Gifted iPhone 5 reeks of cig smoke -- what to do?
February 6, 2017 9:56 PM   Subscribe

What it says above -- I was recently given a free, older iPhone 5 and the previous owner was a smoker. I'm not crazy about the phone, but it was a thoughtful gift; however, the phone reeks of cigarette smoke. And I'm allergic. I've only had it a day and just holding the phone for a few minutes sets off sneezing fits, my bag now smells of smoke, my hands.

Any ideas to rid the phone of the smell of cigarette smoke?
Put it in a bag of rice?
Some other absorbent substance that will not ruin the phone?

I'm not a sensitive snowflake, but this could really keep me from using this phone and the person who gave it to me sees me daily (and sees me using it to call an Uber, so it's not like I can hide another phone).

I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I can't use this phone if it continues
to smell of smoke. :(

Help, please!
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff to Grab Bag (17 answers total)
BiCarb Soda is usually the thing that gets rid of smells. You don't have to totally cover the phone, just lay it on a thin layer of the stuff and seal it in a plastic container overnight.
I have no idea if it'll work, but it's worth a try.
posted by Youremyworld at 10:30 PM on February 6, 2017

The best thing do to would be to disassemble it and clean off all surfaces on the case. There's a fine coating of tar on there, that's what stinks. The grill at the bottom, especially.

If that seems a bit more than you want to take on, try sealing it in a container that has a smaller open container of ground coffee or baking soda within (do not put the phone in the coffee or baking soda, that will make the phone unhappy).

If all else fails, it can take an unexpected fatal fall into the toilet, oops.
posted by jamaro at 10:33 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is going to be a problem. You could remove the display, battery, and camera and wash everything else with a mild solvent like alcohol, rinse with deionized water, and then thoroughly dry before reassembly. This doesn't strike me as a fun or really efficient use of one's time and you're left with a few liquid-sensitive components that will still smell.

Presumably the phone's internals are coated with a film of smoke residue that will continue leaching into your atmosphere for a long time.

Maybe a waterproof case would provide enough isolation?
posted by polyhedron at 10:38 PM on February 6, 2017

This is not a catastrophe. It sounds like it is the protective case that stinks, not as much the actual phone.

Step 1 - discard the case!

Step 2 - Try thoroughly wiping down the outside of the phone (Google directions because I know hand sanitizer harms the screen - only use approved cleaning solution!!) Then put the phone overnight in a clean sock, pop that into a ziplock bag with coffee BEANS, or tea bags, or baking soda filled socks (sock on the phone, another sock with baking soda - keep the dust out of the jacks, plugs, and speakers) and see if that works.

Step 3 if it still smells - Pay to have it taken apart and cleaned (or do it yourself) that may break it. So avoid this unless you have no other choice.

Also, a new case. Spigen makes indestructible slim cases.

That's it! Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 11:51 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is what cat litter was made for! Put the phone in a sock for protection and leave it in kitty litter overnight, that should fix most, if not all, of the smell.
posted by and her eyes were wild. at 2:07 AM on February 7, 2017

After doing whatever cleaning routine that seems to work, get a new waterproof case.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:22 AM on February 7, 2017

Activated charcoal also helps destinkify things (after your initial wipe-down cleaning)
posted by mightshould at 3:20 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

How thoroughly have you wiped down the outside of the phone? Get some of those wipes for cleaning eyeglasses and wipe the thing down 3-4 times. There is liquid in the wipe, but not so much that it will drip into the inside of the phone.
posted by soelo at 4:46 AM on February 7, 2017

Seconding activated charcoal. I would take the case off and dispose of it, then set the phone in a baggie of activated charcoal (can be found at a pet store) for a couple of days.
posted by jferg at 4:52 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you are only using this phone to be polite and you would be fine getting another phone. So (assuming none of the tips above work) get another phone and come up with a polite fiction to cover it. For example, "I won a brand new phone in a raffle at work - thank you for your generosity but now you can be generous again and give the old phone to someone else in need!"
posted by mikepop at 5:59 AM on February 7, 2017

Or seriously, give it back to the previous owner and tell the truth: I'm allergic to cigarette smoke and it's making me sneeze. Then at least they can sell it or something.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:04 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

iPhone 5 devices on eBay are around $100 used. If you like the phone and want to spare the person's feelings, you could buy another one and not tell them. You could probably sell the one you have for $40-$50 (maybe a little more). You might even consider a 5s if it looks similar enough.
posted by cnc at 8:52 AM on February 7, 2017

The phone came to me without a protective case, just the phone itself and charger. Unfortunately I bought a case yesterday, which doesn't allow the phone to charge when the case is on (poor fit), and the clear shield for the glass. An $81 "investment."

Based on the earliest responses last night, I put the phone only (without the case) in a Ziploc bag with a fair-sized Tupperware of baking soda. I left it to sit from about 1:30 AM to 10 AM.

I think it may have helped, but I went to sleep at 4 AM all clogged up and woke with a sore throat (yep, I am that allergic) so I'm not the best judge of its success, but I'm hopeful. So I'll continue to do this for a couple of days and, if necessary, I'll work my way thru the other suggestions like charcoal/cat litter. I'm not going to take it apart, that's above my skill set -- and I don't want to spend the money to have someone else do that.

Thanks for your help and suggestions, and if anyone has other ideas I'm all ears.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 9:37 AM on February 7, 2017

I bought a used iPhone from a very oily smoker and it was SO DIRTY; I could see grime crusted into every cranny. I was horrified.

I assembled:
A safety pin
An old toothbrush
Many Q-tips
A small bowl of rubbing alcohol
Little alcohol swabs (sold for diabetics to prep injection sites- dollar stores and drugstores carry them)
A box of tissues

...and I just WENT AT that thing. Listened to music to keep my mood up. Used the toothbrush to dry-brush out all the nooks, then the pin to jam a wisp of alcohol-wet cotton in to clean things up (not too wet). I wiped it with alcohol-soaked Q-tips and tissues, and basically just cleaned, obsessively... all around the home button, the volume knobs, the speaker holes on the bottom (ughhh)... dark grime came out of every single crack on that thing. It took me an hour.

I picked/pulled so much human grime out of that phone. Then I had a shower and never thought of it again. I've had the phone for longer than the original owner and it has still never gotten that dirty again.

Your phone probably needs all the same places cleaned to remove the cigarette tar. It may not be as visible as the human gunk on my phone, but it's there. Get in there with teeny tools and dig/wipe it off.
posted by spraypaint at 10:00 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think spraypaint's suggestion is going go be your best bet, plus leaving it overnight in baking soda or maybe some silica packets.

If none of that works, you need to just give it back. You don't need to be embarrassed! It's your health.
posted by radioamy at 10:28 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't want to hurt his feelings

You're not the one who gave someone a stinky phone. Don't be a jerk about it, but don't feel compelled to keep a gross phone because it was a gift.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:11 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

OMG, spraypaint, you went places I hadn't even thought to go.
I'm not much for second-hand stuff, normally I just save/save/save but ... friend/favor this time.

So ... I didn't mentally go down the road I might have if I had purchased this phone. Honestly,
(shame) I didn't even wipe it off. lol Granted I had other things on my mind like a massive fight
with Verizon.

But, wow, you are a maven of clean! Okay, I can do that, I even have the little alcohol swabs in stock.
I hope I don't find what you found, but if I do ... I am good to go

Thank you for that step by step!

the corpse ... library You know, the thing is, smokers are immune to the smell of smoke,
they truly are. This was a favor from the heart and I would never want to hurt or embarrass this person.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 11:19 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

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