Living with a persistent cigarette smoke smell in your house can cause you significant discomfort. It’s worse when no one smokes in the house, so you can’t figure out the cause of the smell. What should you do, and what are the possible causes?
If a house smells like cigarette smoke, but no one smokes in it, the source of the smell could be an accumulation of third-hand smoke on furniture, carpets, clothing, curtains, and walls. In some cases, it could be caused by old or damaged gas-based water heaters or furnaces.
In this article, you’ll see the dangers of third-hand cigarette smoke, the possible causes of the smell in your home, and how to get rid of it.
What Is Third-Hand Cigarette Smoke?
Third-hand cigarette smoke is the residue that remains long after a cigarette has been put out. In a home, this residue can spread very quickly and can defy cleaning agents months after the last cigarette has been smoked in the house.
It’s difficult to get rid of the smell because third-hand smoke contains toxic particles and gases that can penetrate all kinds of surfaces and materials, including clothes, walls, carpets, and curtains. Even the dust in the home can get contaminated by nicotine.
Why Is Third-Hand Cigarette Smoke Dangerous?
You may consider ignoring the cigarette smoke smell in your house, but there are a few reasons why you shouldn’t:
- The chemicals and toxic compounds in third-hand smoke can cause cancer.
- Children living in spaces with an abundance of third-hand smoke can die as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Third-hand smoke can also cause an increased risk of asthma.
Possible Causes of Cigarette Smell
Here are some reasons why your house might smell like cigarette smoke even though nobody smokes:
There’s an Unknown Smoker in the House
If you have other people living in the house, it’s possible that they’ve become smokers without your knowledge. It could also mean that they spend a lot of time in the midst of smokers, which could lead to nicotine and other substances in the second-hand smoke binding onto their skin, hair, and clothes. When the contaminated hair or clothes get into your home, the air will invariably change.
Smokers Sit Close to Your Window or Doors
If you live in an apartment building where people can walk past or sit close to your open doors and windows, the cigarette smoke smell could be coming from outside. Even when there’s no one actively smoking around the time when you perceive the smell, previous smoke sessions could have left residues in the home, via the doors and windows.
Similarly, if you live in a semi-detached building with a neighbor that smokes, you’ll almost always have to deal with cigarette smoke smell. This is especially true if the roofing is such that air from both houses can mix easily.
Old Occupants of the Building Were Smokers
This is perhaps the most common cause of cigarette smoke smell in a house. As we’ve seen above, the nicotine and other compounds in smoke can get absorbed by unpainted wood, fabrics, ceilings, plaster walls, etc. In some cases, sealed gloss or semi-gloss painted surfaces can also trap tobacco deposits and continue giving off the smoke smell for years.
Residue From Your Days as a Smoker
Similar to the point above, if you used to smoke in the past, the smell wouldn’t disappear immediately. It can linger for a long time on the surfaces we’ve mentioned above as well as on your clothes and your beddings.
Old Air Filters
If you were a smoker previously or live in a home formerly occupied by a smoker, the air filters in the house and in the air conditioner would most likely be contaminated with nicotine and the carbon from smoking sessions. This will trigger the smoke smell as the air conditioner works, or as air passes through the filter.
Damaged or Ageing Water Heater or Furnace System
Is your furnace or water heater gas-operated? You should consider getting them checked out if they’ve been in use for a long time. Damaged or ageing systems won’t properly burn the liquid propane or natural gas, leading to a leak of dangerous fumes in your home. The smell of the fumes may be similar to cigarette smoke smell because the emission might contain the same pyrolytic chemicals in a burning stick of cigarette.
Call in some experts to take a look at the system and ensure there are no deeper issues. The fumes can be very deadly. In worst-case scenarios, it can lead to fires.
Sinus infections typically cause you to perceive foul odors that don’t exist, but not the smell of cigarettes. If there’s a constant smell of cigarettes in your house, it’s most likely as a result of one of the reasons we’ve seen above.
However, some extremely rare cases of brain tumors can lead to smell hallucinations or delusions, causing you to perceive all kinds of smell, including cigarette smoke. You should seek medical advice immediately if you still perceive the cigarette smoke even when you’re outside your house, especially in smoking-free zones.
11 Ways to Get Rid of the Cigarette Smoke Smell in Your House
If you want to get rid of cigarette smoke smell in your house, there are a few things you can do:
1. Ventilate the House
If you experience the cigarette smell occasionally, the source is most likely temporary (passers-by, your neighbor’s visitors, etc.). Opening up your doors and windows and running the fans can help get rid of the smell and ensure it doesn’t take root in the house.
2. Remodel the House
If you’ve just moved into the house and suspect that the last occupant was a smoker, the best way to get rid of the smell is to do a bit of remodeling. You’ll have to repaint the walls, rip up old carpets, and varnish the wood floors.
Before painting the walls, you should clean it first with a heavy-duty cleaner, such as trisodium phosphate. Your chosen primer should also contain an odor sealant. If the floor is tiled, clean it with a solution of water and bleach.
3. Clean the Filters and Ducts of Your HVAC Unit
As we’ve seen above, nicotine and other chemicals responsible for the cigarette smell can clog your HVAC system. Cleaning the air ducts and filters or replacing them may help to get rid of the smell in your home.
This is an option you should also consider if you’ve moved into a house formerly inhabited by a smoker or if you’re one yourself.
4. Remove the Smell With Vinegar
Apple cider or white vinegar can work effectively when you’re trying to rid your house of the cigarette smoke smell. You can boil some of the vinegar, and let the steam spread throughout your home.
Alternatively, you can mix 2-3 cups of vinegar in a gallon of warm water and use it to wipe down surfaces in the room with the cigarette smoke smell. You should also consider placing some bowls of vinegar around the house to trap the cigarette smoke smell.
One downside to this option is that the sour smell of vinegar can linger in the air for a while. You can counter the smell by cleaning the surfaces you’ve rubbed vinegar with a solution of baking soda. However, the vinegar smell is harmless, so you should probably allow it to dissipate on its own for a day or two.
5. Use Some Coffee Grounds
Coffee grounds are another option for absorbing the cigarette smoke smell from the air. Leave them outside to dry properly first, then put some of them in small bowls or containers for placement around the house. Leave them for a day and replace them if the smell lingers.
The downside to this option is that you’ll be trading the cigarette smoke smell for the coffee smell, but the latter is a lot milder and poses no health risks.
6. Remove the Smell With Baking Soda
As you’ve seen from the last paragraph, baking soda is effective against most smells, including the cigarette smoke. Get some scented baking soda and spread it across the areas of your house with the cigarette smell. Leave it for a day or two to neutralize the odor, and clean up the baking soda with your vacuum cleaner.
You can repeat this process for as long as you need to. Again, just like with vinegar, you can also place small bowls of baking soda around the house strategically to soak up the smell. This is an approach that will take longer, but it works.
7. Place Some Charcoal Around the Room
Charcoal is very effective at absorbing strong smells, such as the one from the cigarette smoke. To use it as a remedy, all you need to do is to place some charcoal in small bowls and containers and then leave them in the corners of the house like you would with baking soda. Replace the old charcoal with a new one every two days until the smell has properly dissipated.
You can use the usual charcoal briquettes used for the grill to remove the smell, but activated charcoal is more porous and has a wider surface area to absorb contaminants. If you can’t get some activated charcoal, you can grind your grill charcoal to powder to make it more effective.
8. Soak Some Cotton in Oil Extracts
Oil extracts like peppermint and vanilla can also fight the smoke smell effectively. Depending on the severity of the situation, they can mask the odor effectively. All you need to do is to leave some cotton wool soaked in the oil extracts around the house for a day, and the sweet fragrance will gradually overpower the smoke smell.
For more serious cases, you wipe down surfaces with a rag doused in the oil extract or pour the oil bowls and leave them to sit for as long as necessary around the house. You can also put the oil extract in a humidifier.
9. Use Air Fresheners
Air fresheners like Febreze can mask the smell of the smoke and also tweak your olfactory system so you won’t smell anything else apart from the product. However, this only gives temporary relief.
- Doesn't just mask, cleans away odors with OdorClear...
- Febreze AIR (formerly Febreze Air Effects) cleans away...
- Use Febreze AIR in entryways, bathrooms, laundry rooms,...
- The familiar freshness of Gain comes to life throughout...
The smell will be back as the freshener wears out, so only use this remedy if you need to rid the house of the cigarette smoke smell for a while. To get rid of the smell for good, you’ll have to consider the other options on this list.
10. Get an Air Purifier That Comes With Carbon Filters
If you are dealing with a strong case of cigarette smoke smell, but not quite severe enough to embark on wholesale refurbishment, you can buy an air purifier with carbon filters to get rid of the cigarette smoke smell in the house. The good thing about this option is you’ll also be getting rid of pollen, pet hair, mold spores, dust mites, etc.
For smaller spaces, you can consider air filter brands like the VEVA 8000 Elite Pro Series and Bissell MYair. For larger spaces, however, the NuWave Oxypure, is a costlier but more efficient option to consider.
- 3-in-1 filter includes pre-filter layer and a...
- Activated carbon works on common household odors pet...
- Operates at a whisper-quiet level to contribute to a...
- Choose between High or Low fan speed as well as a Sleep...
11. Cut Some Apples or Potatoes
Some foods and fruits like potatoes and apples can absorb smells. Gather some of them, cut them in half, and place them around the house to gradually absorb the smoke smell. You should see some results within a day. To avoid food wastage, look for fruits or root crops that are no longer unfit for consumption, but not exactly rotten. You can talk to the attendant at your local grocery store about how to get some of the products they classify as damaged.
Related: House Smells Like Smoke But There Is No Fire
Cigarette smoke smell is not just a minor inconvenience. It can increase your risk for certain types of cancer and also make the house unsafe for young children. You should take the time to find the possible cause of the smell and then take steps to counter it.
For less severe cases, placing some absorbent materials in the house can leave the rooms smelling fresh again. If the cigarette smoke smell is too pungent, however, you may need to budget for a complete makeover of your home.