Because there are some problems even Febreze can’t fix.

Meghan Overdeep
August 4, 2018
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There’s nothing worse than the smell of old cigarette smoke permeating every inch of an otherwise beautiful home.

If hints of a former owner’s three-pack-a-day habit have you reconsidering whether or not you should buy a home, you’re not alone. According to one Canadian study, smoking in a home can reduce its resale value by up to 29%. And we can see why. It can be a long-term battle to cleanse a home of cigarette smells and pose potential health risks as well.

So, what’s a home buyer to do? First, it helps to know what you’re up against.

As Realtor.com recently pointed out, the smell of old cigarettes isn't a smell at all—it's a residue called thirdhand smoke (THS).  “The lingering odor isn’t just unpleasant; studies have also linked it to cancer," says Joshua Miller, director of technical training at Rainbow International, a home restoration company.

And boy does it last. In a staggering study out of San Diego State University, researchers found that THS pollutants remained even after the homes had been cleaned and vacant for two months.  

"You could breathe in several hundred nanograms of these carcinogens long after the last cigarette burned out," Miller told Realtor.com.

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But that doesn’t mean a stinky house is a lost cause. Luckily, there are plenty of steps that can be taken to alleviate potentially harmful smoke residue. More often than not, this involves the home’s HVAC system.

As Richard Ciresi, owner of Aire Serv in Louisville, Kentucky, explained to Realtor.com, in a smoker's house, every part of the central air system has come into contact with smoke over the years.

With that in mind, start by having your unit professionally cleaned.  "Professional air duct cleaning is an effective way to eliminate odors that manifest when you turn on the furnace or AC," Ciresi said. You’ll also want to change the filter on your HVAC unit every 30 to 45 days.

The walls and ceilings will also need to be addressed. "Ceilings can be the biggest culprit in a persisting smoke smell in a home, since cigarette smoke tends to travel upwards and latch onto the first surface it comes in contact with," Miller explained. He recommends using a 3:1 vinegar-water mixture to wash the walls, ceilings and even the blinds.

If that doesn’t work, painting—first with an odor-neutralizing primer —and a professional steam clean of the carpets should do the trick.