Stinky Sickly Secondhand Situation
January 3, 2006 7:06 AM   Subscribe

I live on the second floor of an old turn of the century mansion and the first floor party-hardy dwellers are serious chain smokers. Their noxious, secondhand smoke is so pervasive (they entertain smoker friends by the droves) that it seeps through my hardwood floors and walls and stinks up my apartment something awful. Sometimes it seems like I'm living above a nightclub it is so bad.

I moved into the place in July not knowing their habits, so now that the windows are closed for the winter, the smell has intensified to an intolerable level. It seems unlikely that I can convince two heavily-addicted users to smoke outside their own place, so I'm left to "treating" my own environment, cleansing my own air. Incense is only a temporary relief, while a little essential oil diffuser doesn't seem to be cutting it. What else can I do but move out or open the windows and freeze?
posted by pranalaxmi to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know that hardwood floors are really pretty, but you could try a floor covering to keep the smoke from seeping upstairs. Linoleum off of the roll is ghastly but cheap. Carpet remnants could also be a cheap way of covering your floor for the winter.

Talk to your landlord and read up on the code of tenant's rights for your area. You might be entitled to a reimbursement for any money you spend.
posted by Alison at 7:22 AM on January 3, 2006

Check out this page on

It discusses ways to check where the air flows from the lower unit, your rights as a tenant, and possible methods of abatement.

Hope that helps!
posted by voidcontext at 7:23 AM on January 3, 2006

You also might want to consider investing in an air purifier like this.
posted by Alison at 7:24 AM on January 3, 2006

Oops: this is the right link for
posted by voidcontext at 7:24 AM on January 3, 2006

The Car Talk guys recommend coffee to combat tobacco smells in cars. I think you have to roast it to get the effect. I guess this won't help if you hate the smell of coffee also, and of course, it is just a cover up. Maybe if you can use something to cover the smell when they are gone, and then make sure you have positive pressure when they are actually smoking (a small fan blowing in). You don't want to move your air out, that will draw in the smoke, you just want enough flow in to push the smoke back.
posted by 445supermag at 7:25 AM on January 3, 2006

I would suspect problems with the heating system airflow. Do you share a furnace sysem? Is it forced air? There's a distinct possibility the cold air returns are located downstairs and your smoker neighbors cold air is being heated and returned to you.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:27 AM on January 3, 2006

Ok, I’m one half of a smoking couple that lives below a non smoker.

The way my neighbor approached me was ‘Girlfriend, you need to close your vents (head bob)’. She’s a crazy crack whore anyway so I just smoke outside in order to avoid any sort of interaction with her. It’s not in my lease, and probably not in your neighbor’s lease that the apartment is non-smoking. They are allowed to smoke in the apartment, and they will. If I had more spine, I’d smoke in mine, but I’m an avoidant pushover. Oh well.

I would recommend politely letting them know that you can smell the smoke in your apartment.. They probably don’t know that you can and if they’re decent smokers, they’ll work with you.

Possibilities: Ask them if there’s anyway they could confine it to one room, such as the kitchen and ventilate it with a window fan. Maybe split the cost with them on an air purifier for their place.

If your manner to them is that you would like to make the environment acceptable to both of you, you’ll be fine.
posted by pieoverdone at 7:31 AM on January 3, 2006

I don't suspect the heating system overflow as yet because we don't share one. Each apartment has a separate central forced air system and my approach thus far has been to replace my intake filters on a regular basis. I'm not so sure they even clean theirs at all.
posted by pranalaxmi at 7:39 AM on January 3, 2006

We are in the exact same situation except it isn't the hardwood floors. It is the heating system as cosmicbandito states. We have an air purifier that runs on high 24/7 and we have a fan in our window even though we live in VT and it is winter. Nothing we do gets rid of the smell.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the smoking neighbor has some sort of mental challenge so she doesn't work. So she smokes in the flat all day. When the weather is warmer (even in the winter) she sometimes walks across the street to smoke on the steps of city hall. People who have been in town longer than we use her as a sort of groundhog. When she comes out to smoke they know winter is nearly over.

We have spoken with the property manager, but the building's owner is a staunch "people should be able to do what they want" sort. I explained that while that is fine in theory, unless he can make the neighbors smoke stay in her apartment that idea doesn't float. But there is no budge. I will investigate that "Green & Clean Living" link, but damn it is ugly and hard to read because of it.

We are house hunting in earnest now, so we can get out of the stinky place as soon as possible.
posted by terrapin at 7:44 AM on January 3, 2006

Check your lease, perhaps the unit is non-smoking.
posted by cior at 7:48 AM on January 3, 2006

Use positive air pressure. For about $500 you can purchase a HEPA-filtered heat exchanger. If you pump more air into your place than you extract, the smoke won't enter. As a bonus, you get clean, fresh air that's pre-warmed by the exiting air.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:05 AM on January 3, 2006

pranalaxmi: Is your heating system in your unit? If it's in the basement it still might be drawing air from the downstairs flat, even if it's just heating your apartment.
posted by voidcontext at 10:39 AM on January 3, 2006

Complain to the landlord. There's a good chance that the landlord will not be thrilled at how difficult it will be to scrub the unit of smoke-smell when they leave and will say something to them.

Note: If it were a normal amount of smoke, I'd not advise to tattle. It's only the excessiveness (taking pranalaxmi's word for it) that pushes it over the edge. I'm considering having the same conversation with my landlord.
posted by desuetude at 11:00 AM on January 3, 2006

Short of all the legal thinking, ditto five fresh fish. It's the only physical way. You can't seal the cracks. It will work like a charm, blowing all the smoke back at 'em. But you'll need to have your window closed, and your windows and doors need to be pretty well sealed, so that the air you bring in HAS to seep down through that floor.
posted by beagle at 12:06 PM on January 3, 2006

And you could test this without spending $500, on a day that's not too cold, just get a strong little fan and put it in a window, close all the space around it with cardboard or plywood, wait a few hours and take a whiff. You don't need something that moves a lot of CFM -- one of those little computer fans might be enough. Here's one that moves 32 CFM.
posted by beagle at 12:19 PM on January 3, 2006

The Car Talk guys recommend coffee to combat tobacco smells in cars. I think you have to roast it to get the effect.

Yes, a shallow, open container of fresh, ground coffee will absorb a lot of nasty odours. That doesn't seem to be enough of a solution for the amount of smoke that's coming into pranalaxmi's flat, though.

(I'm a smoker, and I go outside to indulge in my shame, even though we own our place. It's disgusting indoors, and I'm the first to admit it.

The landlord's going to have a hell of a job getting the flat below unsmokey after the chimneys move out.)
posted by Savannah at 5:45 PM on January 3, 2006

Essential oil spritzers tend to work better than oil warmers. I'm sure there's some molecular reason...the vapor grabs the smoke and drags it down or something, I dunno. I do know that spritzers work. My husband smokes in the garage, which is under my office. If I spritz in my office, I won't notice the smoke smell for a good 24 hours or so.

The best essential oils for eliminating smoke, rather than just covering it, are citrus. I recommend orange...because it's cheap and easy to find for the lay person. I use a combination of orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, petitegrain and tangerine in a witch hazel and water base. Neroli also works really well. I use an emulsifier for the ones that I sell, so that the oils don't float to the top, but the emulsifier doesn't add anything to the effectiveness, just the attractiveness. For home use, you can use a tiny amount of borax in the water, shake well, then add witch hazel, then add essential oils. For a 4 ounce spritzer bottle, you'll want between 5ml and 20 ml of Essentials.

Remember....NEVER put the Essential Oils in a plastic container without a carrier liquid in there first. Real EOs will eat through most plastic. (PET being the exception.)

You can drop me an email if you need suppliers for the EOs.
posted by dejah420 at 8:05 AM on January 5, 2006

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