Maybe you never thought to ask your tenants if they were smokers. Maybe you could tell that they smoked cigarettes but assumed they would be courteous enough to do it outdoors. Whatever happened, your rental now reeks of cigarette smoke, even months after the tenants have moved out. The smell is pervasive and it’s hard to tell what area(s) you should target first.
The odor infecting your rental is known as thirdhand smoke—the residual contamination left behind from use of tobacco products like cigarettes and cigars. The smell/presence of thirdhand smoke isn’t merely unpleasant, it’s harmful to the health of all future residents.
Thirdhand smoke indicates the presence of tobacco toxins, which stick to ceilings and walls and gets absorbed by carpets, drapes, and other surfaces. Thirdhand smoke is especially harmful to those with asthma or allergies, contributing to asthma attacks and allergic reactions.
So how do you get rid of that cigarette smell?
Form a plan of attack and take it one step at a time.
Deodorize the Air
According to Realtor.com, the first step in removing the smoky smell from your apartment or house is to improve the air circulation throughout the entire unit. Begin by opening up all the windows and doors to help create a cross breeze that will suck the dirty air out. You can also use an air filter and dehumidifier to speed along the process.
It’s never a bad idea to top off the deodorizing process with some air freshening techniques. SFGate explains that you can neutralize odors with a few DIY methods; place bowls of white vinegar or ammonia in stinky rooms, and boil orange or lemon peels to add an extra scent of freshness. Additionally, you can also boil lemon or orange peels to further combat the odor.
Clean The Ceiling And Walls
Remove the surface odor from ceilings and walls by scrubbing them with a powerful cleansing solution. SFGate provides a few different solution methods, including an ammonia and water mixture.
Option 1: Ammonia and Water. Try combining 2 tablespoons of ammonia and two cups of water, then rub down the walls.
Option 2: Vinegar and water. SFGate also recommends using vinegar to scrub down your walls and ceilings. Mix one part vinegar with one part water, and apply directly to the area to remove both smells and stains.
Clean The Carpet
Now it’s time to deal with the carpets. This can be one of the trickiest aspects of cleaning up cigarette smoke since prior tenants may have also dumped ashes onto the ground, further compounding the smell.
Howtocleanstuff.net provides a tried-and-true deodorizing method. Start with sprinkling baking soda over the entire area in a thin, even layer. Let it sit on the carpet for several hours or even overnight to help neutralize the odors. Then vacuum it up to reveal fresh carpets. This method is generally safe for all types of carpets.
Sometimes your home-remedy efforts aren’t enough, and that’s when you need to bring in the professionals. For exceptionally tough smells, hire a carpet-cleaning company. There are many different methods of carpet cleaning, including steam cleaning and dry-cleaning techniques. The best method may change depending on the material of the carpet.
If you still can’t fend off that foul odor, it might be time to replace the carpets altogether. While more expensive initially, this option can save you time and money in the long run because tenants will appreciate the renovation and your clean property will attract quality renters.
Clean Hard Floors
Apartments and houses with wood floors require slightly different cleaning methods. For wood floors, mix a neutral-pH soap with warm water and use a mop to clean the entire surface. Let it air dry.
For laminate floors, go back to that handy water and vinegar mixture to get rid of any lingering stink. Make sure you know whether you have no-wax flooring—that way you can restore shine to dull floors with a polish made specifically for no-wax vinyl.
Tiles and grouted floors can be trickier because there are more nooks and crannies for the smell to hide in. While a popular DIY fix is scrubbing it with vinegar and baking soda, it’s important to not follow this advice. Vinegar can corrode grout and ultimately damage your flooring. Instead, use an ammonia mixture to mop the floor.
Clean Windows And Window Dressings
Once you’ve covered all the main surfaces of your property, it’s time to fine-tune your process. The devil’s in the details, after all. For windows, make sure to wipe down all window sills, corners, and curtain rods. Smoke can settle in these areas whenever a breeze draws it outside.
But the window dressings are the worst offenders. Wash drapes and curtains in hot water with the standard amount of laundry detergent and 1 cup of white vinegar. However, vinegar is naturally bleaching, so make sure to add the vinegar just before placing the drapes in the washing machine. Never leave them sitting in vinegar—unless you want some funky tie-dye drapes. Before starting this process, check to see if the drapes need to be dry-cleaned.
For properties with blinds, take them off to soak in the bathtub with warm water and vinegar. Let them air dry.
Clean Cabinets And Drawers
Don’t forget to clean all the cabinets and drawers if you’re truly committed to banishing the cigarette smell from your property. Wipe all hard surfaces down with a soft lint-free cloth and vinegar solution. Make sure to get the inside of drawers as well—you don’t want a tenant to open their cabinets and be bombarded by a cloud of smoke.
Leave all drawers open to dry overnight so the odor can dissipate naturally. To help speed up the process, place bowls of dry coffee grounds or a halved lemon in particularly stinky spaces to help absorb stubborn smells.
Avoiding The Smoke Smell: Attract The Right Tenants
Attracting the right tenants is paramount to running a successful rental property and collecting on your investment. But when a cigarette smell threatens to turn away qualified renters, you know it’s time to take care of business.
If you don’t remove the stench before a new tenant moves in, they may ask you to get rid of the smell before moving in. To avoid having your property sit empty for months at a time, take some proactive measures when it comes to signing on a new tenant to prevent any disputes or costly projects.
Include in the lease whether smoking is allowed in any area of the property. Be sure to give specifics—if the driveway is a designated smoking area but any indoor consumption is off limits, be sure those rules are clearly stated. Consistent exposure to smoke can be incredibly damaging to your apartment or house, so make sure to also outline a strong penalty for breaking the smoking guidelines. Performing regular property inspections can be a great way to detect tenant smoking violations before they get out of hand. Also, be sure to check with your Homeowner Association (HOA) regarding any smoking rules within the neighborhood of your rental property.
If you are completely prohibiting smoking from your rental property, be sure that is clearly stated in your rental agreement and your tenant is aware. Consequences for failing to follow your expectations should be detailed in the rental agreement, all the way down to the extremes of eviction if necessary. It’s always a good idea to ask for references when you meet a potential renter so you can verify past renter and interest behavior. Ask questions like: is this person a smoker? Do they abide by property rules? Did they leave the property in clean, odor-free condition? Double-checking your sources will help ensure you get tenants who will make your job a breeze.