“Eeeeew, it smells like smoke in here!” Or maybe, “Why is there such a strong air freshener smell, what are they trying to cover up?”
Those are NOT the words you want to say when you are looking for a house, or the words you want to hear when you’re selling your house! So what can you do to rid a house of lingering tobacco odors? It won’t necessarily be easy, depending upon how badly the odors have seeped into HVAC systems, fabrics, walls and ceilings. But you CAN eliminate the odors, much of them by yourself.
Wash walls and ceilings. Use a 3:1 vinegar-water mixture or trisodium phosphate (TSP). Ceilings are often the place that gets the worst smoke smell, since cigarette smoke travels upward and collects on the surface of the ceiling. TSP is a strong general purpose cleaning product that is good at removing smoke smells and stains.
Paint. If washing doesn't eliminate the smell from walls and ceilings, then your next best bet is to repaint them. Use a product like Kilz, which is an odor-neutralizing primer that seals in the smell. Without such a primer, the smell will eventually seep back through the paint.
Change lightbulbs. Sometimes we don’t think to dust lightbulbs! Odor-laden dust can stick to lightbulbs as they get hot, resulting in dispersal of odor.
Clean windows and blinds. Windows and blinds can retain a smoky film that emits odor when they're warmed by sun, so give them a thorough washing. Blinds can also be washed with vinegar or TSP. Consider replacing blinds if they are not custom made.
Wash curtains and drapes. Fabric tends to hold onto the smoke smell, so you'll probably need to clean all the window treatments. Depending on the fabric, some can be washed in the washing machine, while others have to be steam cleaned or dry-cleaned. You can also hire a professional cleaner.
Clean floors and carpets. Deodorizing carpet cleaning products with baking soda will often get rid of odors. If that doesn't work, hire a professional to steam clean them. For wood or tile, a normal cleaning with the recommended cleaner should do the trick.
HVAC system. Have a professional air duct and evaporator coil cleaning, as the odor can permeate the coil and then send the smell through the ductwork. Change the filter on your HVAC unit every 30-45 days (normally you would change the filter every 6 months). You may also want to consider getting an indoor air filter with a HEPA filter and charcoal odor pre-filter. A dehumidifier can reduce smoke smell in humid weather. A bonus if your heating system is in a basement – a dehumidifier reduces humidity levels and reduces chances of mold growth.