Kick cigarette odor in the butt with these simple tips
Where there’s smoke, there isn’t always fire. Knowing how to get rid of the cigarette smell from years of indoor smoking can improve your home's value. Cigarette smoke comes with odors and residual soot, but don’t let a stubborn smell ruin the purchase of your dream home. This guide will show you how to tackle the smell, yellow or brown stains, and ash residue left behind.
Why Is Cigarette Odor a Big Deal?
That oh-so-familiar smell of cigarettes may be annoying to someone who doesn’t smoke—but it might also be harmful. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, secondhand smoke is a carcinogen that contains more than 7,000 different substances. Some toxic chemicals, like nicotine, are still present in thirdhand smoke, the residue that sinks into fabrics, upholstery, and other surfaces in your home.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s not a ton of research on thirdhand smoke, but it may still pose a health risk. Young children are especially vulnerable because they’re more likely to put things in their mouths. In other words, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Smoke smell removal won’t just eliminate unpleasant odors; it’ll also eliminate the potentially harmful residue.
Signs of Cigarette Smoke Damage
If you’ve purchased a home from a smoker, it may be difficult to tell the extent of the cigarette buildup. Realtors don’t have to disclose whether a smoker lived on the premises, and all it takes is a new coat of paint and an air freshener to mask damage. Nonetheless, there are some things to look out for. These signs are a pretty good indication that cigarette smoke has affected your home:
A smoke smell on fabric or upholstered surfaces like curtains, carpet, and sofas
Yellow or brown stains on soft surfaces like lamps, curtains, wallpaper, and linens
Yellowing or browning along the walls, floors, and ceiling
Yellow or brown stains around door frames and exhaust fans
Brown-rimmed holes or burn marks on soft surfaces
Cigarette butts in outdoor spaces like a patio, porch, or backyard
How to Get Rid of Cigarette Smell
When you’re trying to remove the smell of cigarette smoke, focus first on the biggest culprits. Smoke sticks in fabric and upholstered surfaces like carpeting, rugs, linens, couches, and curtains—but it also sticks to hard surfaces like walls, ceilings, countertops, windows, and tile.
Cigarette smoke can even hide in decor and appliances. While a vinegar- or bleach-based cleaner specifically formulated to remove odors is a great tool to start with, the following methods can help with the most stubborn of smoke smells.
1. Air Out the Space
A little fresh air goes a long way, and ventilation will drastically help eliminate cigarette odor. Open all of your windows and prop open the doors. Strategically place fans to help pull out the indoor air. Not only does this help get rid of the cigarette smell, but it also helps ventilate the space once you start using heavy-duty cleaning supplies.
2. Let the Light In
UV rays help neutralize odors, so pull up the blinds. If you have smoke-filled decor or furniture, take it outside and let it sit in the sun for a few hours. Keep in mind that strong sunlight can fade fabrics and damage delicate pieces. Your antiques and designer throw pillows will fare better in the shade.
3. Absorb the Smell With Baking Soda
Baking soda absorbs odors, so it’s not surprising that it’s one of the single most powerful ways to banish stubborn cigarette smoke. To effectively eliminate odors using baking soda, sprinkle a thin layer on fabric surfaces like your carpet, sofa, armchair, or rug. Let the baking soda sit for at least two hours (preferably overnight). Then vacuum up the baking soda, and make sure to use the upholstery attachment on your upholstery.
For smaller items like books, place them in a plastic trash bag with 1/2 cup of baking soda. Tie the bag shut and let it sit for eight hours before removing the items and shaking them clean.
4. Rinse With White Vinegar
Most people have white vinegar under the sink but don’t underestimate this DIY household cleaner. Its acidity helps neutralize the high pH of smoke molecules. Make a cleaning solution using one-part vinegar tothree-parts water. Use it to clean your carpet and scrub smoky surfaces like walls, floors, ceilings, and countertops.
To remove even more odor, you can set bowls of vinegar around your house overnight, try simmering a saucepan filled with vinegar on the stovetop, and wash your clothes and linens with 1/2 cup of vinegar and your normal laundry detergent.
5. Scrub Your Surfaces With an Ammonia Solution
If vinegar doesn’t cut it, try using ammonia. Make a solution of 1 tablespoon of ammonia per 1 cup of water.Use a soft cleaning brush or sponge to scrub the smoke stains off of your walls, ceilings, counters, and floors. Just be careful to never mix ammonia with a cleaner that contains chlorine bleach because it creates hazardous fumes.
6. Use Activated Charcoal
You may have heard of activated charcoal water filters, but charcoal can also help you remove the smell of cigarette smoke around your house. The carbon traps odor molecules in the air, similar to how baking soda works. You can purchase loose activated charcoal, but it’s also commonly sold in bags.
To beat bad odors, hang a few bags of activated charcoal around each room or place them on smoky surfaces. If you have loose charcoal, put it in bowls around your house.
7. Steam Clean Your Home
If smoke has settled into your carpeting, upholstery, and walls over the years, baking soda and activated charcoal may not cut it. Instead, you may need to steam clean your space. This will help soften the tar and resin (those odor-filled brown and yellow stains you might see along your walls) and make them easier to scrub away. If you don’t have a steam cleaner, you can rent one or hire a professional carpet cleaner.
Steam cleaning is a delicate process that can damage drywall and some fabrics, so proceed carefully. Make sure you never hold the steam cleaner’s head in one spot for too long because that area could melt or burn.
8. Change Your HVAC Filters
An HVAC system can’t eliminate all odors, but changing the filter can help trap some of the smoke smell. If anything, a clogged filter will just blow smoke odors around the house and reduce the airflow, which allows for nasty particles to build up inside your ducts.
At a minimum, Energy Star recommends changing your air filter every three months, but you may want to do it more often if you’re a regular smoker or have pets. If possible, switch to a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, though not every unit is compatible.
9. Get a Duct Cleaning
The same odor-causing smoke molecules that sink into your walls and carpet can build up inside your ducts, especially if someone has been smoking heavily inside your home for years. You may notice a blast of smoky air whenever you turn on your HVAC unit. If that’s the case, clean your ducts. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, hire an air duct cleaner specializing in cigarette smells and smoke residue.
10. Spray an Odor Eliminator
There are a lot of odor eliminators on the market. Some work better than others, but even the strongest odor eliminator is just a short-term solution. They’ll cut the surface odors, but you’ll still need to deep clean the area.
Look for an odor-eliminator with the ingredient cyclodextrin. It works like a flytrap for odor molecules. These molecules bind to the product as it dries, pulling the smell from the air and making it easier to wash the area with water and help eliminate that smoke smell for good.
11. Put Your Washing Machine to Work
Cigarette smoke doesn’t just stick to your walls and carpet. It sticks to just about everything inside your house. Machine wash your clothing with 1 cup of baking soda or 1/2 cup of white vinegar to help banish smoke smells. Consider washing other fabrics (as long they’re machine washable):
Curtains and drapes
Pillows and pillow covers
Linens, towels, and bedsheets
Placemats, tea towels, pot holders
Blankets and throws
12. Don’t Forget the Details
Cigarette smoke sticks in the places where you least expect it. To truly get rid of cigarette smell, you’ll need to clean your entire house from top to bottom. This includes detailing areas like:
The inside of cabinets and drawers
Around ceiling fans, exhaust vents, and radiators
You can use a store-bought cleaner designed to eliminate odors or one of the DIY methods outlined above—just don’t forget the nooks and crannies.
13. Repaint and Replace
If cigarette odor has built up over the years, it may be nearly impossible to remove it. In this case, the best solution is to replace the items that are most likely holding odor. Consider replacing wall-to-wall carpeting, smoke-filled furniture, and even your light bulbs. They’re a sneaky place where nicotine residue can hide.
If your walls are stained, give them a fresh coat of paint. Make sure you clean the walls first because the nicotine will damage the paint’s finish. A local interior painter can help you choose a paint that’s strong enough to stand up to smoke stains. You’ll need to use a primer with an odor sealant. You may also want to refinish your hardwood flooring if the smell has sunk into the varnish.
How to Prevent Cigarette Smells and Smoke Damage
The best way to get rid of cigarette odor is to prevent it. Don’t give the smoke a chance to settle inside your home. Here’s what you can do.
1. Invest in a Good Air Purifier
An air purifier can help remove cigarette smoke before it has a chance to settle inside your home. HEPA filters are the gold standard, but they come in different grades. Tobacco smoke contains particles as small as 0.1 microns, so search for a high-quality purifier that can filter out particles of that size. If that’s not in your budget, a basic purifier that can filter out particles of 0.3 microns can still dramatically reduce harmful smoke particles.
2. Keep Up With Your HVAC Maintenance
All homeowners need to service their HVAC system regularly, but it’s particularly important for smokers. In general, homeowners should clean their air ducts every two to five years and replace their system’s air filter every three months. Not sure where to start? Use this HVAC maintenance checklist.
3. Smoke Outside, Away From Open Windows
It may seem obvious, but don’t smoke indoors if you don’t want your house to smell like smoke. Take your smoke break outside of your home and away from open windows and vents.
4. Perform Regular Deep Cleanings
If you’re an occasional indoor smoker or if you smoke near an open window, it’s important to perform regular deep cleanings before the residue has a chance to settle and build up inside your home.
DIY Smoke Smell Removal vs. Hiring a Pro
Cigarette smoke is difficult to remove once it settles. Many homeowners try to fight the odor on their own—whether that includes a deep cleaning, minor stain removal, or replacing carpet. Unfortunately, if the damage is severe and someone has been smoking in your home for years, you may need to hire a local smoke restoration company to tackle the smell.
The cost of repairing smoke damage depends on what you need done. Most homeowners pay $200 to $1,000 to repair smoke damage and another $200 to $1,000 to deodorize furniture. Expect to pay $200 to $400 for an ozone treatment that can break down odor molecules.
Does cigarette smoke lower your home value?
Cigarette smoke can reduce your home’s resale value by up to 30%, though sellers aren’t required to disclose whether or not someone has smoked indoors.
What is the fastest way to get rid of cigarette smell?
To quickly get rid of the cigarette smell from a room, you can air out your space and use an odor elimination spray on soft surfaces like your couch, drapes, and walls. Be forewarned that it will not get rid of the smell entirely. You need to eliminate the source, which is the tar and smoke residue, or the smell will return. Deep cleaning should help.
What kills cigarette smell?
Bleach- or vinegar-based cleaners are particularly effective at eliminating smoke odor from surfaces. For fabrics, baking soda or an upholstery cleaner may be your best bet. Activated charcoal is another option that absorbs the smell.
Does cigarette smell ever go away?
The smell will eventually dissipate if someone lights a single cigarette in your home. The more ventilation, the faster it will happen. The real issue is repeat smoking because tar and smoke residue build up on surfaces. In that case, you will need a deep cleaning to remove the smell permanently.