This is a time-tested method for removing smoke odors from furniture, books and clothing.
Q: I recently inherited a beautiful armchair from my grandparents. Unfortunately, my grandparents were heavy smokers and the smell has seeped into the chair. Is there any hope for the heirloom, or will it suffer from this stench? Any suggestions on how to get rid of the smoke smell would be appreciated.
A: Cigarette smoke can be found on furniture, clothing, and even on the walls, floors, and ceilings of houses that were once heavily inhabited by smokers. People who have recently quit smoking or who live in areas where bushfires have occurred often have the smell of cigarettes lingering for a period of time. The smoke molecules produced by cigarette smoke contain tiny particles of oil and tar that cling stubbornly to the areas to which they adhere. Smoke produced accidentally while cooking can also stick to baked goods after they are discarded.
Commercial air fresheners are effective for minor smoke odors, but they mask the smell rather than absorb or neutralize it. (Note: The chemicals in these products are generally safe for use around people, dogs and cats, but are harmful to birds. (If you have pets with feathers, do not use them). As the air freshener scent fades, the smoky smell will reappear.
The goal is to get rid of the smoke smell, so if you stick with it, you should be able to significantly reduce the odor. It may take some trial and error to figure out which method works best, but eventually you will be able to breathe easier than before.
First, open the windows to ventilate the room.
The power of fresh air should not be underestimated when it comes to removing smoke odors. If your house smells like smoke, open all the windows and put a fan or two in front of the largest window with the blades facing outward to suck the smoke smell out of the room. If possible, continue to do this throughout the day. Keep smoke-smelling furniture, books and clothes in a sunny place for a few hours. Intense sunlight can damage or fade delicate or dyed fabrics, so hang vintage shawls and embroidered pillows in the shade if the smell bothers you.
Smoke odors can be absorbed with baking soda.
Sodium bicarbonate is an effective deodorizer because it absorbs odors instead of masking them. Here are some ways to deodorize with baking soda.
- To remove smoke odors from a room or car, put some baking soda in a small bowl and place it throughout the space. Leave the baking soda in place for at least 24 hours.
- Sprinkle baking soda on your carpet and leave it in place overnight or for at least two hours, then vacuum it away.
- Sprinkle a little baking soda on smelly couches and plush chairs, leave in place for at least two hours, then vacuum the soda away with an upholstery attachment.
- To deodorize books, decorations and clothes that are not easily washed, place the items in question in a large plastic garbage bag and add half a cup of baking soda to it. Close the bag, wait 8 hours, shake off the powder and
remove the items.
Use a vinegar wash to neutralize the smell of smoke.
White vinegar is another non-toxic household staple that neutralizes smoke-like odors. Its low pH “attacks” the higher pH smoke molecules, changing them enough to reduce their odor. The pungent odor of vinegar disappears when dried or wiped away.
- To reduce the smell of smoke in a room or car, place a few cubes of white vinegar in a small bowl and leave it around overnight.
- To speed up deodorization, simmer a pot of vinegar on the stove for 1-2 hours. The steam will rise and help eliminate the smell of smoke.
- To deodorize machine washable clothes, use half a cup of white vinegar instead of laundry detergent. The acid in the vinegar will break down the odor molecules. Laundry detergents are usually neutral or alkaline, so they are not effective in neutralizing smoke odors.
Activated charcoal traps smoke.
It may sound strange to use a material used for grilling to remove smoke odors, but it works. The carbon molecules in charcoal chemically “trap” the odor and remove it from the air. You can use charcoal blocks, but activated charcoal is more porous and has better adsorption properties (plus it is not treated with flammable chemicals). Most home improvement stores carry a variety of activated carbon products. They are usually packaged in small cloth or linen bags and are often labeled as smoke and odor removers.
Set or hang several bags of activated charcoal around smoky rooms or vehicles to absorb odors, or place the bags on smoky furniture or carpets. However, do not place activated charcoal powder directly on the cloth.
Use steam to remove smoke odors.
Steam cleaning is particularly effective on smoke-filled walls, floors and upholstery. The heat dissolves the hardened tar and oil that surrounds smoke molecules and can be easily wiped away with a microfiber cloth or sponge. To control odors, apply a light stream of hot steam to the area causing the odor while continuously moving the head of the steam cleaner. Too much steam can damage delicate fabrics such as silk or dissolve drywall.
Get an air purifier to deal with smoke.
Air purifiers are unevenly effective at removing smoke odors. Many air purifiers are designed to trap particulate matter and are therefore ineffective against gaseous pollutants produced by tobacco smoke. However, some air purifiers, particularly those with charcoal filters, may be able to reduce tobacco odors. ‘Activated charcoal is a type of charcoal filter, and if you’re concerned about cigarette odors, it’s worth considering a model that uses this technology.
If you live in an area where wildfires are common and you want to remove the smell of wildfire smoke, you may want to use an air purifier with a high-efficiency particulate adsorber (HEPA) filter.
Replace the air filter in your HVAC system.
Air filters in HVAC systems do not remove all the contaminants that cause smoke odors, but they are an important part of a comprehensive strategy for dealing with how to remove smoke odors, especially if they are used in conjunction with the strategies described above. Set reminders and change air filters regularly. Many experts recommend changing them quarterly, although more frequent changes are recommended if you’re struggling with cigarette smoke, pet hair or other persistent contaminants.
HVAC systems with HEPA filters can be a valuable ally in removing cigarette odors, but not all air conditioning systems are compatible with HEPA filters. However, not all air conditioners are compatible with HEPA filters. It’s important to consult an expert before taking this step, as the airflow in your unit may not be strong enough to pass through a more dense HEPA filter. Air Conditioning Services to see if it makes sense to install a HEPA filter in your system. Consult with a team.
Hire a professional smoke removal contractor.
In cases of very severe smoke damage, or if the above options fail, it is advisable to seek professional help. Many cleaning services specialize in smoke removal and are trained in the proper techniques to treat walls, floors and upholstery with stronger chemicals and cleaners than are available to the public, and to use them safely and effectively.