How can we get 3rd hand smoke out of a rug?
February 15, 2009 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Our neighbor is a heavy smoker and smoke regularly filters into our living space. We're moving out but how do we rehab our oriental rug?

We're moving out of our apartment this month. After hearing this Science Friday piece on the dangers of 3rd hand smoke, we've decided to leave all of our upholstered furniture (per Professor Winickoff's advice about what to do if you live in an apartment where someone in the building smokes: Move out and get rid of everything that is upholstered) including our mattress, couch, loveseat, overstuffed chair.

We're not willing to give up our Persian rug, which was new when we purchased it a year ago and after we move, will be stored in a friend's spare room for two months before it gets used again.

How can we rid the rug of the third-hand smoke? If at all possible, we'd like to avoid getting it professionally cleaned- we called the rug dealer we purchased it from who said it would cost a substantial amount for him to clean it.

Would it help if we aired it out by hanging it on a covered porch for a few days? It doesn't smell like smoke but has been in an environment with smoke filtering in for several months.
posted by stewiethegreat to Home & Garden (19 answers total)
It doesn't smell like smoke? Then where's the problem?
posted by dunkadunc at 1:12 PM on February 15, 2009

No clue- it doesn't smell like smoke more than anything else in the apartment, but I suspect if the furnishings were in a different apartment that didn't have any smoke pollution, they would all smell like smoke.
posted by stewiethegreat at 1:16 PM on February 15, 2009

I think you're being overly paranoid here. I mean you're going to get rid of all your upholstered furniture even if it doesn't smell bad? The fact that they found residues in some concentration doesn't actually mean that the levels were high enough to actually cause problems, especially if they're going to be taken out of a smokey environment. Seems like this Winickoff is really the only source on this issue, and there's only been one study.

If stuff stinks, get rid of it, but I wouldn't worry if it doesn't.
posted by delmoi at 1:17 PM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I believe the OP said that second-hand smoke regularly filters into their apartment, and so, based on the assumption that 3rd-hand smoke is indeed dangerous for you, it seems reasonable to get rid of upholstered furniture and other household items that will have absorbed carcinogens.

Anyway, the OP didn't ask whether or not the concept of 3rd-hand smoke is real or not, so calling him/her paranoid is not helpful.

Airing out the rug to get rid of the smell is not going to work, because the heavy metals and carcinogens that may have accumulated in the rug typically do not have any smell.

If you would like to try to mitigate the problem, get the rug cleaned. It usually costs $2 per square foot.

Make sure whoever cleans your rug will do a good job.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:33 PM on February 15, 2009

Third hand smoke is a myth, there is nothing to be worried about. Your rug also has traces of pollutants from the traffic outside. So what? If it doesn't smell it is not a problem.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:41 PM on February 15, 2009

Seconding delmoi. Moving away should be more than enough. Whatever residue that comes with you will have negligible health effects, if any.
posted by awesomebrad at 1:41 PM on February 15, 2009

Y'know... fabric breathes. if you take care of stuff and clean it, it's not likely people are going to walk into your living room five years from now and say, "Wow. This place smells like smoke." for you to respond, "Yes, we lived next door to a smoker five years ago."

I stayed with a friend in Vienna a while ago and her boyfriend smoked like a chimney. When I got home, I opened my suitcase and it was like an ashtray exploded. I aired the clothes and suitcases out... and I still use them and wear those clothes today. You'd never know they were ever traumatized, it's all like a funny dream now.

Look at this as a temporary problem, not something you need to panic over and be bitter about. I say this as someone who was raised in a chainsmoking household... it's good that you're deciding to take care of your health and the odds are in your favor that going to be okay after this. As will your furniture and rugs.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:49 PM on February 15, 2009

Not that it is relevant, but I purchased all of the furniture in the apartment for a grand total of $80 (dum, dum, dum, DUM!). We're moving abroad. It would cost many times the value of the furniture to get it shipped to our new home, and cost an average of 90% of what I paid for it in total to store it for just one month where we live. We're ditching the furniture, yeah, but we're doing it because it makes sense to do it in light of the rest of our life, not just the smoke issue.

I didn't mention it in my question because in my mind it is not pertinent to the question which is: how can I get smoke out of my rug?

Also irrelevant is whether you think 3rd hand smoke is a myth.

I'm only interested in knowing if anyone has any advice on how to clean a rug, thanks!
posted by stewiethegreat at 1:56 PM on February 15, 2009

And Miss Lynnster, I used to work in a bar- I totally agree, clothes can absolutely be cleaned and be just fine! They are, however, entirely different from furniture.

I'm not bitter or panicking in any way, I like my neighbors and am friendly with the one who smokes. I've never complained about the habit and understand, having seen a grandparent die because of their addiction to smoking, how painfully difficult it can be to smoke. This isn't some anti-smoking screed. I respect and would fight for my neighbor's right to make choices about his life and his body. I'm simply asking how to clean my carpet?
posted by stewiethegreat at 2:03 PM on February 15, 2009

(that should have been, 'painfully difficult it can be to try to quit smoking ') sorry.
posted by stewiethegreat at 2:04 PM on February 15, 2009

Could you clarify your question? Are you looking to get rid of the smell, or any residue?

I don't know enough about the residue that may or may not be left behind to give you an answer. I assume professional cleaning would be your best bet in that case.

For smells, if you are comfortable getting the carpet wet, you could spray a weak mixture of water and household borax on it (not so much that it's soaked, but enough to get it somewhat damp). Let it sit for a minute, then blot with towels. Spray it again with plain water, and blot again. Obviously let it air dry somewhere where there isn't smoke, and is good air circulation.

Note - I don't know anything about Oriental rugs, and whether the above procedure would ruin it. I do this with regular carpet to get pet smells out.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:24 PM on February 15, 2009

I've cleaned rugs before.
The quick and easy is to turn it upside down and walk on it pile-down for a week or two, then vacuum up all the garbage that your feet press out.
The hard and energetic is to hang it out on the clothesline on a dry day and beat the hell out of it with a flat paddle (or substitute). Leaving it out is a bonus---it's the beating that does the trick. Then walk on it pile-down, then vacuum it.
No matter what you do, you're going to be surprised and disgusted by how much dirt comes out.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:28 PM on February 15, 2009

SuperSquirrel, thanks, that's exactly the kind of info I'm looking for. I'll call the place we bought it from and ask if that will damage the rug.

Ideally smell and residue, but I know little about this as well.
posted by stewiethegreat at 2:29 PM on February 15, 2009

If you're this concerned about it, I'm not sure how you could do anything but send it for a professional cleaning. You can't steam clean a nice Persian rug, and I think using baking soda or salt would be too abrasive for all over a fine rug. You're not concerned with smell - you want all possible toxins out of that thing, right? How is airing outside going to help those things that are stuck in the fibers?

If you don't want to send it out, I'd give it a very thorough vaccuuming, with a great cleaner - borrow one if needed. Vaccuum several times, air it outside in the sunlight, and when you return home, repeat the process. There aren't any magical non-professional cleaning options for Persian rugs.

You don't have to use the rug dealer to get it cleaned. Use yelp or another local recommendation site, and find a good rug cleaner. Measure your rug, call for estimates. Bid down if necessary - I'm sure not many folks are spending money on getting their rugs cleaned right now (unless metaphorically speaking). But if you want them to do a good job, I wouldn't drive a hard bargain, as it seems to be an important issue for you.

Papillon Rug Care gets good reviews and looks to be relatively close to you.
posted by barnone at 2:33 PM on February 15, 2009

Don't use water and borax on a fine Persian rug, not if you want it to last. The idea is not to inject fine abrasive particles in there - that will break down the backing and knots. Borax is way too abrasive - it's what's used to get rid of cockroaches - it pierces their shells so they dehydrate.

At some point you have to decide whether you want to clean the rug at home (but taking care of the rug itself), cleaning the rug incredibly deeply (but possibly damaging the rug), or send it out.
posted by barnone at 2:36 PM on February 15, 2009

If it were a high-quality rug, I would call around for a place that knows how to clean it properly and will also store it for a fee. We had a rug that we had cleaned and left rolled in storage for awhile, and it never fully flattened out--I'm sure there's a way to fix it, but it's a cheap rug and we've never bothered. If I had an expensive rug, I'd consider having it professionally stored while I was out of the country, if I didn't have a place where it could be laid out flat.
posted by not that girl at 2:46 PM on February 15, 2009

I'll second some of the advice already given with the disclaimer that I'm not any kind of expert, I'm just this guy, y'know.

First, hang it up outside somewhere and beat it. At the very least you'll be able to see all the dust you're getting out of it. Then let it air in some bright sunlight for a while. Hopefully this will speed up the natural breakdown of the chemicals while still being relatively gentle.

Second, trust your nose. It's been highly trained to weed out substances that might be harmful. Give the rug a good airing and if it smells nice enough after that, I wouldn't fret overmuch about it.
posted by lucidium at 3:36 PM on February 15, 2009

Baking soda sitting overnight on our carpet and then vacuuming worked pretty well. Not sure how it would affect a fine rug.
posted by starman at 5:09 PM on February 15, 2009

starman is right. I have a pretty good quality rug that had heavy smoke and soot damage from a housefire. Lots of baking soda was spread over the rug, and then I let it sit for a couple of days. The baking soda pulled the stuff out of the rug. Then I vacuumed the rug. But this was a $300 dollar rug that I bought at Home Depot, so you might take this advice with a grain of salt.
posted by captainsohler at 10:21 PM on February 15, 2009

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