How to Remove Cigarette Odor From Your Rental Property

Written on April 6, 2016 by , updated on December 9, 2016

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.

Related: 

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.

Get our free newsletter

Join 200,000+ landlords

  • ​Tips to increase income
  • Time-saving techniques
  • ​Powerful tools & resources

42 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Dave Miller

    “Cigarette smoke has a special super power compared to other odor-emitting materials ” – Best line ever! :)

    When I’m taking over a new unit that was previously “smoking allowed” the only way to eliminate is Kilz and full repaint. When turning over a non-smoking unit where the rules were minimally broken, I’ve had good luck with an ozone air purifier.

    Nice article on a necessary topic!

    • Kathy Adams

      Thanks, Dave!

      Yes, Kilz is excellent for situations when regular primer and paint just won’t do. A good deodorizing cleaning beforehand helps get rid of a lot of the film left behind by cigarettes. Ozone comes in handy as well, when the entire place reeks.

    • Alaia Morales

      I believe I have tried just about all of this. We’ve been here over 6 months. We’ve literally scrubbed every wall and ceiling using the vinegar method and even odoban. I clean every day, all furniture is new, leave windows open. We have repainted the entire house after scrubbing. Hardwood floors are swept regularly. Cabinets have been replaced with shelves. But the smell is still here. Some days worse than others. I am not going to repaint the walls a second time, it’s out of the question. I just don’t understand:( help!

      • Joanie

        If you didn’t use shellac or oil as your primer the smoke is still breathing out of the walls and ceilings. I had the same problem. I initially painted using a water based primer and paint and it didn’t make a dent. Then I had to hire a painter to spray shellac primer before painting again. I have changed wall heaters, fans, washed inside of canned light fixtures etc. and now I’m getting ready to try an ozone machine. Smoke gets everywhere!! If I had it to do over again I would never buy a smoker’s house.

  • Authority Property Management

    Many folks don’t even know where to begin. You can’t just clean the carpet.

  • Yetisaurus

    I second the Kilz treatment. We put a clause in our lease that specifically says that smoking indoors (including in the garage) is not ok, and the tenant acknowledges that they will be responsible for all costs related to eliminating smoke smell, including additional paint, primer, carpet cleaning, etc. It’s at least one additional protection in case a tenant later complains that we withheld too much from their security deposit. To be honest, though, if a prospective tenant came to look at the place and smelled like smoke, I’d rent to someone else instead.

  • Steve Barton

    Two items not mentioned: 1. Remove all screens and wash thoroughly 2. Heaters–for hot water or electric baseboard (turn off breaker) remove covers and wash fold up newspaper and put under element–use spray bottle with detergent and water to spray them off. For a forced air system–at WalMart (cheapest) in auto dept. get Ozium deodorant . open windows turn on heat spray plenty of ozium in cold air return till you can smell it coming out of hot registers (cheaper than duct cleaning co.)

  • Barb

    I am not a landlord. I am the renter that moved in after the smoker. They did change this property to non smoking. The management washed and primed with Kilz 2 coats then 2 coats of paint, put in new carpet. Washed all of the cabinets, appliances, mirrors, windows, blinds with the vinegar solution. It still has a strong cigarette order when you first come in the door. Since I have lived here (3 months) they changed out the air conditioning system, cleaned all the vents. I have recleaned everything, but to no avail. We have done everything except the Ozone machine. They said no to using one even if I pay. I ask to move to a different unit, but they refused. My clothes are beginning to smell. I have never smoked. Any suggestions

    • Kathy Adams

      hi Barb,

      sorry you have to suffer through old smoke odors — I also am no fan of that smell. Have you tried spritzing a mild vinegar solution in the closets and everywhere else that may have been missed? If the ceiling is washable, you may want to wipe it down as well. (Unfortunately, cigarette odor affects EVERYTHING in a room.) Bowls of dry coffee beans or grounds in cupboards, drawers and anything else that was in the apartment before you rented can also help absorb the odors. It does take some time to get rid of the smell. Baking soda, coffee grounds, vinegar and even wads of newspaper all help absorb the odor from the air trapped in drawers and the like. You’ll just have to replace them every few days.

    • Spencer

      Everyone needs to stop waste my their money, there is only one thing that is guaranteed to remove cigarettes smoke odor permanently, and the is the Room Shocker from Biocide Systems. This is a cheap and easy way to eliminate all odors and it has a money back guarantee.

    • Paul

      Did they wash the siding on the outside of the apartment? Those areas can hold the smoke smell.
      Find out if they cleaned and primed the floor before installing the carpeting.

    • clark

      start smoking

      • cgolias

        Not everyone wants to smoke. You are rude by telling people start smoking. I will never smoke, no matter how much people try to force me into it. I know it’s not healthy, and I have enough medical issues without it. If you’re not going to help with what you’ve tried to remove smoke odors from rentals, don’t post at all.

    • Mary

      We just bought a house and there was a smoker ONLY IN THE TINY little toilet area of the bathroom (in the master). The smell WAS SO OFFENSIVE, we used the Kilz (2 coats) and then painted over that with 3 coats of Semi Gloss…. replaced the base boards, re-sealed the travertine, REPLACED the fan AND THE PIPES to the fan.. it STILL WREEKS! I’m at my wits end! I think the only thing left is literally cut out the walls and rebuild the room, which is what I have scheduled for next month~ I have renters in there now and I feel BAD FOR THEM, because it’s truly HORRIBLE! I’ve used 5 giant bottles of vinegar…. and literally everything people have told me.. If there’s cigarette smoke, I think the ONLY way to get rid of it, is cut it out!

    • Stephen Parkhurst

      Barb- Use Vamoose, it will get rid of the smell. There are instructions on their website. Just Google it.

  • nila

    Im a renter too! we just moved in about a month ago. Gonna try these tips! Can someone explain more about the newspaper in the baseboard heaters? We have baseboard heaters… maybe that will help. Insence doesnt seem to be working… the carpets are new and cabinets were cleaned. Maybe some potpourri? fried bacon? bags of garlic?!

  • Kathy Adams

    Hello,

    please do NOT put newspaper in your baseboard heaters as this would be a fire hazard. Newspaper (as far as removing odors) is for areas such as inside cupboards and drawers.

  • Leslie

    We recently moved into a house where the previous tenants smoked heavily for many years.
    The house had been recently repainted and did not immediately smell of smoke.
    Three months have passed now, and the stench of smoke odor is now permeating through the walls and smells so strongly. My question is; what can we do now? I have been doing research and am considering hiring an environmentalist to do a cleaning of the air/smoke in the house. Are there any other suggestions we should try? I’m beginning to wonder if when the house was painted, they did not use the proper type of primer to seal in the smoke. Please help– the odor is unbearable.

  • Mike Alcantara

    I have an odor remediation business and for second hand smoke Kilz doesn’t work. I get calls all the time from apt managers that re-painted and cleaned the carpets but the smoke smell came back shortly after the chemicals wore off. Since smoke is a gas, the only way to get rid of it is with a gas (ozone while unoccupied) Ozone is the only oxidizer that can break down the many chemicals in second hand smoke, penetrating substrates and causing them to ‘outgas”. You will need several treatments over several days to get the job done 100% because of the offgassing issue. Cold during ozone hot after to cause outgassing. That’s the protocol we use that works. Anything else we’ve tried over the years didn’t work 100% like ozone does.

  • Bert Gruder

    Smoking odors cling to clothing, permeates wall paint and wallboard, saturates upholstery, and brand’s everything it touches with an unmistakable odor. The Ionic Paint Additive turns any newly painted surface, into an effective and permanent air purification system. The ion, technology permanently maintains healthy indoor air quality.

  • Leonora Foster

    I have a nonsmoking Airbnb rental. After a reminder to the guests that we do not allow smoking on the premises, they gave their assurances that they would smoke only in their car. Well, as soon as we entered the building we smelled the air freshener that they had used to cover up the smoke. The smell made me sick to the point where I felt as if I had the flu.
    Are these smoke eliminators safe to use, or are there toxic ingredients in them?

  • Peg Wallace

    I’ve been managing properties for 6 or 7 years and am having my first experience with a renter breaking the lease by smoking! And I mean it really reeks in this cute house!! I just read about all the work that will need to be done to get the smell out. It looks like the work hours and products could add up to more than the deposit. So, can I just keep the entire deposit? Is breaking the lease by smoking enough of a reason to keep the deposit? Specifically stated my lease, in capital letters .. it says NO SMOKING permitted. She also spilled cleaner (guessing toilet bowl cleaner)on the living room carpet and it now has a decent size’d permanent royal blue area. I don’t call that normal wear and tear, do you?

  • Jenna

    What about smoking in the garage? Yes, I realize the smoke can drift into the house. But is hiring a ” deodorizer ” for $4,300 necessary? My daughter just moved out of her rental . Today she received a letter from the landlord stating he is hiring a professional company to deodorize the house from smoking in it. She never smoked in the home, not once but she did smoke in the garage. How would the landlord prove smoking in the home and how could my daughter prove she didnt? Seems it’s her word against his. Not only is he keeping her $1,000 deposit, he’s also charging the additional $3, 000 for the company to come. He sent an estimate from them for the $4,300 total cost. Just seems terribly expensive.

    • melissa

      I moved into a duplex 3 weeks ago that is non smoking , the bathroom in the middle of the unit(no windows) reeks of smoke.It did not stink when I did the walk-thru,cleaning agents from the carpet,floors and new paint masked the stench!
      The landlord had the walls primed with Lowes brand of primer/blocker and a finish coat,changed the air filter for the furnace. For 3 days I had an Ozone machine running with the vents open and the place still reeks just as bad.
      My lease is for 6 months, I don’t know how I can stay here that long.Does anyone know if I can force the landlord to move me to another unit at their expense? Reduce my rent? Basically I can’t use one bathroom of the unit,the one with the bathtub which is why I rented this plac

    • RUSerious

      Seems almost as expensive as the cigarettes. Cheaper than the bill for cancer treatments will be though. Garage or not, smoke gets everywhere. Maybe she can take this as a hint to quit, and if so, it will end up saving her money in the long run.

      • Jenna

        Well thank you for the stop smoking advice but that’s not really why I posted my comment. Obviously we all know what cigarettes do to your health. Thanks for your help

        • RUSerious

          BTW, wasn’t trying to be so snarky, I can’t help it. I work all day treating cancer, so I do really hope this works out to the positive for her in the long run. I try to look for that silver lining in everything, even if I don’t express it well. Best of luck.

        • Lynn B

          Smoking in the garage is still considered smoking in the property which didn’t allow smok8ng. It will cost more than her deposit to fix what she screwed up. Teach her to take responsibility for her actions. Also, to others suffering from smokers lack of consideration for their disgusting habit. You have to to use an oil based primer or shellac on every single surface.
          1. Clean ceilings walls, doors, trim, cabinets, mirrors, windows, floors thoroughly. TPP is recommended then seal every surface with the primer, oil or shellac, then two coats of paint on every single surface. Then clean ducts, fresh filters and that is about it. Yes your daughter should lose hr deposit and be sued for the difference in the damages she caused.

          • Jenna

            Lynn B…
            My daughter knows how to be responsible for her actions , she’s a very responsible young lady. She has worked out this issue with her landlord. Since it WASN’T stated , no smoking in the lease she signed, they negotiated a solution that was agreeable to both. If she wasn’t a responsible person, she would have ignored him totally. Thanks for jumping to conclusions though and being a judgmental bitch. That must be what Lynn ” B” stands for huh? Get the stick out of your ass.

          • Jenna

            You should take a writing course to learn how to spell LynnB. At least proofread your comments before hitting submit.

            • Lynn B.

              Jenna,
              Your capitulating on what the lease stated doesn’t relieve your daughter ignoring the intention of the lease agreement. To NOT make the place stink from cigarette smoke. Not very responsible for her actions no matter what you say or what name you call me, proving the apple doesn’t fall far from tree. Your rudeness says far more about you than it does me. Having just spent thousands restoring a place from cigarette damage yes, I am a bitch about it. But you are an ass*ole.

  • Jenna

    Lynn B…
    My daughter knows how to be responsible for her actions , she’s a very responsible young lady. She has worked out this issue with her landlord. Since it WASN’T stated , no smoking in the lease she signed, they negotiated a solution that was agreeable to both. If she wasn’t a responsible person, she would have ignored him totally. Thanks for jumping to conclusions though and being a judgmental bitch. That must be what Lynn ” B” stands for huh? Get the stick out of your ass.

    • Julie

      Look, Jenna, your attitude is WRONG. Remediation from nicotine damage on literally EVERY SURFACE can cost tens of thousands of dollars, lost rent in other units, devalues property, and causes health damage. People have lung issues, as well as other people who just cannot take the obnoxious stink!! Damage from smoking and tobacco requires an incredible amount of time, work, and sweat to remediate. Smokers don’t understand the depth of the damage they do, and that must be because they are so badly addicted and so used to the stink, that they don’t SUFFER the way non smokers do. Therefore, the issue of SUFFERING from the literally UNBREATHABLE atmosphere is WRONGLY translated into the non-smoker as being labelled a bad name, etc

  • Lynn B.

    Jenna,
    Your capitulating on what the lease stated doesn’t relieve your daughter ignoring the intention of the lease agreement. To NOT make the place stink from cigarette smoke. Not very responsible for her actions no matter what you say or what name you call me, proving the apple doesn’t fall far from tree. Your rudeness says far more about you than it does me. Having just spent thousands restoring a place from cigarette damage yes, I am a bitch about it. But you are an as**ole that didn’t teach your children well. To her detriment. Thanks for being the spelling Nazi. Lol Most of us realize modern technology messes with our voice to text.

  • adam brower

    The advice on remediating tobacco smoke odor is useful and welcome. However, the commenter who claims to feel as if she has the flu after encountering the odor may have problems that no landlord can solve. (Let’s hope she never finds herself in a brown bar in Amsterdam.) Some people smoke, some cook with garlic, some keep a box of cat poop in their home. Even worse, some people are noticeably smelly without ever lighting the dreaded cigarette—even to a smoker! As noted above, repeated ozone and outgassing will remediate the smoker’s odors (and garlic, B.O., and cat poop).

  • Biosweep Sacramento

    Since cigarette odors leave visible traces of evidence it is imperative for property managers to eradicate the odor before being able to show or rent out the unit again in order to prevent price drops and lost revenues. Biosweep offers the best solutions for cigarette smoke odors and can permanently eliminate most odors in 24 hours or less. With over 500 successful treatments we have truly seen it all. We have permanently eradicated the smoke smell from homes with over 20 years of extensive smoking. If you are in need of odor removal services in the Sacramento, California metro area visit odorremovalsacramento.com, in other areas of the world visit biosweep.com to find your nearest service provider. 

  • Neil

    had 2 condo units that were smoked in when they should not of been found a company that 100% removed odor in 1 unit and about 80% in the other
    they are in Florida i’ll put this here in case anyone wants them i do honestly recomend them http://www.no-more-odor.com they even gave me a letter opener before handing me the bill lol

  • Stan Golsmith

    The only way to rid a carpet of ex-smoking tenants is to replace it completely, the padding, the carpet, bleach the underlaying floor, etc.

    Don’t waste your money on expensive cleaning things. Just replace it.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available. Be short, sweet and to the point.