How to get cigarette smoke smell out of my laptop?
January 13, 2009 11:49 PM   Subscribe

I recently purchased a laptop on ebay, what I failed to notice is that the seller noted (in a separate 'About Me' webpage) that he was a smoker. How can I get rid of the smell of smoke?

So, now I've got a great computer that works perfectly, but reeks of smoke. I have a pretty strong allergy to any sort of cigarette smoke, so I'm in a tough spot here. I'm looking for ideas that are low risk and/or that have been proven to work to help get rid of smoke smell from electronics/computers.

I've google'd a bit and the only things I am coming up with are industrial strength liquids which would work for the exterior of the computer, but not the interior for obvious reasons. Also, people saying put the laptop in an airtight box with baking soda/vinegar/lemon peels/tea bags/coffee/etc. These ideas all sound great, but no one really recommends anything with confidence. Has anyone tried any of these with any success?

I've got time and I am extremely patient, so something that takes a while wouldn't be ruled out. Does any one have a endall solution to help me out? What have you done to get cigarette smoke out of your items? Thanks in advance to you all.
posted by ibechase to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
Depending on how DIY savvy you are, you could try ordering a new case for the laptop from the manufacturer or online somewhere. Laptop screens frequently break and people part out the remaining guts and shell. When you have the case you could simply replace the outer plastic housing, which I suspect is what holds he odor. If you can't find a replacement you could pull the case off and soak it in some solvent or Freebreze to pull out the odor. While it's open you could then use some canned air to blow away any particulate. Best of luck.
posted by JimmyJames at 1:01 AM on January 14, 2009

I can tell you that the put it in an airtight box with kitty litter approach has worked well for books that smell of smoke or perfume. It's not especially fast, though, taking weeks or months.
posted by Zed at 1:09 AM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Any parts that can be wiped with a damp cloth can be wiped with a damp cloth with some baking soda on it. Other than that, patience. The smell will go in time.
posted by rhymer at 1:25 AM on January 14, 2009

You're almost certainly not allergic to the smell of smoke, in any way other than psychosomatic. You have probably cleaned all the external surfaces well already, but the smell is very likely inside, far from anything you can easily clean. I would, however, spray (a little!) air freshener into the air vents every couple of hours, since a lot of the smell is probably in dust that's caked on the fan(s) inside.

That said, Zed's kitty litter in a sealed box is a very good idea. Perhaps make a "bed" for your laptop, and keep it inside there at night or whenever it's not in use. If you change the litter every couple weeks, the smell should fade slowly over a few months.

You could also try using it outside, resting it in front of a fan for many hours, or masking the smell with something else, by using it near some simmering potpourri or incense.... unless of course you're allergic to that too.
posted by rokusan at 5:14 AM on January 14, 2009

Turn the laptop on and determine which vents are intake and which are exhaust. Then turn the laptop off and get some compressed air (in a can, from a compressor, etc). Blow into the intakes. My suspicion is that most of the smell is being trapped by dust inside the case. Short of dis-assembly and wiping, that's my best solution.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 5:57 AM on January 14, 2009

Seconding TheNewWazoo, I had a guy bring me two computers that stunk of smoke (not the same variety in question here though and only when I turned them on was the smell really bad). After blowing the dust bunnies out of the case the smell was reduced 10x.
posted by syntheticfaith at 6:55 AM on January 14, 2009

Not sure if it's just the case that harbours it - when I collected my old computer from my parents' house, it was opened up and stunk of smoke inside the tower. This was kept in a different room to my dad's office, the bedroom, and the living-room where he smoked. (Sadly one of my old winter coats was not.)
posted by mippy at 7:17 AM on January 14, 2009

Easy answers have already been given- give it a good external cleaning (spray Fantastic or ammonia-based window cleaner (NOT real Windex, its Ammonia-D can wreck some plastics) on a rag and wipe it down, repeatedly. as long as the rag is dry enough to not drip cleaning juice into the machine, it should be fine) and then put it in a sealed container with some kind of deodorizer. Ammonia is an excellent smoke residue cutter, and as far as I have experienced, not harmful to computer plastics. No need for anything more.

This may not work completely, however. What's probably happened is that the heat sink and fans have gotten clogged up with smoke-gunk. Depending on the model, you can just blast the vent ports with canned air to get it out. Or remove the keyboard and do same- you can usually see most of the guts of the computer by doing this, and a pile of damp q-tips (again, dry enough to NOT squeeze juice out) will get to most everything that's causing stink.

The heatsink (in a notebook) is usually a flattened copper tube of some kind, with a block of metal on one end, and fins on the other that the fan blows over.

Or buy a new heatsink/fan.
posted by gjc at 7:35 AM on January 14, 2009

If you are reasonably confident with tools and the like, just take it apart and vacuum it out with one of those vacuum brush attachments. I inherited computers from a smoker, and they reeked. I opened them up, brushed and vacuumed off all the dust inside, and they were way better. It isn't hard to do. Just be gentle and keep track of which screws came from where. Take pictures as you go along, if you need to, or look online for a guide as to how to open your model of laptop.
posted by procrastination at 7:36 AM on January 14, 2009

This is quite extreme, so only use it as a last resort, and don't blame me if it fucks your laptop! Do this if there is still any odour after you have cleaned out all the dust as outlined above.

Put your laptop in an airtight plastic bag. Using a vacuum cleaner suck as much air out of the bag as you can. I really mean ALL the air - suck for a while and then make sure you tie the bag up really tight straight away. Tape any remaining openings shut and tape together the end of the bag past the knot you tied so that no air can possibly get in.

Now, here's the possible dodgy bit: DEEP FREEZE!!!

Put in in your freezer for 48 hours. Cold is great at destroying germs and general odour.

After 48 hours take out the laptop, take it out of its bag and leave to warm to room temperature for a day or so.

I repeat: this is dodgy and might screw things up if done inncorrectly, but it is a good last resort I think...
posted by 0bvious at 7:39 AM on January 14, 2009

You're almost certainly not allergic to the smell of smoke...

This might be incorrect, see this NY Times article on third hand smoke.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:19 AM on January 14, 2009

Using activated charcoal, which you can get at a pet store/aquarium shop, is considerably faster than using cat litter. It will still require a good bit of waiting, though.
posted by Citrus at 11:29 AM on January 14, 2009

I suspect you are boned. Computers typically have an exhaust fan and thus take in air from any crack or crevice on the case. This computer has been sucking in and depositing tar just about everywhere inside itself in addition to the usual problem of tar sticking to exterior plastic. There might also be ash under the keys. About the only thing that will really help is time and airflow.
posted by chairface at 12:14 PM on January 14, 2009

Activated charcoal, as Citrus suggested. Put the laptop in a closed container with activated charcoal. Make your life easier, and use a tray or some shallow bowls. The charcoal can be dusty, so keep it away from any openings on the computer.
posted by wryly at 1:39 PM on January 14, 2009

When I receive used books that reek of smoke [oh the long past joys of reading and smoking!] I freshen them up with carpet freshener. Arm and Hammer makes a powdered carpet freshener that smells "fresh." I sprinkle the A & H into a bag, and then put the books in the bag. Don't inundate the laptop with the powder; put the laptop inside a loosely folded plastic bag. Good luck!
posted by ohshenandoah at 5:10 PM on January 14, 2009

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