How to Get the Cigarette Smoke Smell Out of Your House: A Step-by-Step Guide
Smoke smell is often a strong deterrent when house shopping, but it doesn't have to be. With some hard work, a few supplies, and several hours, you can get rid of the smoke smell out of your house.
Here is a step-by-step guide for how to rid your entire house of unwanted cigarette smoke odors. It took my husband and I an entire weekend to complete this task throughout our entire home. It is very time consuming, but very worth it in the long run.
How to Rid Your House of Cigarette Smoke Odors
Here are the main steps you'll need to follow to rid your home of those nasty cigarette smoke odors:
- Air Out the Entire House
- Wash or Clean All Clothes, Fabrics, and Linens
- Clean Your Ducts and Replace Filters (Air, Furnace, and Air Conditioning)
- Clean Your HVAC Evaporator Coil
- Wash or Clean All Furniture and Surfaces
- Wash Your Walls Down
- Clean the Baseboards and Various Fixtures
- Prime and Paint Your Walls
- Clean or Replace the Carpet
- Leave Out Some Deodorizers
1. Air Out the Entire House
As with most any cleansing to get rid of funky smells, the first thing you should do is air everything out. Open up all the windows and doors and turn on the fans. Let as much as possible of the stale air that's just been sitting in the house find its way outside.
You can also place fans in strategics places to increase airflow and help encourage funky odors to vacate the premises.
This naturally won't magically restore the house to perfect condition, but it will still do a good amount of the work for you with little to no effort on your part.
Consider Using Air Purifiers and Dehumidifiers
It's also worth considering investing in a modest air purifier to help suck up some of the dust and particulate matter in the air while you work on eliminating some of the tricker smells that have attached themselves to the walls, floors, and the rest of the house.
Additionally, you might want to think about also using a dehumidifier. Since moist air tends to hold odors, drying out particularly smoky rooms will help some of the stronger odors to dissipate.
2. Wash or Clean All Clothes, Fabrics, and Linens
As anyone who has smelled the clothes of a smoker can attest, fabrics are a magnet for stinky odors. Any and all fabrics and linens should be gathered up and washed. Even if you don't think an item smells all that bad, it's still best to round everything up and wash it anyway—especially since it's possible that it does indeed smell bad, but you don't happen to notice it as much due to the stronger odors around it.
Naturally, this goes for all your clothes too. If they have been in a house permeated by cigarette smoke, then it's pretty likely that they've absorbed some of it as well.
Note: Considering how easily fabrics can reabsorb funky smells even after they've been washed, it's probably best to store your clean clothes in another location until you've successfully rid your house of the smoky odors.
Store Clean Items Elsewhere
After you wash your fabrics and linens, it's probably best to store them at a separate location to prevent them from re-absorbing the same odors.
3. Clean Your Ducts and Replace Filters
Even if you cleaned the walls and floors all across your house, much of that progress could easily and quickly be undone if you neglect to address your dirty air ducts. Cigarette smoke and various chemicals can cling hard to air ducts—even if nobody has smoked in the house in a while—and be blown out into your home, filling every room with that repulsive smell once again. So it's important to clean your ducts early on in the process, so as not to make more work for yourself down the line.
Though it's possible to clean your air ducts yourself, it can be a difficult process, especially if the ducts in your home are positioned in a way so as to be a real pain to access. So in most cases, it's best to hire a professional to do so. Just make sure you shop around and research any companies or procedures you're thinking of going with in order to avoid being taken advantage of or paying more than you should.
Replace the Air Conditioning Filters, Furnace Filters, and Air Filters
Similarly, it's important to change the various filters in your house to prevent those smells and chemicals trapped in them from re-entering your home. This applies to furnace filters, air filters, and air conditioning filters, all of which are found in a good amount of houses.
While it is certainly easier to outright replace them—and you might need to if they're badly damaged or too worn out—in many cases it's preferable to simply clean them with the kind of TSP solution detailed later in this article. Just soak the filter in the TSP solution for no longer than an hour, and use a brush to scrub out any odors and visible dirt. Then rinse thoroughly with water and pop them back in.
Note: Always remember to use protective gloves when handling TSP in any capacity.
4. Clean Your HVAC Evaporator Coil
When someone smokes in a house, those fumes can often get pulled into the coils of an HVAC unit. From that point on, when you turn on that same HVAC unit, the cool or hot air that it emits will be laden with undesirable smoky odors. So you'll want to clean the evaporator coils on your HVAC units before using them again.
In order to do this, you'll need to turn off the unit and remove its access panel. Although you can clean coils with DIY solutions of diluted bleach or diluted detergent, it's generally much easier to just go with the kind of self-cleaning coil cleansers you can find at your local hardware store. These products use the condensation generated by the unit to wash themselves away. This is particularly helpful, as many coils are not easy to reach and—despite only being best cleaned thoroughly by removal—should generally not be removed by anyone other than a professional.
For more information on how to clean your HVAC's coils, check out this useful DenGarden article on How to Clean Air Conditioner Coils.
5. Wash or Clean All Furniture and Surfaces
Believe it or not, even furniture and most surfaces can absorb and retain unwanted odors. So you'll need to clean these as well if you want your house smelling good again. This includes everything from floors and ceilings to windows and fixtures.
Use Baking Soda on Furniture
When it comes to furniture and mattresses, baking soda is likely your best tool for deodorizing. Simply sprinkle the powder all over your smelly furniture and let it sit for 30–60 minutes. (Using a colander to help you disperse the powder can be quite helpful.) You can also do a little light rubbing on any especially smelly areas to help the baking soda work its magic.
Once the baking soda has been given time to absorb the odors, go ahead and vacuum it all up.
Use Vinegar or Diluted Bleach on Non-Fabric Surfaces
Both vinegar and bleach are especially good at breaking up the resins and tars found in cigarette smoke.
- For vinegar solutions: Mix equal parts water and distilled white vinegar. Use this to clean plastic, wood, and metal appliances and furniture. You can even put it in a spray bottle for easy application. Be sure to rinse down sensitive surfaces with water afterwards. (If you're concerned about the vinegar smell, feel free to mix in a few drops of essential oils, such as citrus, rosemary, or lavender.)
- For bleach solutions: Mix 1/2 cup chlorine bleach to every 1 gallon of water. Use this to clean countertops, sinks, showers, bathtubs, glazed tile, vinyl, and floors. And always remember to rinse thoroughly with water after cleaning.
Note: Do not use bleach on any surface you just cleaned with vinegar and avoid mixing them in general.
Wash or Replace Window Treatments
Window treatments like blinds and curtains are notorious for absorbing unwanted odors. So you'll want to wash or replace all of these items.
If they're made of fabric, like most curtains, you can simply throw them in a washing machine or steam clean them. Just be sure to check their respective labels for any potential special care needs they might have.
As for the blinds, they can be washed with a TSP solution like the one detailed below, or with plain old vinegar. This may not always fully eradicate the odors, however. So if they remain smelly even after you've cleaned them, then they might need to be replaced.
Note: It's also a good idea to give the windows themselves a good cleaning, as smoke can often leave a kind of film that tends to smell pretty bad when warmed up by direct sunlight.
What Is TSP? And How Do You Use It?
TSP stands for trisodium phosphate. It is a heavy duty general purpose cleaner that can be found at most hardware stores. TSP is an effective cleanser that is safe for walls, woodwork, and floors. It will not only remove the smell of smoke off of your walls, but any stains that may have been left due to heavy smoking as well.
To begin, you will want to collect your materials.
- some large rags (ones that you don’t mind throwing away later)
- scrub broom
- sponge mop
- (2) 5-gallon buckets
- TSP powder
Prepare the Area Before Using TSP
- In one of the 5-gallon buckets, mix the TSP with water at the ratio requested on the outside of the TSP package. Make sure you do not fill the 5-gallon bucket so full that you cannot carry it.
- Fill the other bucket up about halfway with plain water.
- Once the buckets are ready, be sure to place large rags underneath the section of wall where you plan to work. (My husband and I used a small ramp, where we set the rags over the end of it. The rags were pressed securely against the wall above the baseboards. That way, when we were washing the walls, there was no water damage to the baseboards, because it dripped on the towel, not the baseboards.
- Since this is very tiring work, you will want to choose a 5-foot section to begin with. Then, once that is completed, go on to the next 5-foot section, working your way around the room, until the room is finished.
TSP Safety Precautions
Even when diluted, TSP is a very strong chemical that can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system.
So be sure to follow these guidelines when using TSP:
* Make sure your space is well ventilated.
* Wear nitrile or latex gloves.
* Use eye protection.
* Wear long sleeves.
6. Wash Your Walls Down
To scrub the walls, you will want a long broom handle with a scrub brush on the end. One that extends is most effective for tall walls with cathedral ceilings. Take the scrub brush and soak it in the TSP mixture for a few seconds. Then scrub the walls aggressively, going from bottom to top. This may seem counterintuitive, but there is actually less streaking this way due to the chemicals in the TSP compound.
Rinse the Walls
Once you finish scrubbing the first section of the wall, take your sponge mop, soak it in the clear water, and make sure you squeeze out all excess water. Then wipe up the scrubbed wall from top to bottom. This is the opposite of what you did before. Feel free to rinse the sponge frequently to get out excess water and keep the mop clean.
You will need to change the water often. Otherwise you are putting the same junk on your walls that you scrubbed off. A good rule of thumb is once the water is no longer see-through, it is time to get fresh water.
Wipe the Baseboard of Excess Water
Once the section is scrubbed and rinsed, make sure to wipe the baseboard off of any excess water that may have gotten past your rags. You will want to do this before moving on to the next section, so as to prevent against any water damage that could result.
Protect the next section of baseboards by placing your rags tightly against the wall. Then repeat scrubbing and rinsing until you have gotten all the way around the room. Even though my husband and I used a ramp that allowed the rags to firmly press against the wall, we still had some seepage and had to check between moving spots. The rags will get quite wet, and you may want to have more than one set.
Always Rinse and Wipe Down After TSP Application
It's important that any surface you clean with the TSP solution is rinsed with water afterwards before being wiped dry with a rag. This will prevent the surface from staining or sustaining water damage.
7. Clean the Baseboards and Various Fixtures
Once all the walls are scrubbed and rinsed, take a small rag and wash the baseboards using the TSP mixture. It is important that you wear gloves during this portion, since there will be direct contact with the TSP mixture. The mixture will irritate your skin if you have prolonged exposure to it. This process goes much more quickly than cleaning the walls, though there is a lot of bending.
You can also use the TSP mixture to clean cupboards, light fixtures, and any other object saturated with tar. Just like the walls, you will want to wipe the other fixtures from bottom to top, then use a wet rag to rinse the chemicals off top to bottom. If you use the TSP mixture on wood, be careful not to saturate the wood too much. Water saturation can cause water damage.
8. Prime and Paint Your Walls
After this process, your rooms should smell much better. Despite all your hard work, sometimes there is still a slight odor and even a tint of brown that will not escape. Although in our case, the smell was significantly better, we still found it imperative to use a primer on our wall before we began painting.
There are primers specifically intended to stop odor and prevent stains from seeping through your paint color. There are even kinds that target smoke smell. One such primer is KILZ. Some have had luck using KILZ primer alone, but if the smell is strong, primer alone will not do the job. Either way, I recommend scrubbing your walls beforehand.
For one, it will allow the primer to lie more smoothly on the walls. Once primer is on the walls, you cannot clean the walls underneath the smoke smell. Therefore, this needs to be done before you begin painting with primer.
Although this is a lot of hard work, I strongly recommend following this procedure when washing your walls. It is very effective, and you will have a nice, clean-smelling house in the end.
9. Clean or Replace the Carpet
Since carpet is so notorious for absorbing unwanted odors, this step can be a bit tricky.
- If you have a lot of carpet in your house, you'll definitely want to try the easiest approach first. Sprinkle a good amount of baking soda all across your carpet, making sure to disperse some powder in every little corner. Just like with the furniture, let it sit for about an hour before vacuuming it back up.
- Should the baking soda approach not work, you can try renting a carpet steam cleaner or hiring a company to professionally steam clean it.
- If neither of these two methods works and you're still detecting stinky smells rising up out of your carpet, your only recourse left is to remove the carpet altogether. It's an unfortunately time-consuming and costly last resort. But if nothing else works, you probably don't have much of a choice left.
10. Leave Out Some Deodorizers
Now that you've removed most of the smoke smells from your house, it's time to soak up some of the last bits of unwanted odors still lingering about.
Here is a list of chemicals you can leave in bowls around your home that will help absorb some of the last remnants of undesirable smells:
- baking soda
- activated charcoal
This will not only help remove the last traces of smoky odors, but it will also help keep your house smelling fresh and clean.
Do you think people should be allowed to smoke in restaurants?
- Ference, Audrey. (2018, September 25). How to Get Smoke Smell Out of a House and Banish Cigarette Fumes for Good. Realtor.com. Retrieved on 23 January 2019.
- Morgan, Lee. (2018, September 12). Natural Ways to Get Smoke Smell Out of a House. Hunker. Retrieved on 23 January 2019.
- Spelman, Mark. How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Your House. Wikihow. Retrieved on 23 January 2019.
- Thomas, Amanda. (2015, April 9). 6 Tips for Removing Smoke Odor from Your Home. Quick and Dirty Tips. Retrieved on 23 January 2019.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
The previous owner smoked in the house for twenty years. Some rooms were repainted, but we do not believe that they did it properly. Can we use the same methods described above to get rid of the cigarette odor?
The washing of the walls is only going to take the stuff off that new paint away. You may just need to buy a nice primer that specializes in masking smells and discoloration, then painting it. Do not buy a primer paint in that situation as it will not be nearly as effective.Helpful 30
My dad's friends smoke. I use my shirt to cover my nose because it is hazardous, but I can still smell it. What should I do to protect myself from second-hand smoke? I don't want to develop health problems.
I have asthma, and my biggest trigger is cigarette smoke, so I definitely get where you are coming from, but the best solution is to go somewhere else. Stay away from it the best you can. Very occasional exposure is not going to cause you to develop lung cancer or asthma, it's more of the day in and day out exposure. Do your best to go in another room or outside. Hang out where they are not.Helpful 17
My previous tenant was a serious chain smoker, and both the smell and discoloration are absolutely awful!!? How do I remove cigarette smoke smell from the ceilings?
Ours was really bad when we moved in as well. We just painted a special primer over the ceilings then painted it because our ceiling was textured and we could not scrub it. That was enough to get the smell out of the house. I do know we scrubbed the light fixtures and even the bulbs that were still in the house. None of the coloring leaked through the primer and white paint.Helpful 9
What if the walls have already been painted without all the prep work of actually cleaning the walls of the cigarette smell?
If you do not prep walls that have a strong odor, then two different things could happen. One the smell may remain. The second, the tar from the cigarettes could eventually leak through the paint leaving tinted walls. A good primer might do the trick if one of these two things happened, but that would mean repainting the walls again. It might be worth it depending on how severe the problem is.Helpful 22
If the wall have already been painted over without using the TSP method, will using the Killz primer only work to get rid of the smell?
Killz should also prevent bleeding through of the discoloration. I cannot guarantee that Killz alone will do the trick, but it definitely is worth a shot.Helpful 10
© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz