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Home Selling: Dealing With Indoor Cigarette Damage & Smells

Posted by Justin Havre on Tuesday, January 29th, 2019 at 7:10am.

Clean Smoker's HomeWhen buying a home formerly owned by a smoker, a non-smoking new homeowner often faces the process of cleansing the home of preexisting odors. Airing out the house can be a multi-step process involving a lot of cleaning and some remodeling. With some extra effort, buyers can make a home formerly owned by a smoker smell fresh and clean.

Common Problem Areas for Smoking Odors When Cleaning a Smoker's Home

Anything permeable will retain odors. Walls can be washed or painted; baseboards can be scrubbed; tile can be sanitized. However, anything soft and porous will hold onto odors--especially if they cannot be deep cleaned. For example, some window treatments such as cloth-covered vertical blinds or lacy curtains can be extremely tricky to clean and are better off being replaced.

Wallpaper is another common problem and the only remedy is complete removal. You'll also face a tough time eliminating smells in small rooms such as bathrooms or hobby rooms as cigarette smoke would hang heavy in the air and have ample time to permeate everything in the room. Solid surfaces can be cleaned, but you may find that even after a coat of paint and a thorough disinfecting, the area still stinks.

For troublesome areas like this, start by coating the walls and ceiling with a strong primer such as Kilz, and consider tearing the floors out completely and sealing the subfloor as well. Wood can also absorb smoke odors so fixtures such as vanities and baseboards may need to be replaced or sealed with primer and paint before you're able to eliminate the smell completely.

Remove Carpet

Carpet is fibrous, which means it absorbs odors easily. Fortunately, carpet can easily be removed, and often the flooring material underneath the carpet is in usable shape. For this project, homeowners will need some heavy duty work gloves, a utility knife and needle-nose pliers. Lift the carpeting starting along the edge of a wall, then pull it up to disconnect it from the carpet pad and tack strip beneath.

Carpeting tears easily. Use a utility knife to cut the carpeting into strips. This will make it easier to remove from the house. Repeat this process with the carpet pad. Once the carpet has been completely removed, tack strip will be visible underneath. Pull up the tack strip and use needle-nose pliers to pull out any nails and staples attaching the tack strip to the floor.

Deep Clean Everything

Cigarette smoke can leave things yellowed and greasy, and that grease can have its own scent. Use a grease remover to clean the walls, baseboards and window sills. Clean until the house gleams and smells like cleaning products. If the smell continues beyond a DIY cleaning, consider making an appointment with a professional cleaning service.

Remove All Upholstered Items

Upholstered items absorb odors in the same way as carpeting. If the former owners left anything upholstered in the house, such as a couch or stuffed chair, it will likely need to be removed.

Replace the HVAC Air Filter

A home’s HVAC system uses an air filter to clean the air. Over time this filter will become dirty with dust and dander, and this can affect the air filter’s ability to do its job. Replacing the air filter helps the HVAC system properly clean the air that circulates through the house.

The air filter can be found in the slot between the blower and the return air duct. To remove the filter, turn off the HVAC system and remove the filter from its slot. Use the old filter to find a new matching filter, then put the new filter into the slot and turn the HVAC system back on.

Clean the Ducts

Air ducts can become coated with a thick film of dust. This dust may absorb odors just like upholstery and carpeting. Turning on the HVAC system can spread bad-smelling air around the house if the ducts are dirty. To remove the dust, have them cleaned by an HVAC professional.


Even walls can absorb smells. If the house still smells like smoke after doing all the steps above, repainting the home’s interior is a good way to cover up old smells. First paint the walls with odor-blocking primer, then apply at least two coats of fresh latex paint over the primer. 

Negotiate the Price of Repairs During the Home Buying Process

The process of covering up or removing the odors from old cigarettes can be time-consuming and costly. To ensure that buyers have the resources they need to air out the new house, they ought to work with an experienced real estate agent to negotiate the price of the home.

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