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 landlords 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 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 will 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 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 will 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 hardwood floors is much like washing the wall, except that you can’t use vinegar on it, 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 cleanser. 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. Create your listing website today!

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

Comments 11

Walter [5 years ago]

Raise rental rates on smokers and noisy pet owners in multi apartments. Non smokers get the butt end of second hand smoke of any type of smokes!

Vance [5 years ago]

I just moved, and the previous tenant had pets and, also smoked the; odors were throughout the house. The landlord compensated me for repainting all the interior walls; I added the Air-ReNu paint additive that a friend recommended and thankfully, the house stays smelling fresh no more odors. One application works continually no re-application required.

Opeyemi Ayeni [5 years ago]

Odor removal can take many shapes and forms. Ensure that you follow the steps above if you want to get the process started of removing the smoke smell. In very extreme situations when the smoker has been smoking for a very long time, meaning 5-10 years or more you will need to call a professional. Biosweep is the best technology available for this through the power of vaporized hydrogen peroxide.

Katie Broach [5 years ago]

placing bowls of fresh coffee grounds under upholstered furniture can help with smoke odors in furniture. this is a hint I got from a funeral home when a black bird died in my second floor clothes dryer. The grounds destroyed the odor entirely. Just be sure to toss those fresh grounds afterward.. Katie here.

Linda [5 years ago]

I just moved into an apartment that stinks with cigarette smoke they said they change the carpet and the flooring and paint it now they’re cleaning the vents today but my chest hurts my throat is swollen my eyes hurt and I’m allergic to smoke so I told him it’s going to kill me been to the doctor twice have to get a chest x-ray today and then to have a breathing test done Wednesday I don’t know if they’ll let me move

elyse [5 years ago]

recently moved into a rental that had previous smokers. the smell is vaguely evident in specific places, but i’m wondering if there is a way to get rid of slight burn marks around tubs and sinks? they’re kind of tacky? 0: )

Frank Simmons [4 years ago]

Nice article about how to remove cigarette odor completely . Well myself(THE ODOR DOCTORS) also indulged in removing odors from the vehicles whether it is of any type. For complete information visit us

Bert Gruder [4 years ago]

Smoking odors and smoke residue penetrate the walls, furniture, carpets and just about every other nook and cranny in our homes. The Ionic Paint Additive can turn any wall surface, into an efficient permanent air purification system, eliminating smoking, cat urine, cooking odors, and airborne toxins.

Barbara Deverney [3 years ago]


Sandra Schmith [3 years ago]

I.m a smoker who is not concerned for others….So for those who don’t smoke I will smoke outside of my own home and every day walls get washed and floors cleaned. I wish none smokers could be that kind to smokers. I have been smoking for over 40 years. Yes I have a mild form of COPD. But for over 30 years I took care of people in hospitals and nursing homes and I can tell you I’ve seen enough to know it’s not all smoking

THERESA COLE [3 years ago]

Just moved into a home and previous tenant smoked their backs out. My daughter and I have allergies and experiencing swollen red itchy eyes, throat feels raw, my face is swollen.

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