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Home Stagers Tips: How To Remove Smoking Odors From Your Home

Today I went to an open house in my Pasadena neighborhood for a condo unit that’s for sale. The condo is in a great neighborhood, in a quiet, well kept condo development. I was impressed with the walk up to the unit so extra points for good exterior appeal.  I opened the front door and WHAM! The smell of old cigarette smoke and nicotine hit me square in the face. I asked the agent if the owners were smokers. She said they were, and the apartment had been fully re-painted and re-carpeted, yet the smell persisted.

Smoking odors, be it from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes is insidious and very difficult to get rid of. It seeps into the smallest cracks and crevices. It saturates upholstery batting, stuffing and cushions. It infiltrates carpet padding. Here’s some home stager’s tips for getting rid of old cigarette smoke and nicotine smells:
Home stagers tip: Getting rid of cigarette smoke odors

  • Get rid of everything “soft” meaning furniture, upholstery, throw pillows, drapery, mattresses, etc. If you can’t put it in the washing machine or send it to the dry cleaner, you’ll never get rid of the smell. Even if you can wash a pillow cover, you will have to get rid of the pillow filler unless you can launder that too.
  • Tear out the carpet and tear out the carpet padding. Don’t replace the carpet without replacing the padding. Wash the bare floor with a product appropriate for the surface. Wash it again.
  • Wash down all painted surfaces with something like TSP which you can purchase at most hardware and paint stores. Don’t forget the ceiling. Follow the instructions on the package carefully so you don’t damage the surface or hurt yourself.
  • Wash all other hard surfaces (linoleum floors, tile, etc.) with a 1 to 3 solution of white vinegar and water (1 cup vinegar to 3 cups water). Test the solution in an inconspicuous area first to make sure it won’t damage the surface. DO NOT use this solution on granite, marble or stone. Use a reputable stone cleaner. Change the solution often so you are not dragging the smell from one surface to another. The vinegar smell will dissipate fairly rapidly, so don’t worry about that. Remember to wash out all cabinets and closets as well.
  • Use the correct Kilz primer to cover all painted surfaces. Your painter or paint store person should be able to direct you to the proper product. If the smell is particularly strong, you may have to use 2 coats of Kilz. Kilz claims to act like a sealer for both the nicotine stains and the odor.
  • Have all the vents and ducts in the house cleaned.
  • Change any HVAC filters (heater and AC).
  • Remove all lightbulbs and either clean them or replace them. Nicotine can collect on light bulbs like every place else, and when a bulb is turned on, it can act like an odor diffuser.

Most air fresheners will only mask the smell temporarily. Same with diffusers.

Please DO NOT USE an “ozone air purifiers” to remove smoking odors. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) a government agency, their claims are based upon junk science. Read more about ozone air cleaners or purifiers.

From the EPA site:

Manufacturers and vendors of ozone devices often use misleading terms to describe ozone. Terms such as “energized oxygen” or “pure air” suggest that ozone is a healthy kind of oxygen. Ozone is a toxic gas with vastly different chemical and toxicological properties from oxygen.

While there is no guarantee that the above methods will remove all smoke odors before you put your home on the market, they should go a long way to removing most of them.

This was originally posted in October 2010. It has been updated and more information has been added.

Photo credit: Nirbhao on Flickr.com

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+Michelle Minch