Table of Contents
Before we get into the “how to”, let’s start things off with some background:
Have you ever heard of third-hand smoke?
If you just shook your head and mentally said, “Third-hand what?” you’re not alone.
We all know what “second hand” smoke is.
Heck, we’ve been told about that since the D.A.R.E. program in middle school.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Remember those long drags on cigarettes while watching Netflix on your couch?
Well, that “third hand” smoke is what permeated every nook and cranny of your home, leaving it smelling like a backroom poker game.
Your walls, your carpet, the duct work, the drapes, the furniture, the fixtures, just about everything reeks of tar and nicotine residue, even though you might not notice.
Smokers (yeah, you) tend to get desensitized to the odor from all that lighting up.
Any non-smoker who walks in through the door will get hit by a blast of largely unpleasant odor.
There’s a reason why there are smoking and non-smoking hotel rooms, and that’s because people who don’t smoke can’t stand the smell of it lingering in the air and on their clothes and skin.
And no, burning a boatload of incense isn’t going to help you get rid of it, even mask the odor for that matter.
No amount of opening the windows is going to air it out like a pair of dirty clothes…nope, this smell is here to stay…that is unless you follow this handy guide!
Shameless plug for our article, we know, but hey, we’re here to help you.
Especially if you are trying to sell your house because a home that has a heavy or even light smoke smell could prevent you from making that sale!
And getting your house ready to sell is one of the most important steps in the process.
Who you Gonna Call!? Smoke Busters!
Ok, I’ll admit, that was terrible, but despite the lame Ghostbusters reference, smoke-residue cleaning is indeed big business.
For those that want to skip the whole DIY thing, a third-hand smoke consultant can visit your home, demarcate the “hot spots” (areas producing the most smell) and a professional team carrying state-of-the-art equipment follows suit to clean up the crime scene better than on an episode of Dexter or CSI.
Professional cleaners employ foggers, ozone treatment, duct cleaning, scrubbing and more to eliminate odors.
Given the intensive nature of the whole ordeal, it might actually give the impression to your neighbors that your house is being fumigated or quarantined!
And the cost you ask?
Well, professional smoke cleaning can end up costing upwards of thousands of dollars in the event that multiple visits are needed to completely deodorize a home.
And who has that kind of spare change laying around?
Bet you would have if you had stopped that nasty smoking habit.
But hey, we’re not here to judge!
And not to lay insult to injury, but make matters worse, third-hand smoke is now being linked with an increasing number of health issues, including the ‘big C’. Yep, cancer.
It’s natural that people shun away from anything that can kill them or cause serious health complications for their children.
So regardless of whether you intend to sell your home or stay put, having a house that smells good by getting rid of that smoke smell is going to be beneficial for everyone living in the home either now or in the future.
Removing the Smoke From Your Home: DIY vs. Professional Services?
It’s decision time on how you want to takle the job of getting the cigarette or cigar smoke smell out of your house.
You have two options:
- You either go the DIY route, which is labor and time intensive; Or
- You hire a professional cleaning company to help you get rid of it.
The first one (DIY) is cheaper.
At best it might cost you a few hundred dollars.
But it can take a few days and you will have lost a few inches off your waist by the time you completely strip your home of any cigarette smoke residue.
The second option is easier, generally more effective, but EXPENSIVE.
Most companies use industrial-grade cleaners such as Chlorine Dioxide solutions and gas to remove smoke-residue and the greasy-yellow coating on your furniture.
These harsh chemicals might not a good fit if you have children or pets in your home.
So the caveat is that professional cleaning can cost you big money, can potentially put your family or pets at risk.
Pro Tip: If you have a dog and they are stinking up your house, check out our guide “How to get rid of dog smell” and the “Best air purifier for pets” to have your home smelling fresh like your pets don’t even live there!
Depending on the size of your home and the intensity of the odor, restoration services can cost as much as $5000 to $15000.
Sorry, we should have told you to sit down for that sticker shock.
Have you recovered yet?
Ok great, moving on to the DIY option then shall we?
Complete DIY Guide to Removing Smoke From Your Home
If you feel like tackling the job of removing smoke odor, yourself, then keep reading!
We will divide the entire task into multiple phases.
The first phase will be cleaning the walls, baseboard, furniture, and fixtures of the tar and smoke residue.
Phase 1 – Cleaning the home
Start the smoke removal project on a weekend when you have ample time on your hands.
If you have a partner to help you, then the process will be easier and you can save yourself some time.
If you intend to go at it alone, then be prepared to see this through.
It might take a week or more.
You don’t have to tackle it all at once. Typically a “one room at a time” approach is sufficient.
Step 1: Gather the essentials
You are entering a war zone, and when going to battle it pays to be prepared.
Here are the items that you will need that we talk about in this guide.
If you have some of them already, great, if not, you can purchase them directly from Amazon with the links below!
Our Recommended Products For Removing Smoke Smell
|Product Name||Amount Needed|
|5 Gallon Buckets||2|
|Tri-sodium Phosphate Cleaner (TSP)||1-2 boxes|
|Cleaning Vinegar||1-2 gallons|
|A Floor Scrub Brush||1|
|Heavy Duty Protective Gloves||1|
|Kilz Max Primer||1-2 gallons per room|
|Paint||1-2 gallons per room|
|Charcoal Deodorizers (Optional)||1-2|
|Cat litter (Optional)||1|
|Medium-grit sandpaper (optional)||1 per room|
Step 2: Cleaning the walls and ceilings
You will have to start off by scrubbing the walls with TSP.
This is an industrial-grade cleaner that works like a charm for walls, flooring and even masonry.
Along with removing any residue and odor, it will also remove the invisible, off-white coating of soot on the walls, which trap odor particles.
Prep the area by placing the rags/plastic sheets underneath the wall and the ceiling that you will be working on first.
Press them extremely close to the wall to prevent the baseboards from getting wet.
We will be cleaning the baseboards separately.
Mix the TSP with water in one of the following ratios.
- ¼ cup of TSP cleaner to 1.5 gallons of warm water (For homes with a mild smoke odor)
- ½ cup of TSP cleaner to 1.5 gallons of warm water (For homes with a noticeable smoke odor)
- 1 cup TSP cleaner to 0.75 gallons of warm water (For homes with a strong smoke odor)
Once you have mixed the solution in one of the buckets, fill the other bucket halfway with plain cold water.
Now carry the buckets to the wall you intend to clean.
Time to suit up like Walter White.
Wear gloves, the mask and the goggles.
Grab the broom with the scrub brush on its end.
Dip the brush into the TSP cleaning solution and start scrubbing the ceiling first.
Once you are done with the ceilings, start with the wall starting from the bottom and going to the top.
Cigarette smoke has a tendency to rise.
If you remember anything from science class you might recall that “hot air rises”.
As such, the concentration of the smoke residue will be higher on the top of the walls.
Ensure that you go hard in the upper areas.
No slacking allowed here, it’s time to put up or shut up.
At first, you might notice that the scrub brush doesn’t glide on the surface like it’s supposed to.
That’s because of the greasy cigarette gunk coming off.
Make a few passes until it starts to move freely. Now move on to the next patch and work your way around the whole room.
Once you have completed scrubbing a section of the wall, recheck it for any streaking.
Going from bottom to the top of the walls prevents streaking and you should be good to move on to the next area.
Pro Tip: While you are scrubbing the upper walls, if you notice the TSP solution flowing on to your upper arms or forearms, take a break and wipe it off before continuing again. TSP can cause severe skin irritation in some people. So avoid your skin from coming into contact with it directly.
Step 3: Rinsing the walls and ceilings
Once you scrub off a wall, replace the scrub mop with the sponge mop, dip it into the plain water and wipe the wall starting from the top to the bottom.
Ensure that you keep squeezing out any excess water from the sponge.
After a while, the water will change color and become slightly cloudy.
Time to change the water.
Wipe the entire wall in the same fashion.
You will have to replace the water multiple times.
Do not use shortcuts and make the mistake of rinsing using cloudy water.
Else you will end up reapplying the same gunk on the walls all over again.
Step 4: Check the baseboards
Despite your best attempts, water will find a way to sneak past the protective rags/sheets and get on to your baseboards.
Check this before you move to the next area to clean.
Wipe any excess water on the baseboards to prevent damage.
Continue the same process in the next area.
If the rags are soaked with water and cleaner, replace them with a fresh one in the next area.
It might take a few hours to finish the entire room.
And a few days to finish all the rooms in the house.
But in the end, it will be completely worth it.
You might need more rags and scrubs than you can ever imagine.
So stock up on these, especially if you have a large house with concentrated levels of smoke residue in it.
Step 5: Cleaning the baseboards
Once you scrub and wipe all the walls, it’s time to go at the baseboards.
Wear your protective gear and start scrubbing the baseboards with the scrub and the TSP solution.
You should be able to finish this task sooner than you finished the walls.
But you will be crouching and bending most of the time. So, you might end up taking breaks frequently.
Step 6: Cleaning the furniture
The walls and the baseboard will take the bulk of your time.
The furniture should be a lot easier to clean.
Use the same process. Scrub with TSP and then wipe with plain water.
This applies to fixtures, wooden furniture and everything else in your home.
In the kitchen, repeat the process for your cabinetry and your counter.
Cigarette tar can make its way into places that you least expect it to.
Just exercise a little caution while wiping wood.
Don’t let the liquids soak for too long to prevent damage.
Step 7: Cleaning the floors
You will have to manually scrub and rinse the floor, pretty much like you rinsed the ceilings and the walls.
However, select a cleaner that’s compatible with your flooring.
Vinegar is ruled out if you have hardwood floors.
Bona is a good old, tried and tested hardwood floor cleaner.
But there are many other brands like Orange Glo and Bruce.
Just pick whatever’s lying around the house or available in the neighborhood store.
Use a mop with a mixture of damp water and the cleaner and scrub the floor at least twice or thrice.
Once you are done, mop again with plain water and let the floor air dry completely.
You have just completed the first phase of the restoration process.
Pat yourself on the back, go buy yourself some ice cream (sprinkles optional) and then when you return home, take a walk around your home and you should find that the smell has reduced considerably.
Even better, ask a friend or a relative to gauge the intensity of the odor.
At times, despite your best attempt, some amount of tar and odor manages to linger around.
But we will get to that too.
Phase 2: Primer and Paint
A lot of people try to cut corners while cleaning their house and paint directly over a smoke-infested wall.
But despite their best efforts, this strategy fails hard.
Paint by itself is porous and it will do nothing to seal in the odor on the wall.
So, despite cleaning the surface underneath, it is crucial that you prime the wall with a solvent-based, odor-sealant primer.
There are many brands of primers picking the right one is important for this job, we recommend this one.
Cover the flooring and fixtures using plastic sheets or canvas drop clothes before you start to prime and paint.
Step 1: Prime the walls
Some people recommend sanding the entire wall with a medium-grit sand paper.
We don’t feel this is necessary because the idea of the primer and paint coating is to trap in any residual odor, which it will do even if the wall isn’t sanded.
Dip the roller into the primer tray, roll it a few times to allow the primer to coat the roller surface evenly.
Now roll and apply it on the walls.
For the edges, you might have to use a wet paintbrush.
The roller should roll evenly and uniformly.
If it’s too slippery then you have oversoaked, it.
Instead, if there is a choking sound while you roll it, then there’s not enough primer on it.
Step 2: Paint
Once the primer coat dries, which is typically in an hour or two, recoat if need be.
Allow the primer to completely air dry before you apply the paint.
For best results, we recommend letting the primer dry overnight.
Follow the same procedure for the painting.
Work on the trims and edges first.
And then use the roller to apply the paint in parallel overlapping coats.
This will prevent streaking.
With a fresh coat of paint, your house should almost be as good as new.
However, there’s still one key ingredient left in the restoration process.
The fabrics and upholstery.
Phase 3 – The Fabrics and upholstery
The upholstery, especially the couch, the carpet, pillow covers, throws and any other fabric can haunt you with the lingering odor from ghosts of cigarettes past.
That’s irrespective of how diligently you clean the walls, the ceilings, the fixtures and the wooden furniture.
Thankfully, it’s not difficult to remove the odor from the upholstery. It’s just more time consuming than the rest of it all put together. Sorry about that.
Step 1: Strip the covers
Start off by removing the slipcovers or cushion covers and washing it clean.
Machine-washable ones will obviously be easier to clean.
Add some white vinegar during the end of the wash cycle to neutralize any residual odor.
You can also add deodorizers to the covers while washing.
If you can still smell smoke after the first wash, repeat the process multiple times.
After each wash, let the covers air-dry completely in the sun.
Do not use the drying machine.
Step 2: Air-drying the furniture
Lug the furniture outdoors into a garage or a screened porch, where its sunny and airy.
Let it air dry for a few hours or even a few days for best results.
This allows most of the odor to dissipate.
If lugging it outdoors is not an option, then just open all the doors and windows of your home for a few hours each day and let it breathe.
Step 3: Baking soda
Once the furniture is air dried, sprinkle a generous dose of baking soda on to the upholstery and let it rest.
Ensure that you sprinkle it even in the teeny corners of the couch.
About an hour later, vacuum it.
You can repeat this process as many times as you feel like.
Baking soda is safe and child-friendly.
Step 4: DIY Deodorizer
You can also make an easy DIY deodorizer at home.
Just mix 1 part of white vinegar with 2-parts water and spray it generously on the upholstered furniture.
Ensure that you try this on an inconspicuous area first to ensure that it does not stain or damage the fabric.
Step 5: Discarding the stale ones
Despite all the cleaning attempts, if some of the upholstery still smells of cigarette smoke, then it might be time to discard it.
Carpets are the most notoriously difficult ones to clean off smoke-residue.
So, if you feel that the carpet is saturated and is beyond cleaning, then save yourself some time and dump it before you make multiple cleaning attempts.
Another option is to call a professional carpet cleaning company.
Step 6: Curtains and drapes
Blinds, drapes or any other fabric window covers are potential smoke magnets.
Remove them and machine wash them with the warmest water that’s permitted.
Use vinegar again to neutralize odors.
Repeat the process multiple times until these are smoke free.
Fabrics can be soaked in warm water and vinegar for up to 30 minutes.
Alternatively, you can take them to the dry cleaner for a more thorough wash.
Wooden blinds need to be scrubbed with TSP and wiped clean just like you cleaned the furniture.
Windows can be cleaned by spraying a DIY solution of water/vinegar on the surface and wiping it clean with a microfiber cloth.
Let it air dry and wipe again with a normal cloth.
Pro Tip: Once you have eliminated the smell of smoke in your home, you might want to remove musty odors from your basement. Check out our guide “How to get rid of musty smell in your basement” and follow those steps for a basement that doesn’t smell like one!
Maintaining a Smoke-free Home
By now, you might have a rough idea of why professional cleaners charge in the thousands to clean cigarette smoke.
It’s a bit of a pain in the a$$, isn’t it?
And you’re not even done yet.
We know it’s been a blast, and by now you’re probably ready for a beer, or wine, or like 2-week long nap….but now is not the time to give up.
Given that you’ve just spent a few days of your life trying to get rid of the annoying smoke residue from your home it’s crucial that you follow a few basic maintenance procedures that will prevent it from returning to haunt your home.
Do Not Smoke In the House:
This is the most obvious one!
There are no two ways around this.
If you do not want your house to stink, step outside for a smoke.
Make this a ground rule irrespective of whether it’s raining or snowing outside.
In an unavoidable scenario, when you get in the irresistible urge to smoke in the middle of the night, go close to a window, open the window and smoke.
But why risk it after you did all that work!
At least the ventilation might prevent the smoke from clinging on to the walls and furniture again. If you are a landlord, follow a no-smoking rule.
But if you must still smoke inside your home, here are some more preventative measures.
Ventilate After Every Cigarette:
Open all the windows, turn on ceiling fans if you have them and even use portable fans near windows to completely blow out any residual smoke that might be lingering in the house.
Even when you are cleaning, priming and painting, keep the windows open to allow some of the odor to dissipate.
Clean the Ashtrays:
Keep your ashtrays clean.
Remove cigarette butts and leftover ash after every cigarette if possible.
Consider an ashtray like a smoke dispenser that’s slowly releasing smoke residue into the home.
Use Smoke Absorbers:
DIY smoke absorbers when placed in strategic locations around the house, do an excellent job at absorbing smoke odors.
The simplest one is a bowl of vinegar.
Just place it anywhere that you feel might be a haven for smoke particles.
Vinegar has a very subtle but noticeable odor.
If it bothers you, squeeze some lime into the vinegar to reduce it.
Activated charcoal is an excellent, natural deodorizer and its cheap and easily available.
Just keep small bowls of activated charcoal near your upholstered furniture, in your closets and near windows for best results.
Some people also use kitty litter and baking soda.
But we personally feel that activated charcoal works better.
Air purifiers for smoke usually have multiple air filters to remove particulate matter as well as odors from your home.
A purifier with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) filter and an activated carbon filter can remove the majority of the remaining odor after you clean and repaint the surfaces.
Change Your Lighting Fixtures:
This one might seem a little strange.
But it has been noted that light bulbs and other lighting fixtures might disperse smoke residue in your living space when switched on.
So, after you are done cleaning the house, upholstery, and furniture, replace your lighting fixtures.
Ditto for heating filters or air filters.
Why Does Cigarette Smoke Linger In A Home?
Now that you have a fresh smelling house, free of all smoke smells, you may want to understand why it got to smell that way in the first place.
In order to properly understand why the smell of smoke still lingers in your home, even weeks after not smoking inside, we’ll need to take you back, all the way back to that dreaded chemistry class in high school.
Go grab one of your favorite smokes.
Now let’s unroll the cigarette and take a peek inside.
What do you see?
That pinch of dried, powdered and flavored tobacco leaves contain over 700 different chemicals and toxins.
That’s right…over 700.
And that 700 is in addition to the famed nicotine that gives you that brief stimulus when inhaled.
When the tobacco leaves are combusted, it turns into smoke that contains over 4000 chemicals.
At least 43 of these are known carcinogens.
But there are almost 200+ more toxins in that smoke that are poisonous.
That sounds more dangerous than an episode of Breaking Bad.
These toxins, when combined with the various other chemicals, form a deadly concoction that settles on every single inch of your home in an invisible layer.
Think of it as an invisible coating of cigarette smoke residue that gets amplified every time you light up.
If you’re a chain smoker, or a frequent smoker even, there will be layers upon layers of smoke residue in your home.
That’s third-hand smoke, and that’s why it’s so difficult to get rid of.
The toxicity of this residue depends (to some extent) on the available room in the space.
For example, if you smoke frequently in a vehicle, where there’s limited space, the third-hand smoke buildup can be quite concentrated.
Likewise, if you tend to smoke in one room in the house, that room will be the most impacted by both the chemicals/toxins, and the smells.
Contrary to what most people believe, keeping the window open doesn’t flush out the smoke either.
Cigarette smoke clings to just about everything that it comes into contact with.
So, apart from your furniture, even your body and skin (pores and oils) are likely jam-packed with cigarette residue.
How Long Can the Smell Linger In Your House?
The size of the room, the amount of airflow and ventilation in the room, and the frequency of exposure to smoke are some of the important factors that determine how long the smoke residue lingers in a room.
The more frequently the room is exposed to smoke, the higher the concentration of smoke residue in it.
Seems logical right?
When odor particles and chemicals settle on certain objects, like carpets or fabrics, they permeate deeper into the fabric and material, which is why smoke residue lingers longer on such objects.
The fiber in fabric or upholstery become the perfect trap for minute particles in the smoke.
In all probability, if you’re a smoker, you likely have a couch or a carpet that smells like it came out of a cigarette factory.
Final Thoughts: You’ve Made It To the End!!!
A survey conducted by the ‘Ontario real estate agents and brokers’ in 2013 revealed that smoking can devalue your property by as much as 30%.
Even if you were to take that survey with a pinch of salt, there’s no denying that there are a growing number of people who despise buying homes with cigarette smoke residue in it.
And removing smoke residue from your home will only have positive health effects for you and your family.
If you have diligently followed all the steps that we have listed here, you should have almost removed all cigarette smoke residuals from your home.
Further Reading: Once you have removed the smell of smoke in your home, consider using an running an air purifier and then using an essential oil diffuser to indulge in some aromatherapy. Check out our reviews on these products with the link below.