How to Get Rid of Cigarette Smoke Odor from a Rental Unit
August 14, 2023
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Manage Cigarette Smoke Odor
How to Eliminate Cigarette Smell from a House or Rental Property
Cigarette smoke has a signature odor that tends to stick around even when the smoker is gone.
For landlords and property owners, this is bad news. The more units you own, the more likely it is that you’ll never know about smoking in a unit (regardless of your smoking policy) until the tenant is gone, after which you’ll know immediately. You need to know how to eliminate cigarette smell as quickly as possible. What do you do?
In this article, we’ll describe how to eliminate smoke odor as quickly and cheaply as possible so that you can get on with moving in a new tenant.
Best Way to Get Smoke Smell Out of a House
Smoke can seep into fabrics and carpets, get absorbed by paint on walls and ceilings, and infect just about every part of a property. Smoke particles settle on rarely touched surfaces like the tops of refrigerators, cabinets, and curtain rods, causing the scent to linger for months. Scented candles and aerosols like Febreze only mask the unpleasant odors and don’t actually solve the root of the problem.
What you need to do is dissipate the smoke residue and neutralize the odor as quickly as possible. So, what’s the best way to get smoke smell out of a house?
- Aerate the property. The first thing you should do is increase air circulation inside the property. Open all windows and let air draw out remaining smoke particles for several days. You can also set up an air filter or dehumidifier to aid in this process.
- Set out or sprinkle an odor-absorber. Next, you need something to absorb smoke particles and retain odor. White vinegar is a natural deodorizer and an essential for removing cigarette odor (you’re going to need a lot of it!). Fill several bowls with vinegar, and place one or two in each room. Grab some ammonia, baking soda, or another odor eliminator powder to sprinkle on carpets, furniture, or other surfaces where odors could be retained. Leave the odor-absorbers to do their odor-absorbing overnight.
- Scrub the ceilings, walls, closets, and other hard surfaces with a cleansing solution. Now it’s time for elbow grease: Find a good pair of rubber gloves, buckets, mops, and your cleaning solution of choice. An ammonia or vinegar solution will continue absorbing odors that have settled on or within surfaces. It’s recommended to use either:
- 2 tablespoons ammonia mixed with 2 cups water, or
- 1 cup vinegar mixed with 1 cup water.
- For light fixtures, fans, cabinets, windows, and window dressings: Scrub with vinegar solution and a sponge, then let them air-dry. Be sure to reach all the crevices and corners around windowpanes, and don’t forget the tops of ceiling fans and light fixtures.
- For cabinets: Use a lint-free cloth and the vinegar solution again to scrub the interior and exterior of all cabinets. Be sure to work around all drawers, handles, bottoms, and tops. Leave drawers and cabinets open to air-dry overnight.
- For walls and ceilings: Since smoke tends to seep into paint, you’ll likely need to give the whole place a new coat. Use an oil-based smoke-blocking primer (some landlords recommend KILZ Restoration Primer) to seal in odors or stains and prevent seepage, and then repaint with as many coats as needed.
- For flooring: There are many different types of flooring, and each requires a slightly different cleaning procedure.
- For wood floors, Transunion SmartMove recommends mixing a neutral-pH soap with warm water, then mopping the entire surface. Leave it to air-dry overnight.
- For laminate floors, use the water and vinegar solution again.
- For tiled/grouted floors, vinegar could be damaging. Use an ammonia mixture instead.
- For carpeting: If odor-absorbents don’t help, your next option is to steam or dry clean. It might be worth hiring a professional carpet-cleaning company for those options.
- Clean all HVAC units. You’ll want someone experienced to remove all built-up smoke, dust, ash, and smoke residue that could infiltrate the air and cause odors.
- Last resort: Use an ozone generator or hire a remediation service. Ozone generators get rid of smoke molecules that cause odor for a clean, fresh start. However, it comes at a price – you will need to hire a professional to operate the machine, which will cost hundreds of dollars. You’ll also need to temporarily evacuate the property if there are other tenants living in it.
Lastly, if you’re preparing to show the unit or move in new tenants, you might want to take a few extra steps to ensure they have a positive experience. For example, you could boil orange or lemon peels to humidify the air and release a pleasant citrus scent around the property. You could also invest in some nice-smelling soaps or light a few scented candles. For some, the smell of harsh cleaning chemicals can be just as unpleasant as the smell of smoke, so taking these steps can ensure the unit smells especially good after your deep cleaning.
How to Get Smoke Smell Out of House Furniture
You may not want or be able to get rid of everything inside a rental unit where a previous tenant has smoked. If your unit is furnished, you may be wondering how to get smoke smell out of house furniture, upholstery, and other items inside a property.
For rugs, fabrics, and upholstery:
- Sprinkle a layer of baking soda over the affected areas and let sit overnight to neutralize odors.
- After 24 hours, vacuum and dispose of the baking soda.
- If the odor remains, hire a professional cleaning company to steam or dry clean the rugs or fabrics using special equipment.
For window drapes and curtains:
- Wash these in hot water with detergent plus a cup of white vinegar (don’t let them soak, as they could bleach).
- Repeat as needed.
- If the odor remains, try dry cleaning them.
Although learning how to remove smoking smell from house furniture is relatively simple, it may not work perfectly in practice. Depending on how long and how often the tenant smoked in the unit, it may not be possible to remove all odors. If this is the case, it’s time to invest in new curtains, drapes, rugs, and furniture. By replacing these items, you’ll save yourself the hassle of receiving complaints from new tenants, which will likely result in having to replace the old items anyway.
Document and Deduct
Many landlords have smoke-free communities or only allow smoking outdoors. If this is your case, then you should take swift action to enforce your lease terms.
First, before you begin cleaning, document the smell of the smoke as best as possible. Write down which rooms have an odor, describe the odor, and have several witnesses sign off to verify that they also smell it. If there is visual evidence of smoking (e.g., yellowing blinds or curtains, leftover cigarette boxes, stubs, ashes, etc.), photograph them, then date each photo and file them away in a folder.
Next, after you’ve finished cleaning, add up all cleaning and replacement costs and make the appropriate deductions from the tenant’s security deposit. If the tenant tries to argue about the deductions or take you to court over them, you’ll have plenty of evidence to show that they smoked inside against the lease terms. And even if you don’t have a no-smoking clause in your lease, you can still prove that the tenant’s smoking severely damaged the rental unit.
Lastly, consider modifying or improving your smoking policy enforcement. If a tenant smoked in your property long enough to leave a stubborn odor and seriously damage it, then you know you haven’t been enforcing your policy properly. Consider sending out smoking policy reminders, asking tenants to report evidence of smoking within the community, or conducting more frequent inspections of your units. If you discover a tenant smoking in their unit when it’s against the lease, don’t wait for them to move out—send a lease violation notice and start the eviction process immediately. You don’t want to find yourself with the same problem a few years from now.
Removing the stench of cigarette smoke from a home can feel all but impossible. The above tips and cleaning methods can help you remove the majority of odors, but only a firm smoking policy can fully protect your units from further damage.