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Home Smoke Damage: Risks and Repairs

By Wendy Helfenbaum Rise Writer
Apr 3, 2021

Maybe you just purchased a home from sellers who were cigarette smokers, or you're thinking about it. Or, you're a smoker wanting to put your house on the market. In all these cases, you probably want to get rid of any smoke damage.

When a cigarette burns, it releases smoke molecules wrapped in tiny amounts of oil and tar. These particles then stick to whichever surface they land on, leaving stained, stinky remnants behind. Removing this damage takes time, effort, and cash. Here's what you need to know.


What Are the Risks of Smoke Damage?

Not only does a house with smoke damage smell bad, but that lingering odor can also be harmful to your health. That's because thirdhand smoke – leftover odors and particles from a cigarette – can still contain toxic particles and gasses.

That sticky, brownish-yellow residue left behind by second-hand smoke is called environmental tobacco smoke. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, this residue contains more than 7,000 compounds, including dozens associated with cancer.


Can Smoke Damage a House?

Tobacco smoke clings to surfaces, including walls, windows, and furniture. It also lingers in every nook and cranny. A home's HVAC system blows this residue and odor throughout, resulting in stale air. Because this thirdhand smoke accumulates with each cigarette burned, it can remain behind for months or years.

Cigarette smoke damage is difficult to remove, even harder than the soot from a fire. That's because the acidic smoke contains tiny particles and gasses that get soaked up by both hard and soft surfaces, leaving resin and tar behind. Nicotine can even contaminate dust.

Old Furniture

Which Areas of a House May Be Damaged By Smoke?

The residue from smoking cigarettes affects every surface in every room of the house. It can permanently change the appearance of some materials, such as plastic.

Cigarette smoke not only seeps into floors, walls and ceilings, but it can also penetrate carpets, upholstered furniture, bedding, clothing, and any soft surface. Even rooms where residents never smoked cigarettes can smell because the HVAC system carries chemicals and odor everywhere.


How Does Smoke Affect Property Value? 

According to a recent study, cigarette smoke odors can lower a property's value by about 30 percent. And because sellers are not required to declare that they are smokers, realtors advise homebuyers to look out for signs of freshly painted ceilings and walls. That could mean the owners are trying to mask a smoky smell that will soon come back.

It can be harder to sell your home if you're a long-term smoker because the smell and stains turn many buyers off immediately.


How Do You Get Rid of Cigarette Smoke Odors?

Eliminating tobacco smoke stains and odor can be challenging, depending on how severe the damage is. The home may need a combination of cleaning tips to get rid of the smell completely. There are several DIY all-natural ways to remove that stinky cigarette smell. Start by cleaning the entire house top to bottom:

  • Open all the windows, and help circulate the air with portable fans in front to pull the dirty air out of each room. If possible, leave them open with the fans running for the whole day.
  • The sun's UV rays can also help neutralize smoke odors, so move furniture or drapery outside and into a sunny area for a few hours if you can.
  • Wash all hard surfaces, such as walls, floors, windows, and ceilings, by spraying them with a solution made of half white vinegar, half hot water. Wash kitchen and bathroom cabinets because smoke odors get in there, too.
  • Throw all laundry-safe fabrics in your washing machine with a half-cup of vinegar and hang everything outside to dry if possible. For items you can't toss into the washing machine, try sprinkling a layer of baking soda and leaving it to absorb odors for 24 hours. Replace inexpensive and hard-to-clean items like throw pillows or lampshades if they smell strongly of cigarette smoke.
  • Replace the home's furnace and HVAC air filters, and have the ducts inspected and cleaned because any dust trapped inside can contain smoke molecules that end up back in the house. Smoke fumes can also get pulled into your HVAC evaporator coil, so you'll want to clean that, too. Use a self-cleaning coil cleanser bought from your local hardware store or some diluted detergent. Be sure to turn the unit off and remove its access panel to get to the coil.
  • You can rent a steam cleaning machine to wash smoke-damaged walls, floors, and furniture. Gently mist smelly areas and wipe up any water with a clean cloth.
  • Change all the light bulbs. Just as scent-diffusers emit when turned on, light bulbs send nicotine residue throughout the room.
  • Once you have thoroughly cleaned the house, see if you can still smell the smoke. If so, you may want to rent an ozone generator from a local hardware store or home improvement center. The activated oxygen created by the ozone generator oxidizes the smoke molecules, eliminating the odor. Generally, the machine has to run in a closed-off room for hours or up to several days, depending on how severe the smoke damage is. Ozone can have serious health effects, and studies referenced by the EPA question their efficacy compared to filter-type air purification.
Bowl of Baking Soda

What Can Absorb Smoke Odors?

  • Set up bowls of baking soda in each room, which will help absorb cigarette smoke smells. Leave them there for 24 hours. You can also spread a layer of baking soda onto any carpeted areas and let that sit overnight. Vacuum rugs thoroughly afterward.
  • Bowls of white vinegar or coffee grounds in each room and left overnight can also neutralize smoke odors. You can also boil a large pot of vinegar and then let it simmer for two hours so the steam can help remove the smell from the air.
  • Bags of activated charcoal contain carbon molecules that can trap and absorb cigarette smoke smells. You can purchase them in most home improvement stores. Hang several bags around the house.

If the adults smoked inside over many years, you might need a more drastic method to remove cigarette odors. Throwing away upholstered furniture and replacing carpeting and even drywall will help.

Is It Expensive to Remove Smoke Stains and Odors?

If DIY methods don't work and you need to call in a professional smoke remediation expert, expect to pay thousands of dollars. Depending on how severe the cigarette smoke damage is, it can cost about $4,000 or more.

Many cleaning services specialize in smoke remediation. These experts treat walls, floors, and upholstery with more powerful chemicals and cleaners than what's available to the general public. Generally, a technician will visit your home to assess the amount of work required and then provide an estimate and a plan to rid your house of smoke damage.


How Do Professionals Remove Cigarette Smoke Damage?

Because tobacco residue is present throughout the home, removing can be very time-consuming, so you might choose to hire a pro. You cannot just paint over a wall or ceiling without deep-cleaning it first because the smoke odors and stains will begin leaking through the paint within weeks.

First, a professional service deep-cleans and deodorizes the home to remove tiny particles of tobacco smoke. Then, the technicians use special equipment to remove all traces of odor in hard-to-access areas. They may also use ozone treatments, fogging, or they might clean your ducts. Then, cleaners will seal all surfaces with a product that locks in stains and odors.

After this step, the odor will be gone, but your walls and ceilings may still look discolored. A fresh coat of paint can usually cover any remaining cigarette smoke damage. You may want to apply a layer of odor-blocking primer before painting.

You can also try using an ionic paint additive which is a mixture of various organic materials, including aluminum, iron, magnesium, and sodium. Treating your walls with this type of product can effectively remove smoke odors for ten years or more. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-09T16:36:53+0000
Wendy Helfenbaum

Article by:

Wendy Helfenbaum

Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montreal-based journalist and TV producer whose work has appeared in many outlets including Apartment Therapy, Metropolis, Architectural Digest’s AD Pro, AARP, Costco Connection, Country Gardens, Realtor.com, Style at Home, Canadian Living and many more. Follow her @WendyHelfenbaum