How to Fix Cigarette Burns in Cars: Step by Step Guide & Prevention Tips

My guess is that you’re here because you have a cigarette burn on your car upholstery you want to get rid of, or you’re being a responsible car owner and are learning about this to be ready for it whenever (if ever) it happens to you.

And good on you for doing so! We’ll tell you all about why it’s super important to tackle this type of damage as soon as possible in just a while.

In this article, you’ll learn about all the steps you need to take to fix cigarette burns in cars, and we’ll hold your hand through the process from start to finish. (And no, don’t worry about it, you won’t be reweaving the seat fabric!).

Man driving car with right hand on the steering wheel while holding a burning cigarette

Starting from all the supplies you need to have on hand before you begin the process, to everything you need to do to get the job done – we have you covered. For those of you who aren’t fans of DIY projects, we’ve covered alternative solutions as well.

Finally, we share some tips to avoid repeat incidences. One thing’s for sure: You don’t want to make upholstery repair a regular activity!

Why Should You Fix Cigarette Burns in Cars ASAP?

The average cigarette gets hotter than you might imagine. As a matter of fact, the lit end can reach temperatures of roughly 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that dropped ashes can easily burn through most materials.

If you have a car cigarette burn, you should make an effort to address the issue as soon as possible. Otherwise, the hole can get worse over time, and decrease your car’s value if you were planning to sell it.

Worsening Damage

This is more likely going to happen if it’s in an area that sees a lot of action, like the middle of the driver’s seat. The stuffing inside your chair can begin to emerge, making things look worse.

It isn’t just about aesthetics, either. It’s simpler to patch up the surface of the material rather than plug up a deep groove.

Decrease Resale Price

Those of you who are aiming to sell your vehicle one day will surely want to get the best price for it.

If the cigarette burn starts to look really bad, you may have to involve a professional to get it properly fixed, which can be very costly. Otherwise, you could end up selling your car for less than what it’s worth.

What Different Types of Upholstery Can Experience Cigarette Burns?

Let’s begin by getting familiar with the different varieties of upholstery.

Your car might have a combination of one or more of these materials in it. If you’re not sure what you have, consult your owner’s manual – 9 times out of 10, it’ll all be clear to you when you check the details out over there.

Nylon

Nylon is made of synthetic plastics that are manufactured into fibers.

These can then be made to feel soft or coarse, depending on the application. In our cars, it’s always the former: no one wants to sit on rough seats!

There are several advantages to nylon in cars. For the most part, it’s resistant to heat, general wear and tear, and staining. These qualities make it easy to clean whenever it gets dirty.

The downside, though, is that it melts almost instantly when exposed to fire. (Speaking of fire, be sure to keep a car fire extinguisher with you when driving at all times).

Polyester

Polyester is a versatile substance made from synthetic polymers. Aside from being used for upholstery in our cars, it’s also found in rubber tires, enamel paints, and more.

In fabric form, it’s nearly as tough as nylon. Polyester won’t wrinkle, stretch or shrink, and it dries quite quickly when wet.

If exposed to fire (or hot cigarette ashes), it melts and can catch fire at the same time. You want to be careful beating out flames, as the hot melted polyester can stick to skin.

When left to cool down, the melted parts harden.

Vinyl

Vinyl is created from synthetic plastics; it’s also known as Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC).

It’s durable, stain-resistant, moisture-repellent and doesn’t wrinkle with time. However, being plastic, it’ll melt quickly if it catches fire.

It can be made in a range of textures and colors.

Faux Leather

Faux leather is a cheaper alternative to genuine leather. The construction will vary depending on the manufacturer, though.

Some are fabrics like polyester that have been coated with PVC (vinyl) or other plastic-based fabrics. The surface material is treated during manufacture to have a similar look and feel to real leather.

How it burns can vary, and this will depend on the base materials.

Leather

Leather is an animal skin (or hide) that has been treated with chemicals to preserve it. Most leather is made from cow or horse hides.

This is the most expensive type of upholstery you can get in your car. The labor-intensive process is what influences the cost.

It takes a lot of time and effort to fashion leather products, whether we’re talking about car upholstery, clothing, or bags.

At the same time, leather is more flame-retardant than plastic-based fabrics. In other words, it shouldn’t sustain serious damage if you drop ash on it, as long as you put it out fast.

What Supplies Will You Need to Fix The Cigarette Burns in Your Car?

The first thing you’ll need for burn spot removal to do is prepare your supplies.

There are a few items that are specific to certain upholstery repairs, and we’ll list those in the appropriate section below.

Others are general in nature, meaning that anyone looking to fix a burn should buy them, regardless of the type of upholstery they have in their vehicle.

General Supplies

Get the following equipment and tools:

  • Fabric scalpel (optional, but it will make the task much easier).
  • Sharp scissors (for cutting patches, filler, etc).
  • Toothpicks or tweezers.
  • Cloth or foam material (to use as filler).
  • Fabric glue.
  • Appropriate cleaning product for your upholstery.

Nylon and Polyester

You have two options here.

First off, if the carpeting on your car matches the seats, you’ll need a razor blade. You’ll be using the carpet fabric as a patch.

If not, you’ll have to buy a similar matching fabric to use as a patch. In this case, you won’t need a razor blade.

Vinyl

As with nylon and polyester, you have a choice. You can choose vinyl spray paint to completely cover the burn, which is ideal for smaller burn holes.

You’ll need:

  • Vinyl spray paint (matching your upholstery).
  • Sandpaper.
  • Filler glue.

For a larger cigarette burn hole, spray paint alone might not be enough. In such a case, you’ll have to buy a vinyl patch instead.

Faux Leather

Buy yourself a bottle of faux leather pigment.

Leather

You’ll need:

  • Leather pigment.
  • Leather conditioner.

Tips to Keep in Mind When Fixing Cigarette Burns in Cars

In the following section, we’ve listed a few tips to keep in mind for before, after, and during the repair.

These suggestions should help get you the results you want, and stay as safe as possible when doing all that work.

Safety First

You’re going to be handling sharp items and chemical adhesives, so keep curious pets and children away from you and your vehicle until you’re finished.

Invest in the Right Supplies

Invest in quality glue and sharp fabric scissors or a scalpel.

Dull blades can make the task much harder than it has to be, and a cheap brand of glue may take longer to dry or might have poor consistency. So, choose super glue if possible.

Let There Be Light

When doing any vehicle-related work, you need to be able to see what you’re doing – and this is especially true for a delicate task like this.

This isn’t the kind of task you should do in a dark garage with just your interior lights on. Set aside time during the day to perform this work, preferably when it’s sunny outside.

Take Your Time

Some of you may find this sort of repair easier than others. For instance, those of you who work with fabrics on a regular basis might be more comfortable and acquainted with the whole process.

If this is your first time fixing upholstery, don’t rush yourself through the task. There’s nothing wrong with taking some extra time to make sure you don’t make mistakes.

How to Fix Cigarette Burns in Cars

Now that you have all the necessary equipment you’ll need to work with, and a few valuable tips to keep in mind, let’s dive deep into what you came here for: how to fix car cigarette burns.

Before we begin, take note that results can vary based on the severity of the burn. Usually, the larger and deeper the hole, the trickier it will be to hide completely.

Nylon or Polyester

Here’s how you can fix the burn on nylon or polyester:

Clean Surface

Gently clean the area surrounding the burn to remove dust or debris. If you’ve wet the fabric, allow it to dry completely before you continue.

Cut Charred Fabric Away

Remove any charred, melted pieces of fabric with your scissors. For finer work, get the scalpel out.

Be careful not to slice away more than is needed. You don’t want to make the hole any bigger than it already is.

Collect Matching Fibers or Cut Your Patch

The carpeting in your vehicle may be identical to your upholstery. If so, find an inconspicuous place to gather some fibers, such as underneath your car’s seat. If this isn’t the case, skip ahead to the next step.

Use your razor blade to shave away the desired amount. Try to use a shaving motion over the surface rather than slicing into the fabric.

Don’t go overboard when doing this, though, as you don’t want to leave another mark in your car. Put the fibers aside, since you’ll need them shortly.

If gathering matching fibers from your car isn’t an option, don’t worry. Get your scissors out and cut material to the size of the hole. When doing this, try to be as accurate as possible.

Fill It Up

You have two choices here.

If the hole is shallow, you can add a little bit of glue to fill it in.

For deeper burns, you might want to use your cloth or foam filler. Coat the hole with fabric glue, then use your tweezers (or toothpick) to pack the material in. Cut away any excess so that the end result is a flat surface.

Whether you used glue or filler material, give it time to dry. Check the label of your glue to know how much time this will take.

Apply the Patch

Prepare the fabric you cut out earlier for your patch. Apply fabric glue to the packed-in hole and flatten the matching fabric over it with your tweezers or toothpick.

Adjust as needed to make sure it’s smooth and flat.

Then, let it dry, and you’re done!

Vinyl – Patch Fix

Follow these steps to repair a deeper hole in vinyl seats: (Note that there are two options for repairing vinyl.)

Clean Surface

Clean the surface surrounding the burn to clear away any dirt. Make sure there are no traces of dirt or dust left behind. This could interfere with the fabric glue.

Cut The Burn

If there are pieces of burned fabric, slice them away with your scalpel. You don’t have to do this if it’s a “clean” hole.

Pack the Hole

Get out your filler cloth or foam. Coat the inside of the hole with fabric glue, and pack it as needed with the material.

Remove excess with your scalpel so that you don’t have a lumpy surface for the patch.

Patch It Up

Cut your vinyl patch to size if you haven’t already. Apply fabric glue to the packed burn and the area surrounding it, if necessary.

Glue your patch on and wait for the adhesive to dry. Wipe away extra glue immediately, and your fix is complete.

Vinyl – Spray Paint Fix

Are you dealing with a smaller, shallower burn on your vinyl upholstery? In that case, prepare your spray paint, and follow these steps:

Clean Surface

Wipe away any dirt around or on the hole. You want to work with a clean surface.

Remove Charred Fabric

Cut away any pieces of charred fabric with your scalpel so that the hole is flat.

If the burn is clean, move on to the next step.

Get Out Your Glue

Apply filler glue directly into the hole until it’s full to the brim. Then, let the adhesive dry.

Sand It Down

Using your sandpaper, sand the dried glue down until the packed hole is level.

If you get carried away and sand too far down, you’ll have to add more adhesive.

Spray Paint

Wipe your upholstery with a dry cloth to get rid of any residue. Apply your vinyl spray paint to the glued-in hole and let it dry.

Once you get this step done, you’ve completed the fix!

Faux Leather

Hide that unattractive burn on your faux leather car upholstery by following these step-by-step guidelines:

Clean the Surface

Wipe the upholstery around the hole until it’s clean.

Remove Charred Fabric

If there are any solid charred pieces, slice them off with your scalpel. You want a level surface rather than a bumpy one.

Use Your Faux Leather Pigment

Use the product you’ve purchased, and follow the instructions to a T as directed.

You’ll likely have to fill the holes with it and allow it to dry.

Leather

Leather repairs are the most challenging type of upholstery to repair.

If you had a cigarette burn penetrate the leather car seat of yours, it’s preferable to consult a professional rather than attempt it on your own with something like a leather repair kit (i.e a leather touch up kit).

Since this is the most expensive type, if you were to do any mistakes while trying to fix that car cigarette burn, you’ll likely end up paying more money than you would have had you hired a professional in the first place.

Follow these steps when trying to fix a cigarette burn on your leather seats:

Clean Surface

Clean the upholstery around the burn with leather cleaner. Let it dry completely.

Remove Charred Fabric

If there are uneven pieces of burnt leather around the hole, slice them off.

Make sure your scalpel is sharp; you don’t want to cut away more than you need to.

Fill in the Hole

Apply fabric glue into the hole and pack it with your cloth or foam filler material.

Use your tweezers so that there are no gaps which could cause the leather to bunch up. You want to get everything in tightly, with no expanding lumps.

Then, use filler glue as a sealant. Allow it to dry and sand it down with your sandpaper to make sure it’s even.

Be precise while you’re doing this, as you don’t want to wear down undamaged leather.

Apply Leather Pigment

Add the leather pigment as directed, and let it dry.

Condition

Condition the repaired leather for a sleek finish.

What Other Options Are There?

If DIY isn’t appealing to you when trying to fix cigarette holes in your car upholstery, you can pick between two other approaches.

Either purchase a cigarette burn repair kit, or go to a professional for help.

Cigarette Burn Repair Kit

There’s a kit for everything these days—including cigarette burn repair. Such a touch up kit comes with all the accessories you’ll need, from glue to patches.

Ensure the brand you choose is appropriate for your upholstery (material, color, etc) before you buy it, though. This is super important!

Professional Help

If you’re aiming to get your upholstery looking brand new again and fixed as best as possible, you’ll need it done by a professional. You can check with local detailing or upholstery repair shops.

This is especially advisable if you have genuine leather upholstery or severe burns. A careless DIY repair could worsen the damage and end up costing you more to fix.

We advise that you consult with several businesses to get different quotes. The prices can vary dramatically based on your upholstery type, how badly burnt it is and the business itself.

The highest quote you receive doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be the best job you’ll get, and you shouldn’t try to go with the cheapest quote just to save money either, as that might backfire on you.

How to Prevent Cigarette Burns in Cars

If you’re a smoker or happen to drive with passengers who smoke, you can take measures to prevent burns from reoccurring.

No Smoking Policy

While you may not particularly like it, a no-smoking policy in your car is the only guaranteed method to prevent cigarette burns from ever happening.

Your friends and other passengers might not particularly like you for it, but it’ll be better in the long-term for both your health and your upholstery.

Don’t Smoke While Driving

If you must smoke in your car, do it when the vehicle is stationary. You’re more likely to drop your cigarette or ashes in the wrong place while the car is in motion.

Smokers have a greater risk of getting into an accident than non-smokers.

Conclusion

By now, you’re aware of all the options you have for fixing cigarette burns in cars.

Always remember that you should make it a priority to repair the damage quickly, as soon as you can. Time is not on your side here, and you don’t want the hole to grow larger or stuffing to come out of your seats!

Ideally, you shouldn’t be smoking in your car at all. Not you, nor any of your passengers.

However, if you absolutely must smoke in your vehicle, reduce your chances of accidents or injuries by limiting smoking breaks to when you’re parked.

Plus, think of the aesthetic benefits there are to have. Spills and stains are simple to clean away, but patching up a burn mark is definitely not so.

Kyle Palmer

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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