaves the dark staining. Test a small area first to ensure there are no unwanted results.
  • If you have any adverse effects on the test areas or problems with the fabric separating from the ceiling or becoming damaged, do not continue with the cleaning. If the fabric is too fragile to clean at home, it may require professional servicing to remove the stains safely and more gently.

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