Getting Rid of Cigarette Smoke odors

Home Inspector with Pacific Crest Inspections

   If it Smells........

I was inspecting a home that also had a rental cottage. I was informed the rental unit had a long-term tenant, a kindly old gentleman. When I entered the cottage and met the tenant I noticed the walls were harvest gold at the top but light beige at the bottom. All the windows were open but as I worked my way toward the rear of the cottage I was picking up the odors of a smoker.  I was chatting with the gentleman who said that he had lived in the cottage for over 15 years but was finally going to live with family upon the sale of the house. It turns out the harvest color was actually years of cigarette smoke build up on the walls. As I suspected I got a call from the buyer asking me what they can do about the cigarette smell in the cottage.

In addition to being a home inspector I have also been a firefighter for 30 years and know the effect of smoke on a home. The oils in smoke soak into everything. Just ask my wife; she has to wash my smoked soak clothes several times to get the smell out from just one fire!

The cigarette odors in the home originate from the oils and nicotine in the smoke. The overall objective is to remove these byproducts however that’s easier said then done. Many sellers think that by just removing the smoking activity from the home that the smell will go away. Time has little to do will the smell, as long as the oils are present so will the smell. Once the oils have soaked into to something, it takes a determined effort to remove them.

Here are some tips for getting rid of the odors:

Remove all fabrics such as drapes, upholstered furniture etc. If they can’t be removed have them professionally cleaned. Once the smoke soaks into fabrics, you will never completely get rid of the smells.
Wash all hard surfaces with TSP or Simply Green solutions. It may take more than one application.  I want to reinforce “ALL SURFACES”. Smoke gets everywhere. The smoke film needs to be removed if you really want to get rid of the smell.
Once washed, paint all appropriate surfaces with the stain blocker Kilz. Kilz will encapsulate the oils and help prevent the oils from soaking through to the surface. Repaints all surfaces with semi-gloss or gloss paint. Avoid using flat finish paints. Flat finishes tend to be porous and will let the nicotine soak back through. Gloss or semi-gloss are less porous.
If the home is carpeted, get rid of the carpeting if you can. Smoke tends to rise but carpeting is a major absorbent. If you can’t get rid of it have it professionally cleaned.  If it still smells after cleaning, sprinkle  Carpet Deodorizer on the carpeting and let it set for several days then vacumn. Repeat as needed.
If the home still smells after all the cleaning and painting, consider ozone treatments. Fire restoration companies use industrial ozone generators to oxidize the oils. The company will bring in one or more generators and immerse the interior in a high concentration of ozone. The ozone interacts with smoke oils and it eliminates the oils with no toxic byproducts. During the treatment the home cannot be occupied. Car dealers use similar units to prep smoker’s cars for resale.

DO NOT put plug-in deodorizers in every room! This has to be the most abused seller’s tactic. For me this is a red flag. I never claim to be an odor expert and disclaim that responsibility in my contract but when I see a sign I gently point it out to the client. I pointed this out on one home and the client immediately dropped to the floor and was running her nose across the carpeting exclaiming about the urine smell – no I don’t do that!

There are a lot of ads of miracle smoke removal products.  If it doesn’t have a cleaning agent in it, you’re not going to get rid of the smoke smell. Scent-generating deodorizers only serve to mask the smell.  Of course, we’ve all heard of Febreze, and wonder why it works. Well, Febreze uses a chemical compound called cyclodextrin that has been used in household and custodial cleaning products for quite some time. The sugar-like substance doesn’t necessarily “clean” the odors out, but acts as an absorbent like baking soda or charcoal, to help soak the odor out. Yes, Febreze does work, but let’s be honest. Spraying everything down with Febreze isn’t the answer to years and years of built up of cigarette smoke oils and nictine. There is one thing I would suggest in an odor removal product and that is baking soda.  If you see baking soda in an odor removing product, it’s likely to succeed at removing odors.


Rick Bunzel is the Principle Inspector at Pacific Crest Inspections. If you would like to know more about your home go to If you have questions or comments, Rick Bunzel can be contacted at Pacific Crest Inspections @ 360-588-6956


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Jeff Fulgham
T.U.P. Realty - Tupelo, MS
Broker E-Pro ABR
Try an ozonator. The really work. I have an inustrial size one and can do a whole house with it. They produce O3 and actually destroy odors. Now you still need to scrub the walls down but the ozone will make real headway in the odor.
Jul 08, 2007 11:49 AM #1
Tricia Jumonville
Bradfield Properties - Georgetown, TX
Texas REALTOR , Agent With Horse Sense

Thanks for the info on how ozone generators and Febreze work, Rick!  Odors are one of the toughest problems a real estate agent has to deal with in terms of getting a home ready for market, it seems to me. 


Jul 08, 2007 11:52 AM #2
Don Pender
Great information Rick.  I use a product called Ecosorb iAQ in a ULV fogger to neutralize odors in properties for sale and lease.  It works better than ozone and no need to be out of the residence.  The smoke does need to be washed off the walls and I have recently worked with a painter on the Kilz treatment.  Ecosorb iAq is great afetr the paint job because it takes out the smoke odors and the paint odors.  Works great on pet odors as well.  Thanks for your tip!
Oct 08, 2007 08:44 PM #3
Stephen Parkhurst
If you are listing a house that smells of cigarette smoke, you need to get the homeowner to purchase a "Vamoose Complete Home Care Kit" from; for just a few hundred dollars you can save thousands. Vamoose removes the odor by getting rid of the tar residue that results from second-hand smoke. If used properly, this is true and permanent elimination. We use it everyday in the Austin Texas area. Our service business includes such clients as Mercedes of Austin, Lexus of Austin, Keller Williams, and many others.
Mar 26, 2008 04:07 PM #4
Pauline Lyons

I use Nature's AIR SPONGE, available in Ace and True Value Hardware Stores.  It absorbs odors and does not mask them.  It will pull the smoke smell out of furniture and carpets, and is environmentally friendly.  It also works in musty basement smells.

Jul 08, 2008 04:31 PM #5
Liz Smith

For any realtors or homeowners dealing with the odor problem I have found the miracle solution.  I am the property manager to a large apartment community.  At the beginning of every month I deal with odor problems from recently vacated apartments.  Some are more severe than others. Last month we had a really severe smelling apartment.  Even after fresh paint and new carpet.  We couldn't get cat urine smell out.  One of my maintenance guys brought me a product called Room Shocker this product works like no other product have ever tried.  It's simple to use and not labor or time intensive.  So there's no scrubbing or spring or wiping.  It's relatively inexpensive.  It's not a masking agent and gets rid of the odor at the source.  It not only gets rid of the smell, but it completely Decontaminates and disinfects the whole room.  So far I've been able to get rid of severe pet odor, the smell of cat urine, heavy cigarette smoke odor.   I had trouble finding the product but I found it on a website called  I guess it's fairly new.  I swear by this stuff now and then highly recommend it to realtors and  Or apartment managers and owners. The stuff really works!


Sep 10, 2008 11:46 PM #6

I always wondered how Febreeze works to get odors out, because it seems like the touch odors still remain.  This is great information if you have a small kitchen fire or fireplace fire that gets out of control as well.  The Kilz paint does wonders!

May 21, 2009 02:13 PM #7
Marisol Smith

Sorry I took so long to post, about 10 months ago I read LS posting and went out searching the product  she recommended, roomshocker, to eliminate pet odor out of one of my rental units.  It worked just like she said, and yes just like she said it was difficult to find, it is only sold on the internet. ( here for your convenience).

So why did I remember to post today, well I found a buyer for a nice duplex we no longer want.  The only problem SMOKERS lived there for the last 4 years and the buyer wanted to condition the sale on the smell to be gone.  Roomschocker came to the rescue, again.  It is a two  bedroom two bath with a high ceiling entranceway.  I used 6 roomshockers, one per room left it working from Monday eve through Wednesday morning, when we went in it smell like an indoor pool but after airing the place for a couple of hours it just smell clean!! 

YOU MUST try this product in the past I have used all other home remedies with temporary so so results; this does work thank you Room shocker

Apr 26, 2010 10:05 PM #8
Jonathan Hatch

Please take this down, it's in direct violation of the DMCA for this page. This is a fair warning. If you don't take this page down I will serve both Google and your webhost a DMCA notice.

Aug 22, 2011 09:30 AM #9
Tricia Jumonville
Bradfield Properties - Georgetown, TX
Texas REALTOR , Agent With Horse Sense

Okay, I'm puzzled, I went to the page linked to in the objection above and found nothing the same other than the general topic.  Ideas or topics can't be copyrighted.  Words can. 

If it comes to that, this post was published in July 2007, the blog linked to in August, 2010.  Wouldn't that mean that the blog linked to would be in violation of copyright law, NOT this post?   


Aug 22, 2011 05:01 PM #10
Rick Bunzel
Pacific Crest Inspections - Anacortes, WA


I agree. I have never seen this website before. When I wrote the article it was in response to a Realtor who was dealing with a listing that had smoker issues. I think Jonathan is breathing too much nicotine :-))




Aug 22, 2011 07:52 PM #11

i was honestly wondering the same thing...i have a job and my clothes can't smell like smoke is their like easier steps because im not going to follow a whole bunch of steps...too confusing...just tell me what i need and that will be fine...reading all these comments helped me with nothing lol im not going to clean my clothes with white vinegar or baking soda that just wont help me at all... just tell me a product and we will go on from there lol thank you...

Nov 28, 2012 03:04 AM #12
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