This paper reports the development of an experimental technique for optical remote sensing of broad-band absorbers in ambient air. Broadband absorbers have been difficult to detect due to a lack of narrow absorption features, which makes it hard to separate them from interference with other absorbing species and background. In combination with a multidimensional linear regression procedure, we have developed a further step to correct for water vapor and background influences. Various physical processes limiting the detection sensitivity were studied and solutions were developed to reduce their influences. Although the received optical signal from backscatter was very weak as no corner cube reflector was used, we have demonstrated the technique on remote sensing of broadband absorption of ethanol vapor in ambient air with a moderate detection limit of 200 ppm · m. This portable handheld system is particularly suitable for quick "point-and-measure" applications. The developed technique is also applicable for detection of other broadband absorbers.