How do I get rid of cigarette odours in an apartment?
September 20, 2010 5:00 PM   Subscribe

How do I get rid of cigarette odours in an apartment?

The last tenant chain smoked indoors. I thought that when his stuff left, the odour would go too. I guess not.

The apartment is nothing but bare walls, hardwood floors, and a regular height ceiling. No carpets, no furniture, no cloth anywhere. So, where is the odour coming from? What is the best way to get rid of it? I did some online searches, but it's hard to separate what people have actually tried from what they are just making up.

The apartments have lots and lots of windows, which I've left open for a few days and nights. The walls were washed (but it's hard to know to what extent and with what kind of cleaning product.)
posted by esprit de l'escalier to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by mollymayhem at 5:13 PM on September 20, 2010

Best answer: seal the walls with kilz. washing isn't going to take care of the problem.
posted by nadawi at 5:15 PM on September 20, 2010

Wood and drywall are somewhat permeable and will absorb odors over time. Are you planning to paint the place? That will help seal the walls. A friend had a problem with lingering faint smoke smell (months and months), and painting finally stopped the last of it. A tough polyurethane finish on the floors will help too, if you can convince your landlord to go for it.

And open windows for as long as you can stand it, of course. The solution to pollution is dilution!

I'm kind of skeptical about the claim of washing the walls. A lot of interior paints don't take well to washing, especially matte or low-gloss paints, and streak like crazy. A whole apartment is a lot of washing, too, and labor ain't cheap, plus you have to protect the floors from all that dirty water, so I'm kind of thinking they didn't actually wash in the way most people understand the word. Sort of "waved a damp rag at a few places" would be my guess. That might change your strategy, so see if you can get more info about the actual washing procedure.
posted by Quietgal at 5:19 PM on September 20, 2010

Best answer: Washing walls and ceiling with a solution of TSP (a type of solvent) and then painting does the trick for the walls. I know because it's a common landlord's solution.

If you go the TSP route, using a product like Killz maybe overkill. (sorry for the pun.) Killz comes in a latex or oil-based formula. Be careful applying one over the other, they don't play well together and you could really eff-up your paint job. If existing walls are latex - stick with that. If you're sure they're oil-based, stick with that.

Don't use TSP to wipe down the floors, you'll damage the finish.

Go for washing the floors with appropriate product, and then maybe oil them with a scented hardwood floor oil in citrus, almond, etc.

You could try vinegar OR a chlorine+water solution if you want to avoid the chemicals in the TSP.

Essentially, you are looking to remove a layer of tar/smoke and then place a sealer barrier on top.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 5:34 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

What I meant above is that after using TSP, you are fine to use regular paint instead of a heavy-duty primer like Killz.

Also, see if your landlord will paint and/or absorb some of the cost. Invite him over to check out the smell. You shouldn't have to live with it as it is.
posted by jbenben at 5:36 PM on September 20, 2010

There's some kind of special paint (or at least primer) that contractors use after a fire that masks the smell of the fire. I don't think it's Kilz - I think it's something a little beyond that. Maybe look into that.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:37 PM on September 20, 2010

Before you go to any of the lengths suggested above make sure that the odor is not coming from an adjacent apartment.
posted by mareli at 5:49 PM on September 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Very simple, and works every time.

Put out multiple shallow bowls of apple cider vinegar in every room for two days changing the bowls once a day, twice if you have time. Has worked for me ever time when I've been smoking in the house while the wife and kid were away, and my wife is a verified supertaster (meaning, her sense of smell is unusually acute).

And yes, I suppose that does make me a bad person.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:02 PM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

As a smoker I can tell you that it's TSP and paint. The TSP is optional if the walls have already been washed, though.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:08 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks a lot for all these great tips.

Regarding the cleaning procedure, I actually met the person who did the cleaning, and she only used a rag soaked in some kind of citrus cleaning fluid.

I think I can conclude that the smoke is from this apartment since it's not from downstairs (a glasses store), and I don't think smoke will travel laterally through walls? It's not coming in from a window.

It looks like the consensus on cleaning solution is TSP or chlorine, and the sealing with Kilz. I am going to try to push my landlord to do this. How long will I have to be out of the house while the Kilz dries? When does it stop smelling?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:15 PM on September 20, 2010

Response by poster: That is a funny story digitalprimate, but I wonder if that would work on the years of accumulated smoke?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:17 PM on September 20, 2010

I read a story recently about how to get a smell of dead/decomposing person out of a house (on hindsight, why was I reading that?!) - and the answer is bowls of coffee grounds everywhere in the house, shut the door, return after a couple of days.

Regarding washing the walls, I think sugar soap and a damp rag is what's generally meant by that.

Baking soda powder also absorbs odours as does citrus peels. If I were you, I'd have multiple bowls of coffee grounds, apple cider vinegar, citrus peels and baking powder, and after that I'd ventilate.

You can also try dusting the ceiling (soot), and giving the floors a good clean with hot water and vinegar. I might also be prone to walking around the apartment, airline attendant style, with 2 cans of lysol, spraying like mad, before shutting the door and hoping, fingers crossed.

Good luck!
posted by shazzam! at 1:03 AM on September 21, 2010

Oh! Just chimed in back here with more thoughts:

- bowl of charcoal
- with the baking soda, perhaps sprinkle it all over the floor then vacuum up?
- bowls of cat litter
- we use Vodka as a spray deodoriser for our dance costumes that can't be laundered. 1/3 vodka, 2/3 water, spray bottle, walk around going nuts. Worth a try!
- borrow/buy an ionic air purifying machine and keep it running whilst doing all the above

I'm trying to stay clear of the painting/new floor treatment ideas and keep it simple, cheap and natural based!
posted by shazzam! at 1:10 AM on September 21, 2010

there's a low odor kilz. supposed to be for small areas or areas you can't stay out of to let ventilate.
posted by nadawi at 1:31 AM on September 21, 2010

Best answer: My grandma rented out a room to a chain smoker. I used to sit outside and watch her go through them (she had a cool holder and just let them burn.) After Grandma died the lady moved out and I got the room. You would not believe the color of the walls. They were supposedly white originally.

Anyway, TSP plus two coats of paint and you would never know. Slept there for two years, it never tipped off my allergies. And I had no windows to open - this was all the TSP. I thought the whole thing was marvelous; I got to pick the new color. My dad's only worry was that I might pick neon pink (I was 9.) After the TSP weekend everyone stopped worrying about the smoker completely.
posted by SMPA at 3:58 AM on September 21, 2010

yeah. TSP and killz did the trick for me.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:10 AM on September 21, 2010

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