Complete Guide to Cigarette Odor Removal


When it comes to stale cigarette odor, even smokers find the smell of stale tobacco in a home offensive. If you are a landlord, it’s likely lowering your property value significantly.

Most seasoned landlord or property managers experience cigarette odor related hassles at some point. Whether it’s a tenant complaining about neighbor’s secondhand smoke drifting into their suite, or the forever-lingering smell of nicotine after a renter moves out, dealing with cigarette smoke is never pleasant.

Getting rid of the cigarette odor from a formerly smoke-filled apartment can be a real headache. Cigarette odor is strong, prevalent, and difficult to remove. So much so that highly trained professional odor control technicians use sate of the art equipment and products like ozone treatment, fogging, duct cleaning, and many other techniques to return a home to a fresh state. 

After the tenant moves out, you may be left with yellow-ish stains on your walls and ceilings, carpets and drapes that reek of smoke, sometimes even cigarette burns. Secondhand smoke is a confirmed health hazard with no known safe level of exposure. In fact, nicotine residual in thirdhand smoke forms carcinogens, which have cancer potencies, according to a 2010 study. As a result, your rental unit will need an extensive makeover before you can move new tenants in. How extensive, you ask? For starters, it’s important to understand that cigarette odor isn’t comparable to the nasty smell of a wet dog or dirty shoes, so simply “febreezing” the room or burning scented candles will not fix smoke odor.

If you are ready to tackle removing smoke odors on your own, try these 8 steps.

1. Let It Breathe

The first step of deodorizing a rental property is to clear out any surface odor – ventilation. Open all windows and leave them open for as long as possible; during the entire cleaning process as well as afterwards. Turn on available ceiling fans and place portable fans next to windows facing outward to blow out any remaining smoke in the space.

2. Absorb the smoke

Place small bowls of vinegar around the rental unit. Similarly, fill bowls with kitty litter and baking soda to help absorb the odor. If you’re willing to go one step further, grab some powdered activated charcoal from your local pet store or health food store. As one of the best odor neutralizers, activated charcoal is also very affordable. Leave small bowls of activated charcoal around the suite for a few days, and they should slowly start to lift the smells.

If you happen to own an air purifier, make sure to leave them on as well. With the powerful HEPA (High-efficiency particulate arrestance) filtering system as well as activated carbon filters, air purifiers are able to absorb vast majority of the surface chemicals and odor.

3. Repaint Ceilings & Walls

Ready to get down to business? Let’s start with the biggest chunk of the job – ceilings and walls. This part may not sound like your idea of fun, but it’s necessary, and the reward is huge.

First, you would need to wash the surface. Mix a cup of white vinegar with 2 cups of warm water and ½ cup of baking soda. Dip a sponge in the mix and start wiping down the ceilings and then the walls. Washing the ceilings and walls with vinegar can both deodorize and clean the surface. Wipe with a clean sponge after. Repeat 2-3 times.

Next, repaint the ceilings and walls with multiple coats of paint, depending on how stained the walls are. It is crucial to wash and dry the surface first, as simply repainting the wall might not stop the nicotine stains from seeping through. Also, paint sticks better to a cleaner surface. Again, if you’re willing go that extra mile, you can apply a layer of odor-blocking primer before regular paint. Odor-blocking primers are very effective at preventing odor molecules and stains from penetrating the new paint.

4. Details Matter: Light Bulbs and Air Filters

Change your light bulbs. Working similarly to scent-diffusers, light bulbs may disperse nicotine residue throughout your rental space the same way once they’re turned on.

Heating and air filters tend to spread smoke odors and residuals around the living area; your best bet is to replace them altogether.

5. Wash Windows and Window Coverings

Moving on, window coverings are also great absorbers of cigarette smoke. You would definitely need to remove all window coverings in order to clean them, whether they’re blinds, shades, curtains, or drapes.

Soak non-wooden blinds in a bathtub full of all-purpose cleaner mixed with water and a cup of vinegar. Let blinds soak for 10-15 minutes, then scrub thoroughly and hang to dry. For curtains and drapes, you can take them to a dry cleaner or replace them. If your drapes are washable, wash them in the hottest setting allowed. Clean windows thoroughly by spraying vinegar onto the window surface and wipe it with a microfiber cloth. Repeat 2-3 times, then wipe with a clean cloth.

6. Refresh Cabinets and Upholstery

Cigarette smoke can certainly find its way into cabinets with doors and cloth furniture, so you should definitely go over the remaining furniture inside the suite.

Sprinkle baking soda over upholstery in your rental unit such as sofas and beds. Tap it into the fabric gently and let it sit overnight. Use a vacuum to suck it up the next day. Alternatively, you may wet a lint-free rag with white vinegar and rub down your fabric furniture to get rid of the smoke odor. For cabinets and drawers, you can use the same method to wipe down the surfaces, spray the inside with a light white vinegar mist, and leave the doors open to air dry the inside.

7. Cleanse Carpets and Rugs

Carpeting could be one of the biggest headaches to clean. It doesn’t matter how careful your tenants are, carpets are like ‘silent vacuum’ – they eventually pick up all the tiny dirt, spills, and the invisible cigarette smoke molecules from all the years of smoking.

Start by sprinkling baking soda over the carpet or rug, wait for 10 minutes, and vacuum the carpet intensely for up to 30 minutes. Then, spray a light mist of one part of white vinegar mixed with two parts of water onto the carpet or rug. If the odor persists, unfortunately, it’s probably time to say goodbye to your carpet. If the carpet isn’t replaceable, you may need to hire a professional carpet cleaner to take care of it.

8. Finally… Floors

Cleaning hard floors is much like washing the wall, except that you can’t use vinegar on a hardwood floor, and you have to choose an appropriate cleaner that doesn’t damage the type of floor you have. Thoroughly damp mop the floor with a mixture of the cleanser and warm water for 2-3 times, changing the water regularly. Do a final rinse, if required by cleaner. As well, hand-scrub baseboards and door frames with the cleanser in a damp sponge.

Smoking decreases property values

A 2013 survey showed that smoking in a home could lower its property value by up to nearly 30%. Moreover, numerous researches have found that the majority of renters prefer smoke-free buildings. Even with this comprehensive, top to bottom refresh, there is no guarantee that your rental space will be rid of all cigarette smoke residuals. Restoring a formerly smoke-filled apartment can be expensive and time-consuming, so it might be a smart idea to adopt a non-smoking policy for your rental property to keep the smokers at bay, if you haven’t already.

It’s a great idea to clearly indicate your smoking policy in your rental listing. Pendo’s Rental Listing Website enables landlords to specify smoking and pet policies. Try it today!

Got any tips for getting rid of smoke odor? Share with us by commenting below!