I don't want to smell like an ashtray!
October 27, 2009 6:51 AM   Subscribe

How can I mask or block the smell of my neighbor's smoke in my closet?

My downstairs neighbor smokes in his apartment and the smell is making its way into my hallway and closet. My clothes are starting to take on the scent. If I sleep with the bedroom door open, the smell often wakes me up, and even when it doesn't, I wake up with the sore throat and congestion I normally get after a night at a smokey bar. It's been getting worse as the weather gets colder, presumably because he's now got his windows closed. I want to make the smell go away!

To be very clear, I am not asking how do I confront him or complain to the management company. There have been well-publicized accounts of tenants or condo-owners fighting smoking neighbors in New York City and I'm not willing to go that route yet. I'll certainly look into filing a complaint with my management company, but I want to take steps to mitigate the smell myself first. Frankly, I don't care if he smokes in his apartment, even if I can smell it a little, as long as it doesn't wake me up or make my clothes stink.

What I'm looking for includes suggestions on blocking up any possible nooks and crannies in this closet or finding absorption materials to put in that will block, absorb, and otherwise mask the smell. I currently have a fridge/freezer baking soda pack in there, which has made not one bit of difference. I did not notice any holes in the closet floor or walls when we moved in. But another closet in the same hallway doesn't smell, so I'm sure there's something in my closet that's letting the smoke get in. For what it's worth, the smoke smells mostly like cigar or cigarillo smoke, or cigarettes, but definitely not pot. Sadly, not using the closet isn't really an option, storage space being at such a premium in NYC.

Has anyone had to deal with this before? What did you do? What are some (preferably inexpensive) options to deal with this?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have a similar stinky closet that I've been extremely lazy about taking care of. Here's what I've been considering:
Insulating caulk in all of the seams and corners, then line the whole thing with plastic and caulk the edges. Toss in a few cedar hanger grenades.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:02 AM on October 27, 2009

The closet in our bedroom reeks of the cigarette smoke which undoubtedly clung to the clothes of the prior owner. We've had some success with using open containers of used coffee grounds to draw the smell out of the closet and out of the clothes stored there.

What I would suggest, although it's going to be an annoying daily chore, take what you want to wear out of the closet the night before. Spritz it down with a mix of mostly water and a little vodka, and leave it hanging in the bathroom overnight. It won't solve the underlying problem of smoke-seepage into your place, but it will keep you from smelling like stale smoke all day.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:10 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Takes a bit of arranging, but place a low power electric fan in the closet that draws air from outside the closet (from a duct or through the wall or similar). Keep the door closed at all times. Fan will create a slight over-pressure in the closet that will keep his smokey air from entering - you're effectively going to blow the air out not let it suck in.

Your fan will have to overcome any sucking effect from your air conditioning.

You could in theory do this for your whole apt. Draw air from outside, into sealed apartment.
posted by Xhris at 7:21 AM on October 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't have any advice on blocking the incoming smoke, but I will offer a suggestion for eliminating the odor... Ozium is a product designed to break down and eliminate odors. I have had great experience with it. My wife's grandmother somehow dropped a package of uncooked breakfast sausage under a car seat. Two weeks later in the heat of a Texas summer, it was almost impossible to get in the car for the smell. Once we found the offending Jimmy Dean's and removed it, we still had to deal with the foul odor. We used just a few squirts of Ozium, and within a day there was no trace of the smell.

Amazon sells it with an automatic dispenser... It's not particularly cheap, and the refills are somewhat costly as well, but if I was in your shoes (closet?) this is the route I would go.

Whatever solution you end up going with, I wish you the best of luck. I hate the smell of smoke and I hurt for you.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 7:26 AM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

two words: expanding foam; more words: be careful with the expanding foam
posted by bunny hugger at 7:28 AM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I would say the overpressure comment above is the way to go, but only if you know how the smoke's getting in there, and you have an alternate source of fresh air.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:10 AM on October 27, 2009

They make special odor absorbing materials specifically for smoke smells.
posted by howgenerica at 8:11 AM on October 27, 2009

Old trick that always work is an open box of baking soda.
posted by 3dd at 8:24 AM on October 27, 2009

I'm a big fan of this stuff called Zeolite (I find myself recommending it a lot on the green!), It looks like a hippy-dippy product but it really worked cleaning out a room when a stinky roommate finally moved out!
posted by radioamy at 8:32 AM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Activated charcoal (like what one would use in an aquarium filter) is supposed to have extreme odor-sucking abilities. No personal experience, but it is a popular remedy on a cooking group I belong to for eliminating bad food odors in refrigerators and freezers. Just put a tray of it (open to the air) in the closet. Replace periodically.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:40 AM on October 27, 2009

You can wipe the walls with a white vinegar and water solution. Vinegar is great at reducing smells. Cedar oil will repel moths and mask odors. Target sells cedar oil spray, or did, a couple years ago.

I understand that you don't want to go the confrontational route (yet), but perhaps the landlord could take some actions: install vapor barrier in the walls to reduce smoke infiltration, buy smoke-eater ashtrays for the smoker. A vapor barrier like tyvek, comes in big sheets. Top it with real cedar paneling for a cedar closet. Nice improvement to apartment, reduced smell.

This is a problem that the landlord should resolve. If you offer potential solutions, they should jump on it. They don't want to be confrontational either.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 AM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

An air purifier will help, but you still should try to find out where the smoke is drifting in from and seal that area as best you can. It's a perfectly reasonable request to get the landlord to address this issue. It doesn't have to be an antagonistic confrontation.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:21 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kitty litter is good at sucking up yucky odors (Lifehacker just suggested filling stinky shoes with it to decrease the smell, recently).

This suggestion probably will be counterproductive if you actually have a cat who may want to use said kitty litter when you're not vigilant, thereby replacing the smoke smell with the awful pong of cat pee.
posted by scarykarrey at 9:36 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of this stuff called Zeolite

Zeolite is good stuff, and you can buy it in bulk from most pool stores, but one thing to be careful about; for some reason it acts as a crazy cat pee attractant. We actually use it in our litter boxes for our increasingly senile cat as it seems to ensure that he'll use the box, and not the floor next to it.

Not sure if this is true with all cats, or if you even share a house with feline overlords guests, but if you do, you might want to test small scale lest you end up with something far worse smelling in your closet.

As for fans, the stuff made by Vornado moves a huge amount of air very quietly. If I was trying to prevent a smell from getting into an area, I'd use one of these.
posted by quin at 10:20 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone--lots of great answers so far. The hallway is about as far as you can get from any source of fresh air (anyone who's been inside a New York apartment with one of those looooooong hallways knows what I'm talking about), but the expansion foam and plastic is a great idea, and one that won't get in the way of my actually using the closet.

I don't have cats, so I can try some of the cat pee attractant products with no worries. Can Zeolite be found anywhere other than pool stores? Pool stores seem a bit hard to come by in New York, at least without a car.

I don't want to deal with the management company at this point because they've been less than responsive about other issues, some of which rated much higher in importance and so I'm picking my battles. If I've made a reasonable effort to take care of the problem myself and still have to go to them, I'm certainly willing to do so. But I don't want to wait six weeks for them to handle something if there are options I have that would take a few hours and a few bucks.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:34 AM on October 27, 2009

We had this issue, but there were some clear cracks at the base of the closet. What we did was used the liquid sealer stuff you can get in tubes at OSH (or similar home improvement store) and sealed the heck out of all of the cracks. Worked like a dream.
posted by arnicae at 10:35 AM on October 27, 2009

Can Zeolite be found anywhere other than pool stores?

It's a filter additive for aquariums so most fish stores will probably carry it as well, but as with all things fish related, you are going to pay a bit more for it in that context.

I've also heard that it is used in some automotive absorptive materials that you'd put on the ground in a garage where something has been spilled, but every time I've tried to find it in a parts store, I've only found the standard clay stuff. NY might be different though.
posted by quin at 11:37 AM on October 27, 2009

This stuff is amazing. nokout. Downside is that you'd have to use it daily. Maybe a fan with dryer sheets or a thin piece of fabric sprayed with Febreze attached or a charcoal filter? I just found this site too: activated charcoal. Lots of funky products (no pun intended). I have never used any of them but I am eyeballin' the ladies panties!
posted by futz at 11:40 AM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Trying to absorb those odors will be a losing battle if there's an endless supply of smoke, but may work pretty well if you can eliminate some of the source or slow down the flow. If it were me, I'd get a little jar of coffee beans (palate-cleanser) and alternately sniff the air and the beans, and try to track the small back to its source. Even if you're not lucky enough to locate any obvious cracks to fill, you can probably find the corner that it's coming from. The good news is that in the closet, a plastic liner wouldn't have to be particularly decorative. The bad news is that if the cracks are on his side of the wall, then the entire air-pockets between the studs could be stinky.
posted by aimedwander at 12:47 PM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: As it turns out, creating positive air pressure does not require that the fan be remotely close to the source of smoke--turning the window fan in the kitchen (as far as possible from the offending closet) has kept the smoke smell at bay for four days. If I climb into the closet and sniff hard, I can smell it fresh, so it's not that my neighbor has been away or quit smoking in his apartment. This will work until it's too cold to have the window fan in, at which time I'll try some of the other answers. Thanks very much!
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:40 PM on November 2, 2009

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