Eliminating the odor of stale cigarette smoke is an ongoing job. There is no “set-it-and-forget-it” magic to eliminating the odor. It permeates everything walls, flooring, carpets and rugs, bedspreads, furniture, curtains, lampshades, clothing, even hair, skin, and nails any porous material. The tar and nicotine leave a film that binds the smoke to the material, not only allowing the odor to last forever but also discoloring light-colored surfaces and fabrics. Some ordinary cleaning products leave a film that actually attracts tar and nicotine.
If you are a smoker, or you know that you’re going to have guests in your home who smoke, it’s best to attack the problem aggressively and from multiple angles: prevention, cleaning, neutralizing, and even masking.
Prevent Smoke Buildup
Obviously, the very best preventative tactic is to smoke outdoors. Since this is not going to appeal to some smokers, the next best way to combat cigarette smoke is to allow as little smoke as possible into a confined area.
Fresh air – There is no substitute for fresh air! Even in the dead of winter, it’s possible to open a window to allow some air exchange while smoking.
Mechanical Air Exchange There is no shortage of air filters on the market that do a fair job of circulating stale air through a variety of filters, usually including a charcoal filter and returning cleaned air to the room. Over the years, the size of these machines has shrunk from furniture-sized appliances to desktop eyesores. Most are noisy, and all require frequent and usually expensive filter changes.
Negative ion generators These machines have no moving parts and no filters to replace. They emit electrically charged negative ions into the air. Think about the fresh look, feel, and smell after a thunderstorm. The thunderstorm leaves behind an atmosphere full of negative ions. The beach is another example of an environment rich in negative ions.
In both instances, negative ions are not only responsible for the fresh air, but also for the accompanying sense of wellbeing. Anywhere you find pollution, including stale smoke; you will find air full of positively charged ions. Negative ion generators are small and unobtrusive. You must clean the inner chamber of the machine frequently, and if you place the machine close to a wall, you will need to wash the wall frequently, because the stale smoke matter concentrates and some of it escapes from the filter chamber.
Smokeless ashtrays Battery-powered smokeless ashtrays are available for approximately $5. They use a small fan to draw the smoke into an inner chamber that houses a filter, usually a charcoal filter. The smoke you exhale still circulates around the room until it finds its final resting place on the walls, ceiling, carpet, etc., but residual smoke from the burning cigarette is trapped in the ashtray filter.
Emergency Quick Room Fresheners
If, for example, you receive a phone call from a non-smoking friend, informing you of an imminent visit, you have to act quickly. In this case, you don’t have time for a thorough cleaning. You will have to settle for removing as much of the odor as possible and masking the rest. Keep a stock of supplies on hand for this type of emergency.
Air and fabric neutralizer (not freshener) spray, such as Febreze
Pine-scented cleaner, such as PineSol
Scented candles, preferably scented with essential oils
You will have to work fast. Complete as many of the following steps in order as time permits.
- Start with public rooms: kitchen, foyer, den, living room, etc. Spray the room, furniture, curtains and carpets with an air and fabric neutralizer. Stand under the mist to allow a little of the mist to fall onto your hair and clothing. Do not spray directly on furniture, drapes or carpet unless you have tested ahead of time. Just let a little mist fall from the air if you have not tested.
- If it’s winter and you have a fireplace, light a fire. If you have some dried lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit rinds, throw them on the fire.
- Place fresh potpourri in each room. Add some water and potpourri to a large pot and simmer on the stove.
- Light scented candles.
- Soak a washcloth with vinegar, wring excess liquid, and wave the washcloth around the room to neutralize the odor.
- Sprinkle baking soda onto the carpet before vacuuming.
- Wipe kitchen surfaces with a vinegar and water solution.
- Mop the kitchen floor with a pine-scented floor cleaner.
Once the smoke has done its damage, the earlier you can attack the problem, the better your chances of eliminating the lingering odor and discoloration.
Walls Wash the walls, baseboards, ceilings, and doors once or twice a year with water, baking soda, and vinegar. You’ll notice that the smoke stains get darker as the smoke travels up the wall, eventually landing on the ceiling. Pay special attention to corners and crevices.
Curtains Wash or dry clean once a year and spruce up in between cleanings by spraying with an air and fabric neutralizer. If you have expensive draperies, professionally clean as necessary.
Carpets Vacuum with baking soda once a week, and clean the carpet once or twice a year. If you want to add fragrance without the expense of a commercial product, mix a drop or two of your favorite essential oil into the baking soda before sprinkling. For stubborn odors, leave the baking soda on the carpet overnight before vacuuming.
Furniture If you use your living room and dining room infrequently, the best course of action is to cover the furniture with old sheets, blankets, and duvets. Close off the room if possible, and close air vents when the room is not in use to prevent smoke from circulating into the room. If your good furniture is exposed, it is best to have it professionally cleaned as needed. Don’t take any chances with fine fabrics unless you know what you’re doing and you have tested the fabric.
Floors Most floors respond well to mopping with a vinegar and water solution. Apply wax after the floor completely dries if your floor requires wax. Most modern finishes no longer require regular waxing.
Central air systems Change filters at least once a month. Otherwise, you’re circulating the very contaminant that you want to eliminate.
Allow fresh air into the house every day. Completely sealing your house in the winter seals the smoke in the house. Ventilating a little in the winter is healthy, and it will help you keep the smoke odor to a minimum.
Place odor absorbing materials around the house in hidden locations: small bowls of vinegar, baking soda, charcoal, even kitty litter. Be sure to place the bowls out of the reach of children and pets.
Place a drop or two of essential oils on a cold light bulb. When you turn the light on, the heat will mix with the essential oil, and you’ll have a continuous, long-term source of fragrance.
Store clothes in plastic bags, and add cedar chips to the closet. Close the closet doors. Remove any residual smoke from clothes in the dryer with a fabric softener sheet.
Keep a supply of scented candles on hand. You can purchase candles formulated specifically for removing smoke odors. Light the candles before you smoke.
Spray air neutralizers to get rid of the smoke odor, and follow with an air freshener after the smoke odor is gone.
Simmer potpourri in water on the stove. If you don’t have any potpourri, simmer a pot with water, citrus rinds, and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and clove.
Fill the bottom of your ashtrays with charcoal, baking soda or kitty litter.
The object is to stay ahead of the smoke odors, and clean the residual film early and often. If you do those two things, you can still smoke and live in a fresh, sweet-smelling atmosphere.