5 Ways to Get Rid of Cigarette Smoke Smell in Your Apartment

Yes, smoke can travel through walls kinda

According to TobaccoFreeCA, smoke can travel through walls. However, even though cigarette smoke seeps into walls, floors and ceilings, when it travels it tends to act in a similar way to water – it takes the easiest and fastest route. Once you understand how smoke travels through walls, then you can do something about it.

4. Apply a Layer of Baking Soda

Sprinkle baking soda over cloth furniture like beds and sofas. Gently pat it into the fibers of the furniture and let it sit overnight. Vacuum it up in the morning and see if that gets rid of the smoke smell.


Step Three: Wash the Walls with quasi-banned Miracle Cleaner TSP

Tri-sodium phosphate is a base sold as a powder in Massachusetts stores. A 1% solution has a pH of 12, which is almost as basic as bleach. Lemon juice or vinegar are sometimes recommended as smoke cleaners, but those are acids, at the other end of the spectrum, and like bleach, they all have their own smell. TSP is odorless. Also, TSP can be safely mixed with bleach to remove mildew in the bathroom. This way you can kill two birds with one stone. Vinegar cannot be mixed with bleach or you will create toxic chlorine gas. Wearing latex gloves (better: rubber butyl gloves) and safety glasses (better: splash goggles), prepare a dilute solution of TSP in a bucket. You will need no more than four tablespoons of TSP for every two gallons of hot water.

If you are planning to save the flooring (see below), cover the floor with a drop cloth. Starting from high to low, use a sponge mop to wash the ceiling first. Then wash the walls and all wood casings. If you had a heavy smoker, you will see the water turn gray and then black. Dump the mix down the drain and make a fresh batch every time you start seeing black dribbles on the walls. (Gray is still okay.)

Once ceilings, walls, and casings have all been TSP’d, get more hot water, but this time don’t mix in TSP. Rinse the ceilings and walls as if you were washing them all again. Change the water as often as necessary to keep it a light gray or clear.

If your walls or ceilings are textured, this will be an annoying process. The texture will eat away at the sponge and leave fuzzies everywhere. Buy multiple sponge mops. As the sponges get destroyed, throw them away. Once the walls are dry, use a brand-new broom to sweep the sponge fuzzies onto your drop cloth or floor. Removing fuzzies will help enormously when repainting.

Aren’t Phosphates Bad?

TSP was banned in some regions because it leads to algal blooms and fish die-offs in streams. Use has declined since the 1960’s. In MA, we believe our only restriction on phosphates is our ban on needless fertilizer. (If you know otherwise, email us at info@.)

If you are environmentally conscious you can use a Phosphate-free version of TSP. Despite the misleading citation in the Wikipedia article above, which says TSP substitutes are not as effective, phosphate-free TSP will work to remove smoke smell. Although phosphate-free TSP is technically not TSP, but a substitute, it is still a strong detergent.

After the TSP wash and the final rinse, you will have eliminated 90% of the smoke odor.

Note also that TSP (with phosphates) will degloss your paint. This brings us to the next step.

Hold that Thought: What About Cabinets?

Your cabinets like your walls may have absorbed odor. If they are cheaper MDF or exposed wood inside, you may need to paint or replace. Try washing the outside with phosphate-free TSP, which will avoid deglossing, and leave the inside alone. If you still smell smoke later, you can come back to the cabinets.

4. Swap out the lightbulbs and hang up some charcoal

Believe it or not, the lightbulbs in your apartment have probably also absorbed cigarette odors. That means whenever you flick the switch to turn on the lights, nicotine residue will float through the room — the same way scents or essential oil diffusers do.

You might also want to hang a few bags of activated charcoal — they’re available in home improvement stores — all around your apartment. The carbon molecules in charcoal trap stale smoke and can freshen up the area.

Step One: Soft and Disposable

Anything that is soft, like curtains, or replaceable, like smoke detectors or mini-blinds, should be removed and thrown away. Replace the smoke detectors now, replace the rest later.

2. Put vinegar, coffee grounds or baking soda to work

Bowls filled with these pantry staples help absorb smelly smoke residue if you leave them there for 24 hours. Or, fill a big pot with vinegar and bring it to a boil on your stove. Turn the heat to low and allow the steam to lift odors in the space.

3. Repaint Ceilings Walls

Ready to get down to business? Let’s start with the biggest chunk of the job – ceilings and walls. This part may not sound like your idea of fun, but it’s necessary, and the reward is huge.

First, you will need to wash the surface. Mix a cup of white vinegar with 2 cups of warm water and ½ cup of baking soda. Dip a sponge in the mix and start wiping down the ceilings and the walls. Washing the ceilings and walls with vinegar can both deodorize and clean the surface. Wipe with a clean sponge after. Repeat 2-3 times.

Next, repaint the ceilings and walls with multiple coats of paint, depending on how stained the walls are. It is crucial to wash and dry the surface first, as simply repainting the wall might not stop the nicotine stains from seeping through. Also, paint sticks better to a cleaner surface. Again, if you’re willing go that extra mile, you can apply a layer of odor-blocking primer before regular paint. Odor-blocking primers are very effective at preventing odor molecules and stains from penetrating the new paint.

6. Wash the Rugs

Use a carpet cleaner to clean the rugs. Fill the steamer with water and soap according to the directions and run the cleaner over every carpet, making sure to change the dirty water often.

How to get rid of the cigarette smell in your apartment

If the smoke issue is minor upon move-in, or if you’re cleaning up an apartment you already live in, there are several ways of removing the smoke smell. However, it isn’t enough to simply mask the smoke odor. You have to deep clean every single surface, absorb and neutralize the smell and purify your home atmosphere to really eliminate cigarette odor.

Here’s how to get rid of the smoke smell in your apartment.

1. Throw away the source of the smell

To get rid of the cigarette odor in your apartment

To get rid of the cigarette odor in your apartment, first, toss out all the smoking materials. Then, clean out everything they’ve touched and anything you don’t want to keep.

  1. Put the contents of ashtrays into a garbage bag. Make sure you wet the remnants down first to eliminate fire risk.
  2. Tie up the garbage bag and remove it from the apartment.
  3. Throw away unsmoked cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco. If you just kicked the habit, you don’t need any additional temptation. Plus, keeping extras on hand will just encourage guests to smoke, so you’ll have to clean all over again.
  4. Toss out anything that’s too damaged by secondhand smoke to salvage, or that you don’t want to commit time to clean. Such items include cloth furniture from a smoking area, ashtrays or porous items like magazines, newspapers and cardboard boxes that really absorb and retain the smell.
  5. Set aside garbage cans for cleaning.

Once the materials are trashed, the rental unit is one step closer to being delightfully smoke-free.

2. Increase airflow

Air circulation is so critical to eliminate smoke

Air circulation is so critical to eliminate smoke smells. So, get the air in your rental property moving to eliminate that nasty stale air once and for all!

  1. First, open all the windows to help the airflow all around the rental unit. This encourages cross ventilation. Leave doors open, as well!
  2. Next, place portable box fans in the windows of the smokiest rooms. Make sure the blades are blowing out, pulling the smell outdoors.
  3. Run the portable fans for a full day, if possible. If it’s too cold, try for an hour or two at a time. Repeat as needed for a few days.

This simple step is key to getting the rental property to smell fresh again. You know, like somewhere you’d actually want to lay your head at night.

3. Sprinkle and steam

If an item is not hand or machine washable, try sp

If an item is not hand or machine washable, try sprinkling baking soda, coupled with a deep steam cleaning. It’s a simple, but effective way to bid adieu to that nasty smell. Follow these easy steps:

  1. Sprinkle baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in a thin layer on rugs, carpets, mattresses and sofas and anything else that can’t easily be laundered. The molecules in this great natural cleaner bind to odors, neutralizing them.
  2. Let it sit for several hours (or even a full day) when there’s no foot traffic. If possible, let it sit overnight!
  3. Vacuum up any residue.
  4. Repeat the process if the odor persists.
  5. Then, steam clean carpets and upholstered furniture if the label says it’s safe to do so. You can rent a cleaner or purchase your own at a big box store.

This should go a long way to eliminate the smoky smell. It’s even a good idea every once in a while for any type of odor!

4. Wash what you can

A cycle through the washing machine is a quick and

A cycle through the washing machine is a quick and easy way to eliminate odors. Be sure to check labels to make sure everything is machine washable. You don’t want to mess up that wool blanket or cashmere throw!

  1. Launder all clothing that’s been exposed to smoke. Use a deodorizing laundry detergent for best results. An extra rinse goes a long way to remove odors permanently. Dry as directed. Whenever possible, take that extra step and hang it out to air dry!
  2. Then, move on to bedding. Wash everything, from covers and sheets to mattress pads, bed skirts and pillows.
  3. In the rest of the unit, don’t forget to launder decorative items like tablecloths, pillow covers and washable couch cushion covers.
  4. Dry items outdoors, if possible. The sun’s UV rays break down odor-causing compounds, so a little sunshine will help.

Of course, some items might be too large to machine wash at home, so they might need to be sent out to a dry cleaner or another expert. Area rugs, in particular, may need the expertise of a rug doctor to get the job done.

5. Scrub all the hard surfaces

After you've cleaned or discarded clothing, textil

After you’ve cleaned or discarded clothing, textiles and other soft items, move on to surfaces like walls, counters, hard floors and wood floors. Don’t forget about ceilings, windows, window sills and light switch covers! The smoke residue will be sticky, so you’ll have to scrub with a clean cloth to get the job done.

You can make your own natural cleaners or purchase cleaners at the local home improvement or hardware store. Leave heavy-duty options like sodium phosphate to your landlord or the pros they hire, since it can damage paint, metal and wood finishes. Here are a few of the most popular natural options you can make at home.


Vinegar is a very effective smoke residue remover. Fill a bucket or spray bottle with a solution made of two-thirds distilled white vinegar and one-third water. This will effectively clean most surfaces, and is especially effective to achieve clean windows.

  1. Spray walls, floors and counters with the water and white vinegar solution.
  2. Wipe clean with a sponge or soft, clean rag, rinsing frequently.
  3. To wash windows, use a 50-50 water and vinegar mix and wipe with a newspaper or lint-free cloth until it shines.


For tougher stains and residue, try an ammonia solution. Just take care to make sure the mixture isn’t too concentrated. Never combine it with bleach or cleaners that contain bleach. Doing so can result in toxic fumes that cause headaches and seizures.

  1. For counters and floors add a tablespoon of ammonia for every cup of water.
  2. Wear protective gloves and open the windows for additional ventilation.
  3. Test in an inconspicuous place before applying to surfaces.
  4. To protect painted walls, reduce the concentration to 1/4 cup of anomia per gallon of warm water.
  5. Let it sit on surfaces or walls for a few minutes, then wipe it off with a clean sponge or rag.
  6. Follow with a final rinse of warm water.

These common household cleaners are rock stars at getting rid of heavy smoker handiwork.

6. Improve ventilation

To get rid of the cigarette smell in your apartmen

To get rid of the cigarette smell in your apartment, you need to clean every space, no matter how small. That especially includes the spaces that circulate air through your home. Pro tip: Turn off the power before you start disassembling.

  1. Put in a maintenance request for a clean furnace filter.
  2. Vacuum out the ducts so polluted dust doesn’t move through the ducts into the rest of the apartment.
  3. Scrub the central air vent covers and registers to remove dirt and grime.
  4. Wipe down the vents in AC units.
  5. Clean all fan blades, fixtures and light bulbs on ceiling fans.
  6. Gently remove vent covers on the microwave and range top in the kitchen.
  7. Vacuum or dust inside.
  8. Wash the fan covers with soap and water.
  9. Put in a maintenance request to clean out exhaust fans in the bathroom, as well. This is a little more complicated, so your landlord may prefer you let the pros handle it.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it really is doable in just a few hours start to finish, and will make such a big difference in the long run.

7. Clean overlooked items

Once you've tackled the big items like furniture,

Once you’ve tackled the big items like furniture, carpets, walls and counters, it’s time to think about smoke particles on small surfaces. Make sure you’ve scrubbed all surfaces, even the overlooked ones.

  1. Look high and low. The tops of kitchen counters and baseboards are dust magnets. Don’t forget door frames!
  2. Wipe down little things like lamp bases, towel racks and window blinds to eliminate nasty surface odor.
  3. Place un-washable items outdoors in the sun (or by the window) to let the UV rays neutralize the smell.
  4. Put a cup of baking soda in a garbage bag with any items you can’t wash, like books or important papers. Let them sit in a sealed bag for a day, or better yet, dry overnight. Then, shake off the powder.

8. Neutralize smoke odor

As we've already learned, baking soda and vinegar

As we’ve already learned, baking soda and vinegar can effectively get rid of cigarette smoke smell. But activated charcoal works, too! Use all three to help neutralize stale cigarette smells in your apartment.

  1. Place bowls of baking soda around the room to absorb the odors in particularly pungent areas. They’ll eventually reach a saturation point, so you may have to rotate fresh bowls in. Kitty litter is another effective tool!
  2. Boil a pot of vinegar on the stove for a few hours to neutralize stale cigarette smoke. Don’t worry, the vinegar smell will fade in time.
  3. Purchase small bags of activated charcoal at home improvement and hardware stores and set them around the apartment.

Now, kick back and let these natural deodorizers do their thing! Add in an essential oil diffuser or simmer some lemon peels or orange peels on the stove to go the extra mile at removing odors.

9. Use an air purifier

Once you've removed or neutralized the odors and c

Once you’ve removed or neutralized the odors and cleaned the surfaces as well as you can, turn your attention to the air itself. A purifier that meets HEPA standards will filter out 99.97 percent of larger particulates like many of those found in cigarette smoke.

  1. Set up at least one air purifier with approved HEPA air filters. Check the model to see how many square feet it can handle.
  2. The most effective options also have an activated charcoal filter to filter out smaller particles, as well.
  3. Change the filters as recommended.

Air purifiers also help to clean disgusting bacteria, viruses, allergens and other harmful stuff.

8. Finally… Floors

Cleaning hardwood floors is much like washing the wall, except that you can’t use vinegar on it, and you have to choose an appropriate cleaner that doesn’t damage the type of floor you have. Thoroughly damp mop the floor with a mixture of the cleanser and warm water for 2-3 times, changing the water regularly. Do a final rinse, if required by cleanser. As well, hand-scrub baseboards and door frames with the cleanser in a damp sponge.

Smoking decreases property values

A 2013 survey showed that smoking in a home could lower its property value by up to nearly 30%. Moreover, numerous researches have found that the majority of renters prefer smoke-free buildings. Even with this comprehensive, top to bottom refresh, there is no guarantee that your rental space will be rid of all cigarette smoke residuals. Restoring a formerly smoke-filled apartment can be expensive and time-consuming, so it might be a smart idea to adopt a non-smoking policy for your rental property to keep the smokers at bay, if you haven’t already.

It’s a great idea to clearly indicate your smoking policy in your rental listing. Pendo’s Rental Listing Website enables landlords to specify smoking and pet policies. Create your listing website today!

Got any tips for getting rid of smoke odor? Share with us by commenting below!

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