How to Get Rid of Cigarette Smell

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Getting rid of the cigarette smell in your apartment is a common question. But the smell is only the beginning of the problems that residual smoke can cause.

Smoking materials contain toxins like ammonia, arsenic, formaldehyde and acetone. American Cancer Society reveals that there are thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke. More than 70 are carcinogenic and can potentially cause cancer. Several are radioactive. The chemicals in cigarettes contribute to heart disease, respiratory problems and stroke.

Even if you aren’t in the room with a smoker, the scent, the health risks and the toxins can linger in the air for hours. The exhaled chemicals create a sticky residue. The residue combines with other indoor pollutants, clings to surfaces and infiltrates carpets and air ducts. The chemicals can even contaminate dust.

The chemicals that linger on surfaces and absorbed into objects is thirdhand smoke. You can’t eliminate thirdhand smoke by opening a window or putting out an air freshener. Unless you scrub or replace every item in your home or seal thirdhand smoke in under a new coat of paint, it poses a lingering threat to your health.

Get rid of the cigarette smell before you even move in

The best time to deal with cleaning up thirdhand smoke is before you move in. A thorough check-in is an important part of the move-in checklist. So, if your new home smells smoky during your walkthrough, insist that your landlord or property manager resolve the issue right away.

If the smell is definitely emanating from your apartment (and not drifting in from neighbors who smoke) the property might shampoo the carpets, deep clean, scrub the walls and provide air purifiers. If the smell is very strong, replacing the carpet and repainting the walls may also be required.

Once thirdhand smoke has infiltrated an apartment it’s very difficult to get rid of. So, resist the urge to live with the smell or hope it goes away on its own. It won’t.

How to get rid of the cigarette smell in your apartment

If the smell is minor or if you’re cleaning up an apartment you already live in, there are several ways to banish that cigarette smell from your home. It isn’t enough to simply mask the odor. You have to clean every surface, absorb and neutralize the smell and purify the air.

1. Throw away the source of the smell


To get rid of the cigarette smell in your apartment, first, toss out all the smoking materials. Then clean out everything they’ve touched and anything you don’t want to keep.

  1. Put the contents of ashtrays into a garbage bag. Make sure you wet the remnants down first to eliminate fire risk.
  2. Tie up the garbage bag and remove it from the apartment.
  3. Throw away unsmoked cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco. If you just quit, you don’t need any additional temptation. And keeping extras on hand will just encourage guests to smoke forcing you to clean all over again.
  4. Toss out anything that’s too smoky to salvage or that you don’t want to commit time to clean. That can include furniture from a smoking area, ashtrays or porous items like magazines, newspapers and cardboard boxes that soak up the smell.
  5. Set aside garbage cans for cleaning.

2. Increase airflow

open windows

Still, stale air makes that smoky smell even more potent. So, get the air moving to help things smell fresh.

  1. Open windows to get the air flowing.
  2. Place portable fans in the windows of the smokiest rooms.
  3. Make sure the blades are blowing out, pulling the smell outdoors.
  4. Run the fans for a full day, if possible. If it’s too cold, try for an hour or two at a time.

3. Sprinkle and steam

steam cleaner

If you can’t wash it by hand or throw it in a washing machine, try a sprinkle of baking soda and a steam cleaning. It’s simple but effective.

  1. Sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) on rugs, carpets, mattresses and sofas and anything else that can’t easily be laundered. The molecules in it bind to odors, neutralizing them.
  2. Let it sit for several hours (or even a full day) when there’s no foot traffic.
  3. Vacuum up baking soda residue.
  4. Repeat the process if the smell persists.
  5. Then, steam clean carpets and upholstery if the label says it’s safe to do so. You can rent a cleaner or purchase your own at a big box store.

4. Wash what you can

washing clothes

A run through the washing machine is a quick and easy way to eliminate odors. Be sure to check labels to make sure everything is machine washable.

  1. Launder all clothing that’s been exposed to smoke.
  2. Then, move on to bedding.
  3. Don’t forget to remove decorative items like tablecloths, pillow covers and washable couch cushion covers.
  4. Dry items outdoors, if possible. The sun’s UV rays also break down odor-causing compounds, so a little sunshine will help.

5. Scrub all the hard surfaces

scrubbing hard surfaces

After you’ve cleaned or discarded clothing, textiles and other soft items, move on to hard surfaces. Pay particular attention to walls, counters and floors. Don’t forget about ceilings, windows, window sills and light switch covers. The smoke residue will be sticky, so you’ll have to scrub.

You can make your own natural cleaners or purchase heavy-duty cleaners at the local home improvement or hardware store. Leave options like sodium phosphate to your landlord or to the pros they hire, since it can damage paint, metal and wood finishes. Here are a few of the most popular natural options you can make at home.

Using vinegar to remove cigarette smoke smell

Vinegar is a very effective smoke residue remover. Fill a bucket or spray bottle with a solution made of two-thirds distilled white vinegar and one-third water. This will effectively clean most surfaces.

  1. Spray walls, floors and counters with the water and vinegar solution.
  2. Wipe clean with a sponge or soft, clean rag, rinsing frequently.
  3. For windows, use a 50-50 water and vinegar mix and wipe with a newspaper or lint-free cloth.

Using ammonia to remove cigarette smoke smell

For tougher stains and residue, try an ammonia solution. Just take care to make sure the mixture isn’t too concentrated. And never combine it with bleach or cleaners that contain bleach. It can result in toxic fumes that cause headaches and seizures.

  1. For counters and floors add a tablespoon of ammonia for every cup of water.
  2. Wear protective gloves and open the windows to additional ventilation.
  3. Test in an inconspicuous place before applying to surfaces.
  4. To protect painted walls, reduce the concentration to 1/4 cup of anomia per gallon of warm water.
  5. Let it sit on surfaces or walls for a few minutes, then wipe it off with a clean sponge or rag.
  6. Follow with a rinse of warm water.

6. Don’t forget the ventilation

replacing air filter

To get rid of the cigarette smell in your apartment, you need to clean every space, no matter how small. That includes the spaces that move air through your home. Turn off the power before you start disassembling.

  1. Put in a maintenance request for a clean furnace filter.
  2. Vacuum out the ducts so polluted dust doesn’t move through the ducts into the rest of the apartment.
  3. Scrub the air vent covers and registers to remove dirt and grime.
  4. Wipe down the vents in air conditioning units.
  5. Clean all fan blades, fixtures and light bulbs on ceiling fans.
  6. Gently remove vent covers on the microwave and range top in the kitchen.
  7. Vacuum or dust inside.
  8. Wash the fan covers with soap and water.
  9. Put in a maintenance request to clean out exhaust fans in the bathroom, as well. This is a little more complicated, so your landlord may prefer you let the pros handle it.

7. Clean overlooked items

cleaning window blinds

Once you’ve tackled the big items like furniture, carpets, walls and counters, it’s time to think small. Make sure you’ve scrubbed all surfaces, even the overlooked ones.

  1. Look high and low. The tops of kitchen counters and baseboards are dust magnets.
  2. Wipe down little things like lamp bases, towel racks and window blinds.
  3. Place un-washable items outdoors in the sun (or by the window) to let the UV rays neutralize the smell.
  4. Put a cup of baking soda in a garbage bag with any items you can’t wash, like books or important papers. Let them sit in a sealed bag for a day, then shake off the powder.

8. Neutralize odors

baking soda

As we’ve already learned baking soda and vinegar can effectively get rid of cigarette smells. But activated charcoal works, too. Use all three to help neutralize odors in your apartment.

  1. Place bowls of baking soda around the room to absorb the smell in particularly pungent areas. The baking soda will eventually reach a saturation point, so you may have to rotate fresh bowls in.
  2. Boil a pot of vinegar on the stove for a few hours to neutralize the smell of stale cigarette smoke. (Don’t worry, the smell of vinegar will fade in time.)
  3. Purchase small bags of activated charcoal at home improvement and hardware stores and set them around the apartment.

9. Purify the air

air purifier

Once you’ve removed or neutralized the odors and cleaned the surfaces as well as you can, turn your attention to the air itself. An air purifier that meets HEPA standards will filter out 99.97 of larger particulates like many of those found in cigarette smoke.

  1. Set up purifier with approved HEPA filters.
  2. The most effective options also have an activated charcoal filter to filter out smaller particles, as well.
  3. Change the filters as recommended.

Snuff out the smoke

These cleaning, deodorizing and air purifying tips can help you get rid of the cigarette smell in your apartment. They can help whether you’re moving into a new home or refreshing your existing space.

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