Smoker's apartment.
August 2, 2006 1:26 PM   Subscribe

A friend is moving into a year-old apartment. Everything's great except that the previous tenant was a smoker and stale cigarette smoke has permeated the place. Any suggestions for getting rid of this smell?
posted by Neiltupper to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Paint the entire suite, including the ceiling.
Steam clean the carpets.
Leave the windows open for a long time.
Wash down everything, including windows and window sills.
posted by acoutu at 1:30 PM on August 2, 2006

I've heard that one of the techniques fire restoration firms use is to bring in an ozone generator and close the place up tightly for a few days. Perhaps your friend could rent one?
posted by djb at 1:34 PM on August 2, 2006

I second the ozone generator. I worked at a hotel for a while and that's what we used when a couple of guys were smoking pot in their room. Worked great.
posted by drleary at 1:41 PM on August 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

spritz everything with the weak vodka/water solution suggested anytime you google "remove smoke smell clothes vodka" or "madonna vodka". people also suggest leaving bowls of vinegar & water solution around, but where i've had success with vodka and water to get smoke smell out of carpets, i've never tried the vinegar solution.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:41 PM on August 2, 2006

If there are carpets, you must vacuum the ever-living fuck out of them with the most industrial-strength vacuum cleaner you can get your hands on. Dysons are good on carpets.

If it's just the house in general, try leaving the windows open for a while. Like, a year.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:49 PM on August 2, 2006

I too was going to suggest "ozone generator". The caveat is this (and I am trusting another's science): ozone will suck the life out of plastics, and I suppose anything else that could outgas. A friend who had claimed to use these to get rid of that new car smell said that over use would lead to premature aging of the plastics. This leads me to think that ozone may be distructive to many of the gadgets we hold dear.
posted by pointilist at 4:19 PM on August 2, 2006

(1) Call the landlord immediately, and (2) save all your receipts. The landlord will not want to pay you for cleanup. But he/she will be all too happy to divert funds your way from the last person's deposit. Get a hold of the LL before s/he mails out the check.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 5:17 PM on August 2, 2006

Burn some sage bundles and walk through all the rooms. I'm also fond of lavender scented cleaning spray. In addition, you can sprinkle baking soda in the carpet and vacuum it up.
posted by livinginmonrovia at 5:27 PM on August 2, 2006

Change the air filter like every week for a while and have the ducts cleaned/vacuumed.

Get a air purifier?

Probably nothing is going to remove the odor 100% unless the carpets are changed and the place is repainted.
posted by necessitas at 5:46 PM on August 2, 2006

Ex-smoker here.

If someone was a heavy indoors smoker, in a year, they could have easily put out enough cigarette smoke to coat all the interior surfaces of the place with visible residue. I know; I did this several times, in my misspent youth. Actually turned walls and venetian blind sets nicotine orange-yellow in a couple of places. Thinking back, I'm disgusted with myself.

Remediation involves, washing walls thoroughly, with chlorine bleach and detergent solution, or painting with a high-quality fixative primer like Zinsser's Gardz, especially if there is a textured ceiling, which is essentially unwashable. Then a couple of coats of flat finish, or semi-gloss latex enamel, which seals better than straight latex paints. Blinds may be worth trying to clean, with top quality detergents and bleach, but vinyl mini-blinds should just be replaced. You can try cleaning carpet, but frankly, the likelihood of that working well is nearly zero, if there was anything more than light smoke. Replacing the carpet is going to be tough to negotiate, as it is normally a 5 year wear write-off item for landlords, but if it stinks, it stinks.

Cleaning the heating and air-conditioning system enough to completely kill cigarette smoke odors is practically impossible. Duct cleaning in a year old place won't accomplish much, but cleaning the central unit's fan and air handling plenum thoroughly might. $2 gets you $5 it'll smell like smoke when the air conditioner kicks on, for a long, long time (and maybe always).

Nothing really covers cigarette smoke smell in the long run, and adding aromatic vaporous substances to your living environment to try to do so seems like a very "not good" idea, but different people have different sensitivities. If your friend isn't particularly sensitive, and otherwise really likes the place, washing down the walls and cleaning the carpet, and buying lots of room deodorizer may be acceptable.

Good luck. Living behind a smoker is a tough gig for many non-smokers.
posted by paulsc at 6:12 PM on August 2, 2006

you have got to be kidding.
posted by brandz at 6:18 PM on August 2, 2006

paulsc is dead on, my warrens quickly become yellow and stinky unliveable for non-smokers, too. Full interior strip / paint / recarpeting is in order. If that isn't possible, perhaps if your buddy took up smoking he'd be less sensitive to the smell?
posted by Meatbomb at 7:20 PM on August 2, 2006

"you have got to be kidding.
posted by brandz at 9:18 PM EST on August 2

You've obviously never supported a 2 pack a day, unfiltered Pall Mall habit in a 2 bedroom apartment. Here's a thought experiment, to help you out:

Pile 11,000 Pall Mall (red pack) cigarettes (about 22 pounds of processed tobacco) in a large metal can in a two bedroom apartment. Light the pile, ignore all smoke detectors, and leave. Come back the next day, and observe carefully the results.

Building up the same film over the course of a year, mixing in other aromatics, like cooking oils, and household sprays, is even more interesting. Sometimes, you can actually peel the resultant film off of flexible vinyl blinds that have been pre-treated with Armor All.

No shit.
posted by paulsc at 7:44 PM on August 2, 2006

We had a house fire and the ozone machine removed the smell after about a week of running straight. See if you can rent one of these from RSC Rental or they may be able to direct you to a place. Good LucK!
posted by johnd101 at 7:45 PM on August 2, 2006

The home we bought had been rented by a heavy smoker - there was a translucent brown glaze on everything. How's this for nuts: She was a culinary student who, during one visit by us with our realtor, was baking a dessert for a final exam with a butt hanging out of her mouth.

Washing walls and ceiling is a pain in the arse and messy as hell - we painted everything with the above mentioned Zinnser stuff (basically a shellac) before painting again. Otherwise we were lucky: hardwood floors and a forced hot water heat system kept us free of smokey carpets and ducting.

I've no doubt we'd have pulled up and thrown out any carpet.

Good luck.
posted by jalexei at 8:22 PM on August 2, 2006

you have got to be kidding

He's not kidding. Both my SO and myself our smokers, and I can attest to the never-ending build-up of dust and tar. The tar is far less noticeable, but after a couple of months of not cleaning something that's exposed to the air (e.g., just about anything in a hard-to-reach area) you will notice the familiar yellow-brown haze start to accumulate. Take a paper towel and some Windex and wipe the inside windows of a smoker's home--you'll see the yellow gunk far more easily.

And don't even get me started on what it does to the insides of computers.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:26 PM on August 2, 2006

Bowls of vinegar have worked for me in the past.

Heating a pot of vinegar to a gentle boil on the stove worked really well, though I don't recommend it if you dislike the smell of vinegar. (It just made me hungry for chips.)
posted by Zozo at 9:00 PM on August 2, 2006

I lived in a house that had had smokers in it. I agree that your friend is going to have to wash the walls and surfaces carefully.

We bleached the painted areas in our house with some success, but there wasn't much we could do about the wallpaper. Sure we washed it and got it clean looking, but then every time it got even a little damp in the house this sticky, stinky yellow stuff leached out of the wallpaper. For the next four years. Slight condensation above my bed from my breathing was enough to start the goo appearing. I recommend sugar soap for wallpaper areas (did a good job at getting the surface clean) and bleach for anything painted, but if there's wallpaper impregnated with tar and nicotine it might not be fixable. We cleaned our walls two-three times per year and the goo just kept on coming.

We were lucky in that the curtains and carpets had just been replaced so overall the house didn't smell. I'm guessing the smoking ex-tenant was why everything got replaced.
posted by shelleycat at 11:48 PM on August 2, 2006

A house that my father was recently renting out got completely and utterly destroyed by the previous tenant. After disposing of a 20 yard dumpster full of garbage left in the house, we discovered that they liked to cook.

A lot.

So much so that there was a physical layer of oily sticky gunk on almost all the walls, stuck in the outlets, on the blinds, everywhere.

We found that Ammonia would cut through the nicotine and cooking oil in barely any work, it would practically melt off. The ammonia is such a strong smell, that it should counteract a lot of the smell.

Baring that, I second a Ozone machine. I work at a hotel, I've seen what those machines do, if you have a friend who works at a hotel, you might see if you can borrow a machine from them. Most of the time they're unused except when they need to clean the smoking rooms.

Good luck, being a previous smoker here, I can definitely relate.

Oh god, what those cigarettes do to computers.
posted by gregschoen at 2:07 AM on August 3, 2006

I assume you've thoroughly washed walls, ceilings, and all surfaces? Heavy tar accumulation should not be painted over, you will need to get rid off it first. It's a tough, dirty job for which you need some good solvents but it must be done. Painting without washing first is a bad idea.
posted by JJ86 at 6:17 AM on August 3, 2006

Even if you repaint and recarpet, when it gets really hot, your walls might "sweat," and the smell will be noticeable. My sister's old house was like that. Previous owners were smokers; she cleaned, repainted, and recarpeted, but still, on really hot days in summer, you could smell the odor.
posted by cass at 8:37 AM on August 3, 2006

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