It doesn’t take that much time and effort to end up with residual smoke odors in your home: a party, a rude visitor, or a family member who smokes. Here are six tried-and-true methods for permanently removing them.
1: Clean Fabrics with Vinegar
If you’ve ever visited a smoky bar, you’ve still been reminded of your night out the next morning, when you could still smell smoke on your skin. It can be the same for your home’s fabrics, which will absorb any residual smoke from your rule-breaking visitors.
While it may not be necessary to remove all of the fabric from your home (moving a couch to the patio can be a pain!), do remove all of the fabric pieces from the smelly space. Pillows, bedding, sheets, and curtains all fall into this category. In case you have a big washing machine, you can do a cold wash cycle with 2 cups of vinegar added to the load.
Then, whatever you do, don’t dry them on high heat; according to my study, heat reactivates the smoke odor and even sets it into the fabric. Instead, use a low-heat or fluff cycle—or, if you have the ability to line dry them in the sun, that will be even more convenient.
You can need to enlist the support of your local dry cleaner for larger, bulkier products. Take all of the smelly things to the cleaners, and make sure to tell them you need help eliminating the smoke odor so they can work their skilled magic on the items.
2: Scrub Carpets and Furniture with Baking Soda
You’ll probably be left with large things like furniture, mattresses, and carpet after you’ve removed the majority of small, soft items from the room. Baking soda will be your best friend for these things.
Your aim is to liberally sprinkle baking soda on all of your home’s soft surfaces. Using a 2-cup liquid measuring cup and a big colander is the best way I’ve found to do this. Fill the measuring cup halfway with baking soda and move it to the area where you want to sprinkle it. Fill the colander halfway with baking soda, then shake it over the carpet or cloth. This will aid in spreading it uniformly across the surface.
Continue moving around the room until a coating of baking soda has been applied to the carpet, cloth, chairs, and mattresses. It should appear as if the room were covered in a thin layer of snow.
Allow the baking soda to do its job by allowing it to sit for 30-60 minutes. During this time, gently brush your hand over the mattress or fabric, or walk around the carpeted space with socks on your feet to help work the baking soda into the soft surfaces.
Keep moisture away from the baking soda (including dog drool and oils from your feet), as this can cause a paste that is difficult to remove. It’s time to disinfect the hard surfaces as the baking soda absorbs odors from the soft surfaces.
3: Apply Vinegar to the Walls
Smoke, whether from cigarettes or candles, leaves a greasy residue on walls and ceilings as it passes through the air and lands on the first hard surface it touches. The bulk of the residue adheres to high areas such as the upper half of walls and ceilings, but if there was a lot of smoke in the room, it’s likely to be stuck all the way down the walls—and even on the floor.
A vinegar/water mixture works well for removing smoke residue from walls. Fill half of your bucket with vinegar and the other half with water. If the scent or touch of this is too intense for you, add a little more water before it’s tolerable to deal with. I’d also suggest only filling 1/3 to 1/2 of your bucket at a time with this mixture. Since it can get sticky easily, I’ve noticed that using small quantities of cleaning solution and changing it out often keeps the mixture clean.
4: Vacuum the Baking Soda
Vacuum up all the baking soda from around the room after you’ve washed down the walls—or when you just need a break from the vinegar smell. Attach the attachments to chairs and mattresses, and clean the carpet with the roller cleaner. Once all of the baking soda has been vacuumed and the walls have been wiped down, I recommend going out for a nice lunch or a cup of coffee. This is not only to reward yourself for a job well done, but also to give your nose a rest so you can assess if the smoke odor has been fully eliminated from the house when you return.
5: For Tough Smells, Use an Ozone Machine
If all of your hard work hasn’t been enough to get rid of the smoke odor, it’s time to call in the big guns and follow the advice of restoration companies. These companies specialize in eliminating odors from houses, and the Ozone machine is the most popular piece of equipment they use.
You can either call a repair company and rent one of their machines for the day, or you can go to your favorite online store and purchase one for about the same price. My husband decided to buy an Ozone system for under $300 for our vacation rental because we’re likely to have another guest smoke in one of our units in the future.
6: Remove Strong Odors by Painting and Replacing Carpet
If all else fails, repainting the entire interior and replacing the flooring is the last resort for eliminating smoke odor from a house. If smoke residue remains on the walls and ceiling despite your best efforts, use a stain and odor blocking primer like Kilz Max brand primer to cover it up.
The carpet and pad may be beyond repair after years of smoke damage. You can hire professional carpet cleaners to give it one more try, but if you’re moving into a home with extensive damage due to years of interior smoking, it’s probably best to get the old carpet and pad torn out and replaced. It’s dramatic, but once you get down to the hard surfaces, you’ll have a better chance of removing or masking the odor.