Smoky Christmas Tree
December 6, 2014 7:01 AM   Subscribe

4 months ago, we inherited an artificial Christmas tree from smokers. I kept the tree in the box until yesterday, so I lost out on an opportunity to air it out. What's your best trick for getting rid of the cigarette smoke smell (really get rid of it and not just mask the odor)? It's the kind where you stick the individual branches into the holes on the center pole.
posted by Neeuq Nus to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
Can you wash the branches? Like, with soap and water?
posted by amro at 7:11 AM on December 6, 2014

Throw it out. Check sales close to the holiday and get a new, stink free one. They're pretty cheap even at full price, and frankly, why mess with it?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:41 AM on December 6, 2014 [22 favorites]

Alternately, check Craigslist or similar for a free one used by non-smokers. There may not be a reasonable way to clean something like this, especially if it's the kind of tree that comes with lights pre-wired (you don't want to get that wet.) There is actually smoke-crud stuck to the thing, or else it wouldn't stink, so I don't think any method that doesn't involve removing that crud somehow would work to get rid of the odor (rather than masking it). In conclusion: Febreze is a lie.
posted by asperity at 8:01 AM on December 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Researchers now know that residual tobacco smoke, dubbed thirdhand smoke, combines with indoor pollutants such as ozone and nitrous acid to create new compounds. Thirdhand smoke mixes and settles with dust, drifts down to carpeting and furniture surfaces, and makes its way deep into the porous material in paneling and drywall. ...The new compounds are difficult to clean up, have a long life of their own, and many may be carcinogenic.

...No one knows, in this relatively new field of research, how long the compounds created by smoke and environmental pollutants last. "In homes where we know no smoker has lived for 20 years, we've still found evidence of these compounds in dust, in wallboard," says Neal Benowitz, chief of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco. Benowitz leads the California Consortium on Thirdhand Smoke, started in 2010.

... Those who move into houses or apartments formerly owned by smokers might be exposed as well. And thirdhand smoke is difficult to eliminate. "So far, we have not found an exposed environment where you cannot measure it any more," says Georg Matt, chair of the Department of Psychology at San Diego State University in California. "It's virtually impossible to remove this stuff unless you remove the flooring and drywall."

How to Get Rid of It

Experts have precious few suggestions for ridding an indoor environment of thirdhand smoke. "Do a pretty thorough cleaning up with detergent. Some people suggest repainting the room," says Hang. "The best approach is to replace the carpets, clean up the ventilation system. All this could help. But we are waiting for some kind of new-generation cleaner." Much more work needs to be done on the extent of the problem, the health risks, and effective ways to clean up the compounds."
posted by jaguar at 8:07 AM on December 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yeah, just ditch it --- it's stinky, new ones (especially on sale) are cheap, it's not worth the hassle. (And no, even airing it out outside for years wouldn't really help, sorry.)

Ever seen a long-time smoker's house when they move out? The way the walls are actually discolored and light-brownish? That's the actual tar and gunk from the tobacco, and your tree is coated in it. Ick.
posted by easily confused at 8:11 AM on December 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Not only will it always stink, but any exposure to heat (say from non-LED lights, or a fireplace or heating vent nearby) will bring out even more stink. It will be a giant Glade-plug-in of stink forever.

If you feel like you absolutely must keep it, I would soak each piece in a vat of vinegar for a few days. Assuming it's not pre-lit.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:13 AM on December 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm assuming you're asking because buying another one isn't an option, in which case I'd be glad to do a Christmas kindness and contribute to your New Tree fund. Holler if you need me! Alternatively, check Craigslist and Freecycle, or one of those some-of-everything stores like Marshalls, Tuesday Morning, or even a thrift store.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:29 AM on December 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: masquesoporfavor, oh my goodness! I can afford a new tree, thank goodness, I was just being cheap. What a wonderful thing you were willing to do for a stranger. Love the mefi community thanks to people like you. :-) I feel I must go pay it forward now, so I will.
posted by Neeuq Nus at 10:05 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hah! I totally understand cheapness. Even as a heathen I LOVE Christmas so much and thinking about that smoky old tree made me real sad. I hope you find a new one, or can clean up the current one! <3
posted by masquesoporfavor at 10:21 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do yourselves a huge favour and throw it out. Grab a new (prelit if possible) one. You will be so much happier and healthier!
posted by saradarlin at 11:38 AM on December 6, 2014

Masquesoporfavor: If you can afford it, let me just leave you with these two two-word phrases: "Molded needles" and "pre-lit LED." If you can't get all those in one tree go for molded needles, pre-lit, non-LED.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:16 PM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

oops...that was advice for the OP. I wasn't suggesting that masquesporfavor buy the OP a fancy Christmas tree.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:10 PM on December 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I bought mine, which is a really quite nice one(i believe i saw the same model at a home depot type place for $180 or something) for like $15-19 at a thrift store. It's lit, and it just generally looks good. I bought it in december, close to christmas like this too. I think they had actually marked it *down* to get it out of there so they wouldn't have to store it after christmas.

If you actually want the solution to this though, lock the existing tree in a closet with an ozone generator. I know i say that on every post about some object stinking, but seriously, it's the only 100% sure fire solution.
posted by emptythought at 7:29 PM on December 6, 2014

You could take the stinky one out in the yard and assemble it and maybe even put some cheap decorations on it and put it on top of the car and take it down to wherever your homeless people gather - under a bridge somewhere or a railroad trestle or wherever.

Just a thought - probably silly.

I agree that you'll never get the smell out of it so the only place it will work is in the open outdoor air. It's still a little bit of cheer, though.
posted by aryma at 10:53 PM on December 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've gotten rid of smoke smell from a car and furniture with liberal application of baking soda. Bag it up (as the box is probably full of smoke smell too) and put a bunch in there. Leave it for a few days at least.
posted by mchorn at 3:38 PM on December 7, 2014

Can it go in the dishwasher? this was my first thought. Through the dishwasher with a glug of white vinegar, some baking soda and your regular dishwasher soap.
posted by SassHat at 1:40 PM on December 8, 2014

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