Rental smells like cigarette smoke! How to get rid of the smell?

23 Replies

Just bought a new rental but the previous owner smoked a pack a day.  The whole place smells like cigarette smoke.  Painted the whole place but didn't even change the smell.  The carpeting is only about one year old and I don't want to replace it if I don't have to, any suggestions?

Time...I think the smell will eventually go away. It will be hard to rent to non-smokers, and even some smokers don't want to move into someone else's smoke.

Try using an ozone generator.

I bought one to use with rentals. It removes odors from smoking, pets, food, teenage boys, etc.

I purchased an apartment complex and one of the units had smokers in it for over 30 years. I had the walls steam cleaned, removed the flooring, and washed everything. It still stunk to high heaven. Every time I went in the place, my mouth would have an odd taste for hours.

I ran the ozone generator for 12 hours then aired the place out for a couple hours. I did it a second time and now the smoke odor is completely gone.

I've also used this in rentals with pet odors. It always dramatically reduces the smell and usually gets rid of it completely. When turning over a unit, I charge the Tenant $50 for every treatment. My generator paid for itself in a couple months and now it's a profit machine!

The only way to truly get it out is to address all surface areas. Painting is good and carpets will retain the smell the most. So either replace or wash multiple times, Glade plugins, keep windows open with fans for fresh air. 
The house I bought was smoked in for 40 years and the tar would bleed through the fresh paint and sometimes several coats of killz. We also ripped up all the carpets and we only get a whiff once in a while on humid days in the bathroom. 

@Jorge J Gonzalez

I had the same problem. Two coats of oil based KILZ over the entire house including the ceilings and floors in some rooms and ripping out all of the old carpet/flooring solved the problem.

You may have to replace the carpet, we've gone so far as removing carpet and painting floor to ceiling with Kilz primer and still brought in a professional with Ozone Cleaners to get the smell out. Oh and we also had all of the duct work cleaned before the Ozone guy.

This is my bread and butter, decent bones but gross (cat piss, smoke, 1972 everything etc). Ozonate the entire place. TSP walls and hard surfaces. Prime with killz primer. Paint (I choose Touch of Grey). If raw concrete, treat with urine neutralizer. Replace ALL soft surfaces such as carpet, curtains, etc that absorbed the disgusting previous tenant.


At an apartment community I worked at, a tenant smoked inside their apartment for over 5 years. The walls were stained yellow along with the blinds. When we charged them for the paint and blinds, they took us to court and the judge came back in the tenant's favor which actually required the community be responsible for all of their move-out charges. The worst part was that the judge miscalculated the charges and the community ended up having to pay more than what was initially charged.

Ozone machines do a great job like @Nathan G. said so it's worth a try. You may have to eat the expense of new carpet/padding, but at least it mitigates the potential issue of the future residents saying the rental wasn't ready when they moved in and a judge taking their side on it. You could also view it as an opportunity to put another type of flooring in if it's valued in your market.

Another thing to try (if you have central air) would be to put a deodorizing spray on the air filter and run that for a while, but that may just mask the scent.

I am with Nathan huge fan of the ionizer /ozone machines. Cost is only about $150. CAUTION: They can be very dangerous if left unattended. We always take any any lockboxes - keys and go back once air in unit has been cleaned. Make sure and open doors & windows for a few minutes allowing fresh air to enter unit. Do your own research on the potential dangers if not used properly.

Be sure to paint the ceilings too.  Smoke rises & popcorn ceiling texture is very porous.  It has to be painted with a sprayer, which is the quickest way to paint anyway.

Just to piggy-back on what @Chris Youssi said: these are dangerous to your health if used improperly.

The machine should operate with windows and doors closed. After operation, open the doors and windows and air the unit out immediately. Do not spend more than a couple minutes in the unit until it has been ventilated.

I ran this machine in a unit for 12 hours. The next day, one of my co-workers sent someone to the unit to measure for carpet. He spent about 20 minutes in the unit. I learned about it a few days later and asked if he had any problems. He said he had a terrible cough, dry throat, and dry sinuses all day.

They are especially dangerous to anyone with asthma or other pre-existing respiratory problems.

@Nathan G. 100% agree.  Have been using ozone generator for years, works like a charm, ends up being a money maker.  (Even works in my 'man cave' where we enjoy some fine cigars!).

Word of caution to users--follow the instructions--don't go into the closed room while the generator is on.  It makes for a scratchy throat and cough... or worse.  But when aired out after use, just a nice, clean, fresh smell.

Soooo in the hotel world we would utilize an Ozone Machine.  I see some folks saying they would have an odd taste in their mouth afterwards- do not go into the room when this ozone machine is on, it's extremely bad for your lungs (machine puts of Ozone which is O3). You should not have your windows open to ensure that the ozone is released and locked into the room/house.  After you run it you can open the windows etc.  But for the time that it's running keep them shut.  Additionally, you will need to "wash" your walls, sounds like you painted them which should be just as effective.  You will 90% likely need to replace the carpet or hire a carpet cleaning company to come in and professionally do this.  Think about any fabric left in the house- drapery, even a simple towel, can make the house smell so make sure that you are looking for those items too.  

My process for a unit with 30 years of smoking:

1. Hired someone to steam clean the walls and ceiling.

2. Washed all cabinets, counters, windows, etc.

3. Removed carpet and pad.

4. Ran the ozone twice.

5. Painted walls and ceiling with oil-based Kilz primer

6. Painted walls with standard paint and installed new flooring.

It was a lot of work but the place smells fresh and new again.

@Nathan G. Just an update.  I painted the walls, had the carpets steam clean and deodorized.   This helped but that cigarette smell was stronger.  I then cleaned out the vents and put an order on amazon for an ozone generator.  I had place the ozone generator on the first floor for 24 hrs.  Next day the first floor cigarette smoke smell was gone.  So I took it to the 2nd floor and place it for another 24 hrs.  The ozone generator worked like a charm.  Thank you for your advise!  

Does anyone have any insight on the varying models/capacities/brands of Ozone machines?  I began research on a unit and am really getting option overload haha.  I'm sure that it is like everything else - you get what you pay for, but the price range i've seen is between $75-400.  I only own two units and focus on long leases so i won't be running the machine that often, but definitely want to buy what lasts a long time and gets the job done right. Thanks a ton in advance!   @Nathan G. @Jorge J Gonzalez @Amanda Whiteley @Marc Winter

@Jorge J Gonzalez   thanks for asking this! As usual, I learned something new just from reading through the thread, and will definitely be investing in one of these machines as well.  I like your idea of renting it out per day to recoup on your investment.  Good luck with everything!

@Max Fleissner go back to my original post near the top. I provide a link to the one I use. My handyman has a similar model and has used it for almost 10 years with no problems. I think the ceramic plates broken once and he had to replace them.