There are few things more disgusting than having to clean up a house or apartment that been saturated to the core with cigarette or another tobacco smoke smell! If you’ve ever spent time around a smoker, you know the odor lingers – long after they’ve left the room. But for homes or apartments where smokers lived, that nasty odor can stay for years.
The reason is simple; smoke gets everywhere! From deep in the carpet, to furnitures and windows coverings – it hangs in the air, sticks to walls, ceilings, and and floors, as well as kitchen cabinets, and it even gets trapped deep inside heating ducts where it can spread through your entire house!
If you’ve found yourself stuck with a smelly abode to live in, rent, or sell, here’s how to remove the stink and clear the air.
What You’ll Need
- Paper Towels
- Multi-Surface Spray Cleaner
- Clean Sponges
- New Sponge Mop
- Bucket of Soapy Water (a solution of TSP, trisodium phosphate, works best)
- Steam Cleaner
- Steam Cleaning Solution
- Duct Cleaning Brush
Understanding Cigarette & Tobacco Residue
The first step to deep cleaning process is to understand what we’re dealing with. When cigarette smoke floats into the air, it spreads out and sticks to whatever it touches. What doesn’t stick to surfaces, walls, and the ceiling will eventually settle back down onto the floor and into the carpet. These particles are then ground in with our feet when we walk. On light-colored surfaces, this patina of cigarette residue is faintly yellow, growing more intensely yellow with layers and time.
Scrubbing the Tobacco Smoke Smell Away
Now that you know what you’re dealing with, prepare to blast that tobacco smoke smell and yellow residue from every surface and material in the home. Start by working from top to bottom on all furniture, counter, cabinetry etc. Mix up a solution of TSP (trisodium phosphate) which is a soapy cleaner found in hardware stores of the paint esile of your favorite home improvement superstore) and use a combination of moist paper towels and soapy sponges to get every hard or smooth surface in the house. Change the towels frequently so that you don’t end up spreading the smoky residue around. Get into corners, undersides, and especially the upper areas where smoke tends to linger.
Another way to get to the hard to reach places is buy using a sponge mop. Get a brand new one that’s never scrubbed a floor, and get it damp with the clean soapy (TSP) water and scrub away, making sure to rinse it frequently and change the soapy water often.
LESLIE: Alright. Now we’ve got William from Texas on the line with a question about cigarette smell.
William, welcome to The Money Pit. What can we help you with today?
WILLIAM: Well, my daughter bought a house. And the person that she bought the house from smokes cigarettes. And the house – when you walk – as soon as you walk in the door, the cigarette smell hits you. And it was basically throughout the house. And we’re in the process of trying to figure out how we’re going to get all that smell out, short of ripping the walls out.
TOM: Does the house have carpet?
TOM: Then it’s probably got to go.
TOM: I mean you can try steam-cleaning it to get rid of the cigarette smell but it gets into the padding and everything else. The least you have to do is steam-clean it. You can steam clean any upholstery left from the previous owners – not just the carpets. But what you want to do on the walls is you want to paint the walls with a really good primer. And so an oil-based primer or an alkyd-based primer will seal in that odor.
Clean the walls well, use a TSP – trisodium phosphate – to wash them down and then prime the walls. If you don’t prime the walls, the cigarette smell will basically permeate right through the new paint. But if you clean them and you prime them well, that will do a – go a long way towards getting rid of a lot of that odor. That plus removing the carpet or at least steam-cleaning the carpet are the two most important things to do.
LESLIE: Yeah. And you know what? If you do end up removing the carpet, make sure they remove the padding, as well. And if it’s a wood subfloor, you want to paint it again with that same odor-blocking primer because that will do a lot to help with that, as well. And I don’t know if you’ve held on to any of the draperies or any other soft goods from the previous owners. Just get rid of them or really have them cleaned well.
WILLIAM: OK. That will work. I appreciate your answer.
Prime and Paint to Seal in Remaining Smoke Stink
Even after the walls and ceilings are thoroughly cleaned, there will still probably be some lingering tobacco smoke smell left. Drywall is paper faced and will absorb that odor to a depth where all the scrubbing in the world won’t remove. Plus, textured ceilings are particularly impossible to clean and you certainly can’t scrub them effectively.
That’s why the next best step is painting, but not just with another top coat. If you really want to wipe out the smell, you’ll need to prime the walls and ceilings with preferably an oil-based primer like KILZ. Even though primers are available in latex formulas, I have found that only the oil-based really does the job of permanently sealing in the tobacco smoke smell odor. Once the primer has dried, you can apply a latex top coat color of your choosing.
Removing Tobacco Smell from Carpets: Steam-Clean or Replace?
The carpets are often the most long-suffering victims of a smoking habit and the carpets in homes with smokers tend to get unpleasantly matted and sticky. There are two ways to approach this problem.
First, if you think the carpet is worth saving, rent a steam cleaner and be prepared to go over each section ten or more times before the solution sucked back up into the waste tank is white and sudsy instead of brown and gross. Just like walls, carpets are very absorbent. Not only will the odor of cigarette smoke smell saturate the carpet itself, but it will grab hold of the padding, as well as the sub-floor below! That’s why unless there’s a very compelling reason ot keep the carpet, its best to remove the carpet and padding, and then clean and paint the subfloor, as described above, using an oil-based primer to completely seal in any reminaging smoky stink!
Clean the Vents and Ducts to Remove Cigarette Smoke Smell
Finally, and here’s something many people forget, there’s still a tone of nicotine-infused dust hiding in your air ducts and clinging to your vents. Pull down the vents and was them by hand, replace your AC and furnace filters, then clean your ducts with a stiff brush or, if you’d prefer, call a professional to do it for you. This will ensure that the final remnant of old stale cigarette smoke smell is completely gone.
With clean surfaces, fresh paint, and gleaming ducts, your home is finally rid of the tobacco smoke smell and ready to house a non-smoking family. Whether this effort has been for your health and happiness after a quit or you’ve simply found yourself in charge of a nicotine-tinged house, with a complete and thorough deep-clean, even a home that has been smoked in for 50 years straight can be restored to clean hypoallergenic perfection.