How to Remove Cigarette Odor From Your Rental Property

Written on April 6, 2016 by , updated on July 21, 2020

Cigarette OdorsEven if your former tenants cleared out all their belongings, they might have left something behind — cigarette odor.

Cigarette odor makes a property completely unappealing for potential tenants.

Cigarette smoke has a special super power compared to other odor-emitting materials — its smell lingers long after the cigarettes have been snuffed. Carpet fibers, furniture, and even the cabinets or walls can harbor the stale stench even months after anyone has smoked nearby. If your former tenants smoked indoors on a daily basis, the scent can be overwhelming.

Exercise these cleaning practices to rid rooms of their smoky odors once and for all.

Related: How to Handle Dirty Tenants

1. Clear the Air

Fresh, dry air and sunshine are your friends when it comes to deodorizing a rental. Open the curtains and windows, and turn on any available ceiling fans to help recirculate the air.

Place a box fan or a window fan in a window at one end of the room. You want to draw fresh air in. Put another fan in an opposite window to pull air out of the space.

Keep the windows open as long as possible while cleaning and afterward. If you can leave the windows open even an inch or two overnight, this will greatly help to freshen the space.

2. Start with the Ceiling

Cleaning the ceiling might not be your idea of fun, but it should be cleaned to get out the cigarette odor.

Wipe down a smooth ceiling with a soft cloth dipped in a blend of one part white vinegar to two parts water. Vinegar is a must-have in your arsenal of cleaning supplies, as it both cleans and deodorizes all kinds of surfaces. Wring out the excess moisture, and then wipe the ceiling down. This even works on ceiling tiles.

…one part white vinegar to two parts water.

For popcorn ceilings, spritz a fine mist of the vinegar mixture on the ceiling instead of wiping it down.

3. Deororize Walls and Window Coverings

Remove any window coverings to deodorize them. Take sheers or drapes outside to air out, or send them to a dry cleaner (an eco-friendly one if possible).

White vinegar cleans and deodorizes hard surfaces such as washable walls and wood or vinyl blinds. Dip a soft cloth in the vinegar, wringing out most of the liquid. Wipe the surfaces from the top down, rinsing the cloth frequently. Don’t worry — the vinegar odor vanishes quickly, along with the stench of smoke.

*Note: if you’re unsure whether the paint or wallpaper will hold up well to moisture, test it by wiping it with a vinegar-moistened cloth in an inconspicuous area. Wait for the vinegar to dry before proceeding with the rest of the wall.

4. Clean Carpeting/Rugs

Carpets take up a lot of surface area, so they can be one of the worst offenders when it comes to trapping cigarette odors — even though smoke rises.

  • Sprinkle baking soda over the carpet or rugs.
  • Vacuum it up after 30 minutes or longer
  • Spritz the carpet with a light mist of two parts water to one part vinegar (if the odor remains).
  • Turn on a fan to speed drying time.
  • Use more baking soda afterward (if necessary).

Related: Ask Lucas #10: How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Carpet Damage?

5. Wash Hard Floors

Wash the floors with a non-wax cleaner designed for the room’s flooring. Warm water and a neutral-pH soap work well for hardwood or bamboo flooring. You can use water and vinegar on some vinyl and laminate floors.

Do not use vinegar on stone tiles or in grouted areas.

6. Refresh Cabinets and Furniture

Cigarette odor even finds its way into closed cupboards and drawers.

  • Wipe washable surfaces down with one cup of white vinegar per quart of water, using a soft, lint-free cloth.
  • Spritz the insides of cupboards and drawers with a fine vinegar mist.
  • Leave the doors and drawers open to air out and dry.
  • If any odor remains, place bowls of dry coffee grounds and wads of newspaper inside the cupboards or drawers for a few days.

Not many people will want to rent a place that reeks of cigarette odor, even other smokers. If you don’t already have a no-smoking policy in your lease, put one in, and let potential tenants know that no smoking is allowed.

7. Repaint the Walls

Lastly, if all else fails, you can repaint the walls with an odor-blocking primer.

Often times, a tenant would smoke in only 1-2 rooms, so repainting these rooms can eliminate 90% of the smell. By placing a thick coat of primer, and then an eggshell, or semi-gloss top coat, you can eliminate the smell completely.


Share Your Techniques

What other techniques have you used to eliminate a smoke smell from a rental unit? Share your “worst” story in the comments below.

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69 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Vincent Valles

    Paint a permanent air purification system, on the walls of your home or office for less than 10 cents per sq. Ft. No electricity, filters or servicing required.

  • Judith I Bolder

    Would like to join discussions

  • Abby

    I just moved into a small 1 BD apt and it reeks of cigarette smoke in the closets bathroom ( even the vanity). It is horrible and unbearable. It was freshly painted too when I moved in. I washed everything down including closets, walls, cabinets and vanity with bleach and even tried scented pine sol. I just cannot get rid of it ! I blocked off my bathroom fan with plastic because people above me and those next to me on the same floor smoke in their Apts . I am going to get a sponge mop and wash the entire place down again with strong vinegar and water as this article says to do. I am desperate and hope this works. I am sickened by the smell and would be embarrassed to have anyone I know who doesn’t smoke over to visit.

  • Karen

    I also just moved into a dirty smelly stinky smoky apartment. Well it isn’t really dirty but they had just put a new carpeting and painting the walls but the smell is just overwhelming.

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