Older Home - Cigarette Smell :(

Updated on May 28, 2010
J.S. asks from Saint Paul, MN
17 answers

Hi ladies,

We bought our home last fall. It was a single owner home (bought from the estate managed by the kids of a deceased gentleman). It was built in the 1960's. Prior to putting it on the market they had removed all carpet and refinished the hardwood floors. Repainted all surfaces including the ceilings as far as we can tell, and also the cabinets in the bathrooms and kitchen), replaced carpet on both sets of stairs. The basement had been recently refinished (new ceiling, carpet, paint). We also repainted most of the walls after we moved in for better color. There were no window treatments in the home when we bought it.

The problem is, now that we are having our first real heat wave (93 degrees and humid today) it smells like cigarettes on our second floor. It's faint but my husband and I both noticed it right away yesterday (the first hot/humid day).

My question is, what else could possibly be done to help the smell? It must be coming from the attic? It's unfinished up there, and is just insulation as far as I know. My husband intends to go up and check it out, but really, replacing the insulation is a huge job and not in our budget right now.

Is there some kind of special oder killer we could use? Anyone have a favorite air freshener that would help with a smoke smell?

We love our home and are so disappointed to discover that it has a "stink" to it. We have lived her for almost 9 months and had never smelled it until the humidity and heat kicked in. :(

Any advice is appreciated or personal experience with this is appreciated.

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So What Happened?

Thanks for the suggestions! I have vinegar in the guest room and my daughter's closet right now! I'm hoping that once the humidity decreases it will disappear and we plan to paint the guest room next.. and wash all the windows and woodwork too. Maybe that will help.

I'll look into a "natures sponge" or something similar and see if we can get that in the attic.

Thanks again!

Featured Answers



answers from Minneapolis on

You may want to take a few Bounce dryer sheets and spread them about the rooms. It really helps take the smell out.



answers from Minneapolis on

I know you said that you painted, but did you use any type of primer? We had a similar situation about 2 yrs ago and they also used a woodstove, so we had 2 smells to compete with.

Replacing the carpets is HUGE and we also used "Kills" primer from Home Depot before we painted and that made a tremendous difference, I haven't smelled it yet :)

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answers from Roanoke on

We also bought a home that only had one previous owner, it too was built in the late 1960's. The previous home owners smoked and I can tell you that the smell goes away with time. We have been here two years and unless we leave the house closed up while on vacation etc. the smoke smell is gone. We had to replace light fixtures, light bulbs, insulation, paint, tear up carpet...pretty much an entire overhaul as well as wipe everything down. Nicotine was everywhere. I bought several febreeze plug in air filters(at Bed Bath & Beyond) They really helped circulate the yucky air out of the house and bring in fresh air. I would say the big thing here is to replace your insulation when you can! :) GOod luck and enjoy your home.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Get (or rent) an ozone machine. They are commonly used in mausoleums so they really, REALLY get rid of odor. They are also used by car dealerships to get the smoke smell out of used cars. Also place dishes of ground coffee beans around your second floor. It really absorbs odors. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Indianapolis on

Hotels use chemicals to help de-smoke guest rooms. I don't know if they're only available to businesses or if the general public can also purchase them.

Your best bet is to find the source of the smell (it may be in the subflooring, too), and treat only the areas affected.

If you can get a company that does restoration after fires/floods, they're probably best suited to provide an answer and resolution. Our neighbors just had a fire in their house that was contained to the basement, but the entire house has been gutted (down to the studs) because of the smoke damage. You could literally stand a few feet from the house (which appears completely OK on the outside) and smell the smoke damage.

Good luck.



answers from Minneapolis on

I wonder if having your air ducts cleaned would help? This help out a lot when we moved in to a home with cats and dogs. We never smelled the animal smell again after having them cleaned out. Just a thought!



answers from Minneapolis on

I agree with the other advice to stay away from commercial air fresheners....they have bad chemicals and will only mask the problem not eliminate it. Other than the vinegar solution, the other product you can use is zeolite...it's a natural absorbent clay..not sure what brand names it is marketed under but it is 100% natural and will absorb most odors. And to refresh the product all you need to do is put it out in the sun now & then. Good luck!



answers from Dallas on

Have you replaced your air filters lately? That really helped us out when we had our first apartment.


answers from Killeen on

Our first apartment had a smoke smell in the closet- which was horrible becasue all of our clothes smelled like smoke!
I found this product :


I just put a cup of it in the closet and it actually sucked out the smell!! The also have a spray version which I never used, but would probably be great too. I put the concentrated version on in a spray bottle and sprayed it on my clothes and the freshened right up. Maybe you could just spray it around the attic.



answers from Raleigh on

My mother (now an ex-smoker) said that putting bowls of vinegar in or around the affected areas will help with the old ashtray smell. She said she would do this when it got to be too much in her own home. Of course, the smell of vinegar is strong, but it will eventually dissipate, taking the smoky smell with it.



answers from Duluth on

My sister moved into an apartment where the people below her smoke, and they're using an air purified with some success. My parents moved into a house that had smokers for years, and while it was a slow process, the house did air out eventually. Not that that's necessarily the route you want to go, but I did want to chime in and say it WILL probably air out on its own in a year or two, especially if you have open windows.



answers from Portland on

I second Denise's suggestion of using an ozone generator. Be careful to treat the area while nobody's in there breathing, though, because ozone is a lung irritant. Open doors and windows for an hour after running the generator for a couple of hours. Repeat if necessary. Ozone acts as an oxygen "bleach," destroying all sorts of pollutants.

PLEASE stay away from air "fresheners." Almost all of them contain highly toxic ingredients, and are probably a greater health risk than residual cigarette smell.

Coffee grounds or open bowls of vinegar are reputed to work for lots of smells, but will primarily work on only the smell that's been released into the air. Ozone will circulate around the room and get to the source.



answers from Rapid City on

I like to watch Ghost Hunters, two plumbers started a group called TAPS. One of the episodes they talked about the common report of smelling cigar or cigerette smoke as paranormal activity. They said that older homes in which people smoked a lot will get that because it gets into the wood. The humidity could then swell the wood enough to let out the smell. That could be what is happening in your home. If there is wood trim or even the wood beams in the walls, it could be holding in the smoke smell until it is released as the wood swells. I would suggest a air cleaner in the rooms where you smell it the worse.


answers from Norfolk on

Cigarette smoke smell gets into everything. Since you've repainted the walls/ceilings and refinished the hardwood floors (and I assume you've washed and/or bought new curtains/window treatments, etc), it's hard to figure where the smell is still coming from. Is there any original furniture still on your 2nd floor? Wood furniture will absorb smell from smoke, too. An ozone machine might help. (Close up the rooms and let it run, then air the rooms out before you use them again.) Wiping down surfaces with vinegar helps, too. And you can always leave open boxes of baking soda around just like you would in your fridge. The smell will dissipate over time.



answers from Milwaukee on

Run a dehumidifier. Also, go to the hardware store and get some charcoal--not the grilling kind. They will know what you are looking for.
When we bought our house, it had bo--basement odor. After leaving the windows open and buying some jars of odor something--sorry, I don't remember what it was--and running a dehumidifier--it disappeared.
Hope it goes away for you as well.

PS--I went online and found a comperable product--nature's air sponge. Might be worth a try.



answers from Minneapolis on

If they didn't wash the whole house with TSP then you will also start seeing the nicotine seeping through the paint... it's nearly impossible to get rid of unless you wash the walls, cabinets, etc. with this product.

Go to any hardware store 9ace,etc) they sell it there - $14 a box and you mix it with hot water... don't make big batches though b/c if it's really smokey the water will turn brown in no time. It's better to make smaller batches so you've got clean water. good luck. you'll also want to remove all the switch and outlet plates and vacuum those out..



answers from Minneapolis on

I moved into a home 6 years ago that had smoke smell as well as cat smell. I use Fabreese spray as well as washed walls, ceilings & wood work. After everything was clean then had walls & ceilings painted- for several years I could not get cat smell out of basement until I opened the garage door one summer and use soap & bleach on the cement walls & floor. that seemed to do it. Hope this helps

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