How Do I Get Rid of The Cigarette Smell in My Apartment From The Previous Tenant?


Cigarette smell has the uncanny tendency of lingering long after the cigarettes have been snuffed. In an apartment, furniture, carpet fibers, and even walls and cabinet can harbor this offensive smell weeks and months after anyone has smoked in the vicinity. If a former tenant smoked indoors regularly, the stale stench can be difficult to ignore, and if you’re a landlord, it can lower the value of your property significantly. So how do you deal with it?

How do I get rid of the cigarette smell in my apartment from the previous tenant? Start by getting rid of anything related to smoking – ashtrays, cigarette butts, lighters, and packets. Clear out any surface odors by opening all the windows in the unit and leaving them open for as long as you can. To boost air circulation, turn on available ceiling fans and strategically place portable fans to blow out any lingering smoke. To absorb the odor, you can use items such as white vinegar, baking soda, ammonia, and activated charcoal. Get rid of the cigarette smell on hard surfaces and upholstery by cleaning them thoroughly. The smell of cigarettes also tends to linger on ceilings, walls, and floors, so scrub them using the appropriate cleaning products. You’ll also want to examine your HVAC evaporator coils and clean them with a mixture of mild detergent and water. You may have to bring in a professional to clean your air ducts as well.

When you have a pesky cigarette smell lingering in your rental unit, it can be off-putting to potential tenants. Read on to discover strategies on how to clean your rental unit and get rid of cigarette odor.

1. Get rid of any items related to smoking

Any item that has had a cigarette in it will inevitably retain the offensive smell. Therefore, you want to get rid of any cigarette butt, ashtrays, lighters, and packets that may have been left lying around by the previous tenant.

2. Air out the apartment and increase the air circulation

If you haven’t already, open all the windows in your rental unit and leave them open for as long as possible. This will allow fresh air in and let the stale cigarette smell out. Here are some tips on how to increase air circulation:

Use fans

Turn on ceiling fans can help to expel the stale cigarette smell. You can also create a cross-ventilation system using portable box fans in the following steps:

  • Place a box fan in an open window and aim it into the room. Make sure that the fan is in the same direction as the natural direction of the wind so that you capture it as it blows and disperses it in the room.
  • Place a second box fan in another open window (preferably one that is across the room), aiming it outside of the room. Use this fan to blow the stale cigarette smell from your room, while the other fan blows crisp, fresh air in.

Supplement window-mounted box fans with floor fans, table fans, or doorway fans. Place them strategically to maximize the air circulation away from your windows or to increase cross ventilation throughout the room.

Use an air purifier 

If you don’t have fans sitting around, an air purifier is an efficient substitute. This is an electrical device that gets rid of airborne pollutants such as cigarette odor. Most of these devices contain an electric fan that pulls stale, impure air to the intake part of the device. The air is then forced through a series of filters where pollutants and particles are captured. The clean air is then pushed back out into the room.

3. Absorb the odor

Opening your windows will not completely remove the cigarette smell. To eliminate it even further, try the following deodorizing techniques:

  • Use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar, both of which are non-toxic and environmentally friendly. Vinegar tends to leave behind an unmistakable sour smell, which you can neutralize using baking soda.
  • Baking soda isn’t only used to neutralize the smell of vinegar, but it also works great for absorbing cigarette odor. For added freshness, opt to use scented baking soda.
  • Charcoal is another effective, non-toxic cleanser that can be used to absorb contaminants and bad smells, like that of cigarette smoke. Both regular charcoal briquettes and activated charcoal are effective at removing cigarette odor, although the latter is thought to be more effective. This is because activated charcoal undergoes a heat or chemical treatment that increases the amount of oxygen it contains to make it more porous. This in turn increases the surface area with which it absorbs bad odors.
  • Coffee grounds can also be used to absorb cigarette smell. If you don’t mind having your unit smelling like coffee, this is a great alternative.
  • Vanilla has a strong, sweet scent that can fill the air and overpower the smell of cigarette smoke. You can use it to wipe down the affected surface or heat it on the stove and allow the aroma to fill the air.
  • Cleaning affected surfaces using a mixture of ammonia and water will get rid of that pesky cigarette smoke odor. Ammonia can leave behind a pungent smell that will eventually go away on its own, but if it bothers you, use baking soda to scrub the areas you cleaned with the ammonia mixture.

4. Clean and refresh furniture 

Cigarette smoke can find its way into kitchen cabinets, wardrobes, drawers, couches, dressers, armchairs, and other pieces of furniture. Here are some tips on how to clean these areas:

Air the furniture out

Air the furniture out as much as possible to get rid of the cigarette smell. If possible, place the affected items outside in a covered, protected environment to allow the odor to dissipate. Remove any cushion covers and slipcovers and wash them following the manufacturer’s instructions. You can add some distilled white vinegar to the wash to neutralize the smoke odor.

Sprinkle baking soda

Sprinkle baking soda over the furniture. Allow the baking soda to sit for a couple of hours and then vacuum it away. If the furniture still reeks of cigarette smoke afterward, sprinkle the baking soda and let it sit overnight or longer.

Use liquid fresheners

Mix up a bottle of spray-on liquid freshener by combining two parts water with one part white vinegar. Spritz your furniture surfaces lightly with the solution and allow them to dry. Alternatively, you can use a commercial odor neutralizer like Lysol or Febreeze. Keep in mind that several applications might be required to get rid of all the smells.

Steam clean the upholstery

To get rid of the cigarette smoke particles embedded in your furniture upholstery and remove the odor, steam clean the fabric. If you don’t have a steam cleaner, you can rent one from your local home improvement store, department store, or a dry cleaner. Be careful not to set the steam on too high as it might damage your upholstery.

5. Wash your ceilings and walls

Remove the surface odor from your walls and ceilings by scrubbing them thoroughly with a powerful cleaning solution. Here are some options to try:

Ammonia and water

Combine a tablespoon of ammonia for every cup of water or about a half of a cup of ammonia to a gallon of water. For painted walls, you’ll only need a quarter of a cup to a gallon of water. For stubborn cigarette odor, increase the ammonia to a full cup. Apply the solution directly to the ceiling and walls and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes before you wipe it off. Follow with a rinse of plain warm water.

Vinegar and water

Mix one part vinegar with one part water in a spray bottle and apply the mixture directly to the walls and ceiling to remove both smells and odor.

Use trisodium phosphate

Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is a heavy-duty general purpose cleaner that you can find at your local hardware store. It’s an effective cleanser that is safe to use on your walls and ceiling. In addition to getting rid of the smell of cigarette smoke, it also removes stains that may have been left behind as a result of heavy smoking.

To use TSP, mix it with water using the ratio recommended on the TSP package in a bucket. Wear gloves when you apply the mixture to your walls and ceiling. To prevent streaks, start at the bottom of the wall and slowly work your way up. Allow the mixture to sit on the walls before you wipe it off. Use a sponge dipped in clean, plain water, changing the rinse water as often as possible.

6. Prime and painting ceilings and walls

After scrubbing your walls and ceilings, the cigarette smell should not be as intense. That said, there might still be a slight odor lingering. In such cases, you will want to use primer on your wall and/or ceiling before painting.

There are primers on the market that are specifically made to block odor and prevent stains from seeping through your paint. There are even varieties that target smoke odor, such as KILZ primer. You may even be able to get away with using KILZ primer alone, but if the cigarette smell is strong, a primer on its own will not be sufficient. To be on the safe side, scrub your walls beforehand – in addition to eliminating the smoke smell, it will also allow the primer to lie more smoothly.

Once you have primer on the walls and ceiling, you can go ahead and apply as many coats of paint as you need.

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7. Wash and deodorize window coverings and windows

Blinds, sheer, curtains, and other window coverings will absorb the smell of smoke. For non-wooden blinds, soak in all-purpose cleaner mixed with water and half a cup of vinegar. Allow them to soak for about half an hour, then scrub thoroughly and hang to dry.

For curtains and drapes, you can have them steam cleaned or simply replace them. If your drapes are machine-washable, use the hottest setting recommended. You might also need to clean the window themselves as cigarette smoke can leave behind a film that reeks especially when warmed by sunlight.  Simply spray a vinegar cleaning solution onto the window surface, let it sit for a couple of minutes, then wipe it off using a soft cloth. 

8. Clean the rugs and carpets

Carpets and rugs are notorious for absorbing unwanted odors. To get rid of cigarette smell, you can try the following options:

  • If you have wall-to-wall carpet (or multiple rugs), try sprinkling baking soda, taking care to disperse some powder in every little corner. Let it sit for a few hours (or overnight if the smell is particularly strong) before vacuuming it back up.
  • If the baking soda technique does not get rid of the smell, consider renting a carpet steam cleaner or hiring a professional to steam clean it for you.
  • If neither of these options suit you, consider removing the carpet (or rugs) altogether. This is a time-consuming and costly option that should only be considered as a last resort.

9. Clean the evaporator coils in your HVAC unit

Cigarette smoke can get pulled into the evaporator coils of an HVAC unit. As a result, the HVAC unit will emit hot or cold air that is laden with pungent cigarette odor. To prevent this, clean the evaporator coils before using the HVAC unit. To clean the coils, start by turning off the heater or AC. Remove the access panel to locate the coils (keep your owner’s manual handy just in case), then use compressed air, a brush, or a mixture of mild detergent and water to clean them.

10. Clean your air ducts

Cigarette smoke can cling to air ducts for long periods especially after years of exposure. Cleaning air ducts is a complicated process, especially if the ducts in your rental unit are hard to access. In most cases, the best thing to do is hire a professional to clean them for you.

Final thoughts

Cigarette smells can make your rental unit unappealing to potential tenants. Furthermore, multiple research studies have shown that the majority of renters prefer to live in smoke-free buildings. Even with this helpful guide, there is no guarantee that your rental unit will be completely free of cigarette smoke residuals. In addition, restoring an apartment that formerly reeked of cigarette smell can be an expensive and time-consuming process. To avoid this, put in place a non-smoking policy for your property to keep smokers away.

Last update on 2021-05-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author. She enjoys traveling, reading and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC. Connect with her at [email protected]

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