How to Clean Cigarette Smoke Odors

Young woman unshuttering the window
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You've moved into the perfect home or have found a great apartment and want to settle in, but there's just one problem: The previous residents were smokers, and it reeks of stale cigarette smoke. This is not an easy problem to fix, but with time, patience, and a lot of thorough cleaning, you can get rid of the odor for good.

How Often to Clean

Provided that you don't also smoke, you should be able to eliminate the cigarette odors with one to two thorough cleanings. However, if you also smoke, you will have to clean the walls and floors regularly to ward off the odors. Consider smoking outdoors to keep the smell from permeating your furniture.

What You Need

Supplies

Ammonia- and glycol-based cleaning solution

Cleaning rags

Warm water

Rug cleaning solution

Wood cleaner

Vinegar

How to Clean to Eliminate Cigarette Odors

When it comes to smoke smells, cleaning the entire home is key. Many people make the mistake of cleaning just the walls of their home, thinking that will be enough, but it's important to thoroughly clean both the walls and the ceilings, as well as the carpet or hardwood floors.

  1. Clean the walls and ceiling

    Use cleaning products that contain ammonia and glycol, both key ingredients for neutralizing the smell. Just be aware that these are harsh chemicals, so you need to keep pets and small children out of the room you're working on. Test an area of the walls and ceiling first just to see how the paint will withstand the cleanser.

  2. Dry the walls and ceiling

    After cleaning thoroughly and letting the surfaces dry, smell the walls. Can you still smell cigarette smoke? Keep checking after a day or two, as the smell of the cleaner may be masking the smoke.

  3. Clean the Carpets

    Carpets are responsible for retaining a lot of the smell of cigarette smoke. Use a strong rug cleaner and apply the product generously around the room, getting into all of the corners and edges. Follow the instructions, leaving the product on for the maximum time allotted. Vacuum the carpet thoroughly, let it dry completely, then do a smell test. If you can still smell smoke in the carpet, you may need to hire professionals to do a deep cleaning.

  4. Clean the Floors and Doors

    For wood floors and doors, make sure you use a cleaner that is wood-friendly. Mop the floor thoroughly, and change the mop water regularly. If necessary, you may need to hand-scrub corners and floor edges. Clean the baseboards and door frames. 

  5. Clean the Drapes and Blinds

Remove all drapes and blinds. Drapes may need to be dry-cleaned. If so, make sure you talk to the dry-cleaner about removing the smoke smell. If your drapes can be washed, wash them in hot water. Add some vinegar to the wash water; vinegar is a great odor neutralizer and natural cleaner. Use one cup vinegar per full load. Just make sure you add the vinegar to the water before placing drapes into the washer. Vinegar is a natural bleach and will fade colors, so you should never let fabrics sit for a long time in vinegar and water.

To clean mini blinds, place the blinds in the bathtub. Fill the bathtub with hot water and a cup of vinegar. Let blinds soak in the tub for 15 minutes, then scrub them using a fine scrub brush. Hang the blinds to dry. For other types of material (wood or fabric) follow the above instructions for wood floors or drapes.

Tips to Eliminate the Cigarette Smell for Good

Cigarette odors can linger, even after you've done a thorough cleaning, but following a few tips can help rid your house of the odors permanently.

  • Replace the air: Fresh air is your friend in the fight against stale odors. Open windows and doors to get as much fresh air into your home as possible. While this won't get rid of the smell, it will help to improve conditions while you attack the sources of the smokiness.
  • Improve cross-ventilation: The best way to air out a home is with cross-ventilation. If possible, place box fans or window fans in one or more windows so they blow out. Then, open doors or windows on the opposite side of the house or in other rooms to let in fresh air, replacing the stale indoor air.
  • Invest in an air purifier: If you have an air purifier or can borrow one or two from friends, this is a great way to decrease a smoke smell. It takes time for the air to become clean, so it's best to keep the purifier in the room you use the most. In the day, that might be the kitchen or home office. At night, the bedroom. Purifying the air is essential for any family member who is allergic to cigarette smoke.
  • Repaint the walls: If you can still smell smoke over time, you should consider repainting the walls and ceilings. Talk to your local paint store about your problem. They can sell you a sealant that should be applied to the walls and ceilings first before repainting. This will seal off the smell and prevent it from seeping through your new paint job.