How can I deal with my neighbor's cigarette smoke drifting into my apartment?
September 29, 2012 1:50 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with my neighbor's cigarette smoke drifting into my apartment?

I live in an apartment in NYC. Recently I've noticed that my apartment smells like cigarette smoke, and I hate it. It's unpleasant and it's making me feel a little sick. I asked the super to come over and he smelled it too and said he was pretty sure my downstairs neighbor is smoking and it's coming up into my apartment through a vent that is already closed but not hermetically sealed. He was sympathetic but said there isn't anything he can do about it. (I'm not even sure if this is the whole problem because another area of the apartment that isn't near the vent smells strongly of smoke as well.)

I think I'm only noticing this now because the weather has gotten cooler and my neighbor probably smoked outside (or with his windows open) when it was warmer. I'm not looking forward to a whole fall/winter of living in cigarette smoke.

I guess my question has two parts:

1) What should I do right now? I have no desire to ask the neighbor to stop smoking because he's within his right to smoke in his apartment and I'm sure my asking him to stop wouldn't do any good anyway. If you've had this problem, what helped? Can you recommend a specific brand of air filter or any other solution?

2) What should I do long term? Obviously I could move to a new apartment but it would be a crapshoot as to whether I experience this problem in my next place (this is the second apartment I've had with this issue). Is a house in the burbs the only solution?

Thanks for any advice!
posted by whitelily to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Buy a HEPA-rated air scrubber (you don't need any of that ionization bullshit; just make sure it is actually HEPA and not HEPA-like.) We smoke in the bathroom sometimes, and the difference between having it on and off is night and day.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on September 29, 2012

Oh, and post-war buildings tend not to have this problem, from my experience. Some people may disagree, but this is one of the main reasons I refuse to live in pre-war apartments.
posted by griphus at 1:56 PM on September 29, 2012

Thanks, griphus. This actually is a post-war building, which is part of the reason I asked part two of my question - I don't know if there's any way to make sure my next place doesn't have this problem as well.
posted by whitelily at 2:02 PM on September 29, 2012

My old apartment was like this and it fucking sucked. Two things I did to lessen the hideous stench (okay technically three*) were: 01) I got a frebreeze clean air plug in thingy with filters especially for cigarette smoke stink (change the filters every month), and 02) I got some silicone bathroom caulk and sealed up every single corner of every room that stank - every hairline crack in the walls/ceiling, down between the floor and the baseboard, everything. EVERYTHING. The first made a noticeable difference, the second made an unbelievably difference. However, my building was ~120 years old so it was probably in worse shape than your postwar place is.

*the third thing I did was hope really really hard that the horrible old screamy maniac chainsmoking lady next door would die and eventually she did. Yay.
posted by elizardbits at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

And basically the only way to make sure this doesn't happen in your next apartment is to move into a nonsmoking building.
posted by elizardbits at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2012

You could move to a non-smoking building. Youcould also seal the vent with silicone caulk and something like plywood or PVC.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:22 PM on September 29, 2012

Maybe you could decorate a tile or tray or whatever to seal over the vent, or commission something along those lines from a Etsy or wherever.

Also, if you think that your smoking neighbor is a reasonable type, you might ask whether they'd mind sealing the vent on their side. That may be a stretch under all but the best circumstances.
posted by mr. digits at 2:36 PM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Okay, so you can't ask your neighbor to stop smoking, BUT as a smoker who lives in NYC and has neighbors, I would be totally happy to work with my neighbors on a solution to the constant stench of cigarette smoke. Like, if they suggested a little thingie I could install on the door to make it seal better, I would do that. At one point, one summer, a neighbor was bothered by the smoke smell and I changed my smoking spot to a window in the kitchen, and put a fan there, and that apparently helped tremendously. So there are ways of first smoke-proofing your own apartment and then perhaps getting your neighbor to work with you to do the same on their end.
posted by brina at 3:24 PM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's your landlord's job to provide livable housing. Cigarette smoke is not okay. The landlord should seal the vent, and take any other steps to make your apartment habitable.
posted by theora55 at 4:05 PM on September 29, 2012

I second brina's comment. I used to be a smoker and if someone had, very politely and NOT in a demanding righteous way, asked me to figure out a solution to the problem, I would have been totally willing to try any suggestions.

As an example of the difference between reasonable and polite and demanding: I was at a restaurant once smoking in the smoking section when someone from the non-smoking section came over to ask if I would put out my cigarette because they could smell it from where they were sitting. I said, sure, no problem; I could put it out until they had been reseated in the part of the non-smoking section that actually had a barrier between the sections (which had open tables immediately available.) I also pointed out that if I could move, I would, but there were no other smoking tables open. But, no, the person started screaming that they shouldn't have to move tables and I should just not smoke.

Sorry to have added my own personal story into this; I just wanted to illustrate that the smoker may be defensive, at first, if you approach him or her due to that kind of interaction, but may be willing to make a lot of changes if you understand they're the one doing you a favor.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 4:39 PM on September 29, 2012

If you have a window fan blowing into your apartment, and keep the other windows closed, you will build up positive air pressure that will lessen the transfer of air from other apartments.

Think twice before using air fresheners.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:44 PM on September 29, 2012

Similar question asked before here.
posted by Yorrick at 4:47 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regarding air fresheners, I'm now seeing that:

"... two air fresheners that the NRDC found virtually free of phthalates were Febreze Air Effects Air Refresher and Renuzit Subtle Effects."

So maybe those might be worth a try. Febreze encapsulates odors, but does have it's own fragrance. I've found "fresh linen" to be the least objectionable.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:03 PM on September 29, 2012

Air fresheners are not actually removing the smoke , they are just covering it up. Short of moving out, the only real way to do deal with this is is to keep the smoke out, and the only real way to do that is by creating positive air pressure in your living space, which keeps your neighbor's smoke out. Right now, his smoke is seeping into your place only because at least some of the time, the air pressure in his place is greater than it is in yours, so smoke flows your way. Now, imagine if you you could rig up a small fan that did nothing but pull fresh air into your place. Doing this ensures that at all times, the air pressure is higher in your place than in his, and you would be forcing fresh air into his place rather than his smoke coming into yours. Implementing this takes a little ingenuity, but not that much, and it will work.
posted by beagle at 5:30 PM on September 29, 2012

Febreze encapsulates odors, but does have it's own fragrance.

My comment recommended a plug-in electric air filter, not a gross spray diffuser thing.

posted by elizardbits at 8:05 PM on September 29, 2012

Read this, this, this, this, this, and this
posted by KogeLiz at 8:14 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Air fresheners are not actually removing the smoke

And worse than that most air fresheners are modifying you sense organs, as I mention in that linked comment above.

Febreze has a patent on aerosolized cyclodextrin. That molecule actually sequesters odors. They originally had an unscented product, but market research showed that if you just remove odor, people feel that there is something unfamiliar about there house. So they decided they must provide replacement odors.

Cyclodextrin seems to be pretty safe, but the propellants and perfumes do combine with naturally occurring ozone to produce formaldehyde. Personally, in small doses that doesn't freak me out like the phthalates, which instantly irritate my eyes.

I'm going to add Febrese Linen to my regime of natural lavender, and ample ventilation.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:32 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that a HEPA filter can remove some particulate components of smoke, but the gaseous components require activated charcoal or electrostatic filters like those used in industrial smoke scrubbers.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:35 AM on September 30, 2012

My comment recommended a plug-in electric air filter, not a gross spray diffuser thing.
posted by elizardbits

I see what that is now. That is an effective smoke technology, but those are only 15 watts. They don't give Cubic Feet Per Minute, but I'd guess it's 10 or less. A cubic yard is 27 cubic Feet, a 12' x 12' x 8' room is 1152 Cubic Feet, so under perfect conditions it would take four days for the air to circulate through that. In the real world it would take two or more weeks which is close to the effective lifetime of the replacement filter.

If you could identify where the smoke is leaking in, and put one or more of those plugin filters near there, that could have an impact.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:09 AM on September 30, 2012

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