How to Get the Cigarette Smoke Smell Out of Your House: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated on January 15, 2019
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Angela loves researching new facts, especially those pertaining to science and history. She feels that knowledge is essential in growth.


How to Get Cigarette Smell Out of Your House

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. First, it is nearly impossible to get the smell of smoke out of carpet, so most likely the carpet will have to be replaced. Even after pulling up the carpet, the walls will still hold onto the stench. Even if you cannot see it, there is most likely a layer of brown buildup over the paint due to the residue let off by cigarettes.

Here is a step-by-step guide in how to clean the walls. 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.

What You Need for Getting Smoke Smell Out of Your House

  • 2 – 5 gallon buckets
  • Sponge mop
  • TSP (powder cleanser that is ideal for getting smoke smell out of the house)
  • Scrub broom
  • KILLZ Paint Primer
  • Large rags
  • Gloves

Cleaning With TSP

TSP stands for trisodium phosphate. It is a Heavy-Duty General Purpose Cleaner that can be found at Home Depot. TSP is an effective cleanser that is safe for walls, woodwork, and floors. It not only will remove the smell of smoke off of your walls, but any stains that may have been left due to heavy smoking.

To begin, you will want to collect your materials.The first items you will need are a few large rags that you don’t mind throwing away later, a scrub broom, a sponge mop, two five gallon buckets, and the TSP powder.

Prepare Area: First, in a five gallon bucket, mix the TSP with water at the ratio requested on the outside of the TSP package. Make sure you do not fill the five gallon bucket so full you cannot carry it. In the other bucket, fill it 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. That way, the rags were pressed securely against the wall above the baseboards; therefore, when we were washing the walls, there was no water damage to the baseboards, because it dripped on the towel, not the baseboards. This is very tiring work, so you will want to choose a five foot section to begin with. Then, once that is completed, go into the next five foot section, working your way around the room, until the room is finished.

Since smoke rises, the tops of your walls will be the most filled with cigarette smoke stains.
Since smoke rises, the tops of your walls will be the most filled with cigarette smoke stains. | Source

Begin Cleaning the Walls With TSP

Begin to Scrub: Wearing gloves is optional at this point, although if the liquid slides down the handle while you are scrubbing, it can irritate your skin.

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 the streaking actually is less 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 into 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 onto the next section, to prevent against any water damage that could result. Then 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.

How to Clean Baseboards

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, although there is a lot of bending.

You can also use the mixture to clean cupboards, light fixtures, ceilings, 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.

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Painting Over Smoke Damage

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 KILLZ. Some have had luck using KILLZ Primer alone, but if the smell is strong, primer alone will not do the job. Either way, I recommend scrubbing your walls previously. 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 of 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.

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz


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    • Biosweep Sac profile image

      Biosweep Sacramento 

      6 months ago from Sacramento, CA

      Biosweep offers the best solutions for cigarette smoke odors and can permanently eliminate most odors in 24 hours or less. Our service providers pre treat all affected surfaces and deploy patented machines that are each 10x more powerful than ozone. We recommend using Biosweep before painting and permanently sealing those odors in the walls. If you are in need of odor removal services in the Sacramento, California metro area visit, in other areas of the world visit to find your nearest service provider. Good luck!

    • profile image

      Bert Gruder 

      13 months ago

      Smoking odors cling to clothing, permeate’s wall paint and wallboard saturate upholstery, and brand’s everything it touches with an offensive odor. The Ionic Paint Additive by Air-ReNu turns any newly painted surface, into an efficient permanent air purification system. The ion, technology permanently maintains healthy indoor air quality.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      2 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      We learn!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Use a garden sprayer for the application of the TSP. Cut 60% of the time...But you have to cut the pipe inside the can of 1 inch because the TSP powder can jam the system.

    • Vrvs profile image


      5 years ago from Palm Coast, Florida

      Stale tobacco smell. It clings to clothing, permeates wall paint, saturates upholstery, and brands everything it touches with that unmistakable scent. An all-natural paint additive has been developed. Air-ReNu, turns any newly painted wall surface, into an effective and permanent air purification system, no electricity or filters required. The Air-ReNu all-natural, technology permanently maintains healthy indoor air quality and continuously removes offensive odors.

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 

      6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      angela_michelle...This is important information and well expressed as a Hub.

      A non-smoker, I first became aware of the grimy after affects of cigarette smoking in any room when I purchased an old typewriter available from the office of a town clerk, where smoking was allowed during town meetings. When I attempted to wipe off the typewriter at home, just as a matter of cleanliness, the rag I was using quickly turned yellow from nicotine stains on the machine. Ugh! Those stains are everywhere in a house occupied by smokers!

      A January '46 Baby Boomer, I suffer from COPD from years of second-hand smoke exposure. New public laws on smoking, and information such as you provide here help non-smokers exist.

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      OH, I had never thought to use on outdoor furniture. That may be useful. :)

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      That TSP can do anything! We recently cleaned up the kitchen for someone moving into a house that had not been cleaned in quite some time. I'd never heard of the stuff but it sure did the job! Also lifts stains and stuff from outdoor wood furniture.

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      TSP is very strong and very effective.

    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 

      6 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      Thanks, I never thought to use TSP. I've always relied upon wiping down walls with a semi-wet rag and opening windows in hopes the smoky odor would eventually out-gas. Thumbs up!

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      Prasetio, when I was younger my parents smoked in their house, now that they live in a new house my father always smokes outside. Thanks for commenting.

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks so much Cow Flipper. I'm trying to figure out how you came up with your name though. :)

    • prasetio30 profile image


      6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      My house is free from smoking. My father occasional smoker and he did it outside my house. Very inspiring hub and thanks for share with us. Rated up and take care!


    • Cow Flipper profile image

      Sean Jankowski 

      6 years ago from Southern Oregon

      This one is AWESOME! Thanks for this information and I'm going to pass this one on and share it on FB. You ROCK!

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      adawnmorrison, that was our biggest deterrent when we bought our new house. But we got it at such a good deal we thought it covered the cost of carpet and paint. I didn't realize how much work it was though> :)

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      Dallas thanks for sharing, I had not heard of that before. :)

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      Sharyn, I think you will be shocked at what comes off your walls when you scrub them.

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      moonlake, the hardest spot for us to get the smell out was cabinets. I think it's because we didn't scrub them as well as the walls, because we didn't realize how deep the smoke would get.

    • adawnmorrison profile image


      6 years ago from The Midwest

      Oh, how I wish I had known all of this four years ago! We went to an open house for a beautiful, handicap-accessible newer home that was completely permeated with cigarette smoke. Had I any inkling how to get rid of the odor, I would have put in a bid when it finally dropped into our price range(which it did, presumably, because no one else wanted it due to the odor).

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      thanks dallas9344

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      To completely eliminate the smell of smoke, or any other "bad" smell use an ozone generator.

      Insurance companies hire companies to repair fire damaged properties... and the companies (good ones - use ozone generators)to eliminate smoke damage. I have one and have used it on a fire damaged house. Please follow directions! You should not be around when it is operating.

      Pot growers use ozone generators to eliminate the smell of pot when it is grown indoors...

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 

      6 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      We recently stopping smoking in our house and I need/want to clean everything and repaint. This hub is perfect for what I need to do and it is actually motivating me too. Thanks!


    • moonlake profile image


      6 years ago from America

      It has taken us a while to get the smell of cigar out of our house from the man that use to live here. At times when my husband takes another wall apart we will still smell it. Good information

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      I should have probabaly pointed out that you need to wear gloves. I guess an edit is in hanks Just Ask Susan.

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      LOL, thanks neonjournal.

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      I'm not sure Goodlady. I don't see why you would not?

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for your input DeanCash, but it did take away all the smell. Since I am an asthmatic, I am very sensitive to the smell of smoke.

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      buckleupdorothy, wow that is a large percentage. This really worked to get the smell out of the house. It took us an entire weekend. That did not include the painting.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      When I was a teen, I was hired by an apartment manager to scrub walls in several apartments that had smoke damage due to a fire. I scrubbed the walls with just a rag and never put on gloves. After 2 days my hands were very sore and the TSP had eaten the flesh around my knuckles. My dad, bless his soul went in and finished the job for me. I learned a very important lesson. Always read the package before using a product. Especially cleaning products.

      TSP is a great product, and it does work.

      Very useful and informative hub.

    • neonjournal profile image


      6 years ago from Davao City

      How about an exhaust fan :) Just kidding. Great hub!

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Wonder if we have TSP in Italy?

      We have a log fire which always leaves a smell of smoke at the end of winter. We have to paint the rooms each year! (And yes, all the covers and cushions and curtains get washed or cleaned)

      Interesting tips, so I'm voting useful and Up!

    • DeanCash profile image


      6 years ago

      Well it will remove some but not all of them (the smell). I want to share my cousin restaurant's experience, he did just that washing and rubbing until the walls didn't look good.

      My cousin bought this "evaporative air-conditioner" that was what the product says - It has a fan, at the back was a honeycomb filter and water gets pump up. The dust and smoke gets stuck on the filter. You can mixed perfume into the water but you need to clean it once in a while. It is a natural air-conditioner. I don't recommend this on a place with lots of electronics appliance, it will bring moisture inside. I saw some restaurant having a combination of air-conditioner, fan and filter to get the bad smell out.

      I think it is a good idea to filter some of the smoke than wait for it to do real messy stain and smell. Later we can clean up the rest using your method.

      Thank you for your hub. I will share this.

    • buckleupdorothy profile image


      6 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Oy vey. We have an ex-smoker in the family and in the year and a half since he's successfully quit, we've started to become sick at the smell of cigarette smoke. It's good to know there's a reasonably effective way to get it out of houses - here in Turkey I would guess that maybe 80% of the adult population smokes regularly.


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