A lingering cigarette smell

13 Replies

I recently purchased a condo that was previously owned by a cigarette smoker.  I've repainted the entire condo and replaced all the carpet with laminate flooring.  But for some reason or another, there is still a lingering cigarette smell.  I'm at my wits end on how to eliminate the stale odor.  I feel the lingering odor will hinder me from finding a tenant to rent this freshly renovated condo.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to eliminate the odor? 

On the paint what did you use??

If you just went over the wall and painted thinking the smell would go away that was a big mistake.

I have had to actually before spray down walls with a cleaner to get the film off the sheetrock. Then prime with a special paint and then do the final regular coat. Had to do this along with cleaning the duct work to get rid of the smoke smell.

Thanks Joel.  My contractor supposedly used Kilz primer before painting the walls with two coats of paint.  I'm thinking about having the duct work cleaned but not sure where to go to get something like that done?

Just Google

duct work cleaning Whitsett, North Carolina

or wherever the property is located.

The duct cleaning is cheaper versus repainting walls so might want to try that first to see if smell goes away.

Also do you have popcorn ceilings or flat??

If you repainted walls but didn't recoat ceiling or scrape and repaint the smell could be coming from there for smoke. I have seen many times people do the walls but forget it absorbs in the ceilings as well. 

Thanks again, Joel.  I'm doing a Google search now and came up with at least one company thus far.  The ceiling is a popcorn ceiling that was repainted originally with a glossy paint to most likely cover the smoke stain.  My contractor repainted the ceiling with Kilz primer with no scraping or removing existing paint (pretty sure that was his method).  

Based on your feedback, I'm going to have the ducts cleaned first and if that doesn't do it, I will most likely have the ceilings redone.  I truly appreciate the feedback and I will report back when its all done and completed.

If after cleaning the vents the smoke smell still won't go away and the solution will cost a ton of money to fix you may just want to cater to another smoker tenant for lease up. They won't find the smell bothersome at all and it could lease up fast as the smoker doesn't have to worry about hiding it from the landlord etc.

No legal advice.

Here's my procedure for Tobacco Smoke Damage: 

1. Walls & Ceilings & Woodwork & Cabinetry & Every Surface - all will need a good white vinegar/water wash. If it is really bad, then follow that with a TSP wash. If necessary, use a stain/odor blocker primer and sealant such as Kilz or Zinsser.

2. Carpet - remove carpet and pad and seal floor if necessary.  Cleaning the carpets may not be enough because the smell is in the pad too and can get down to the subfloor as well, which may need to be treated with a stain/odor blocker paint.

3.  Air Ducts and HVAC System - clean professionally.

4.  Fabrics - wash with white vinegar and air out in sunshine.

5.  It works wonders to hang smokey clothing over a pan of white vinegar to neutralize the odor and make them smell fresh again.  Using the same principle, put pans of white vinegar around the place to neutralize the odors that are lingering in the unit.

Good Luck!

@Joel Owens  It is not just the smoke damage that occurs, but also the fire hazard and health hazard posed by smoking.  I would advise against catering to smokers.  We have rehabbed houses and apartments that had terrible damage from tobacco smoke as well as pets.  It certainly is possible for @Larry Russell  to reclaim this unit as "smoke free".  Good points about the ceilings and air ducts.  It's unfortunate that the contractor did not try to remove the smoke odor before trying to block it with the Kilz primer.

Hi Marcia,

I wanted to clarify my point that I was making. I do not abdicate having smokers in units however for some landlords it might not be an option.

If he has exhausted funds from using a contractor who did not clean properly then it might costs thousands to fix the problem and another months lost rent which the landlord might not have.

If that's the case placing another smoker tenant might make sense. Many landlords do not have the required reserves to handle these types of issues. 

I can tell you that any non-smoking tenant can smell a smoke particle a mile away. They can't stand the smell and will not rent your unit. So with the cigarette smell it's an all or nothing proposition getting It out to lease to a non-smoker.

In warmer climates the smoker will go outside. In colder climates even if they are supposed to smoke outside or not at all they will crack a door or window and smoke inside your unit.


Thank you (@Joel Owens ) and (@Marcia Maynard ) these are some excellent suggestions.  Luckily it's only a faint lingering smell that's hopefully in the duct work.  It's strongest when you first walk thru the door and diminishes significantly as you walk through the condo.  It's really not terrible but definitely noticeable stale smell.  I would like to transform the place to a non-smoker/non-pet owner type unit.  The condo has great potential and I look forward to establishing a long-term tenant.

Unfortunately you have to watch the contractor the whole time when cleaning and kilzing something.

My experience has been when you do not watch them they cut corners. This contractor could kilzed most of the surface not all of it and became tired and wanted to finish. With smoke if you don't cover 100% there will still be some there.

Also not only the ducts cleaned but check the filters and the motor itself because if filters were left in to long then dust and particles have passed through to the motor. That needs to be cleaned so no junk is pushed through after ducts are cleaned and also so that the motor doesn't seize up prematurely from gunk build up. Anything on it that increases resistance for it's operation function will wear it out faster.

As for not have tenants with pets or smoking we all say that's the goal. The reality even if it's in the lease not to you will catch tenants violating. This is why frequent inspections are important and many landlords fail to do them. You say you are checking for repairs to the property but you are also looking for unauthorized pets, tenants there not screened and not on the lease, drugs, criminal activity  etc. Anything that would be detrimental to your property or investment. Tenants will even watch friends pets for a few days etc.

Ozone shock treatment.



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