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10 Tips To Go From Stinky to Stellar – Destroying and/or Removing Odor Tips

Here are some ways to destroy odor in your home or business beside ozone. These are things I’ve personally tried or in some cases read about others having success with to eliminate or greatly reduce odors in their homes.

  1. Open your windows. I’d like to think everyone sort of knew this one but I’ve discovered they don’t. For heaven’s sake open your windows when odors are bad. Fresh air is a really powerful weapon against indoor odor issues.
  2. Just as powerful as opening your windows is to leave your furnace fan on all the time. I never shut mine off and I have NEVER had my blower motor breakdown on me in 30 years of homeownership. In addition my electrical bills are NOT absurdly high. This works because your home’s heating and cooling system acts as the lungs of your home. You can’t go wrong leaving that furnace fan circulating and filtering your home’s indoor air.
  3. ELBOW grease & TSP — this one you’ll wish you didn’t read but I know for a fact it’s effective. I’ve used TSP numerous times on fix and flips and smoke odor jobs. You add TSP to warm water (follow directions on box) let it dissolve and then apply it while wearing gloves while gently scrubbing your walls and/or ceiling. Read my full how to use TSP to reduce or eliminate odors in your home or business further down the page.
  4. Put a couple fans on an appliance timer and let them run/cycle throughout the day/night. ESPECIALLY in the basement or rooms that get little traffic. Believe it or not… just walking into and out of a room creates enough air flow that it can stop musty odors, even molds from forming.
  5. Run your dehumidifier with a fan pointing at it in the basement or main room of your house if the main level is humid. Your dehumidifier will be 5 times or more efficient if you point a fan about 10-20 feet from it. Dehumidifiers don’t have any way of pulling air into them. They rely on gravity which is a really slow process. Because they are so inefficient they are costly to run. So point a fan at them and watch how much faster you have to empty that bucket and how much faster your basement dries out.
  6. Negative Ion emitting light bulbs. This I am tossing in here because I’ve read some amazing reviews on them. This bulb in particular has great Amazon reviews. If you buy through my link I might get a few pennies. Also, I researched and found that though they waffle a bit, the conservative WebMD hints at their potential. NOTE I didn’t say they support it but they don’t seem to categorically deny something might be going on. If I felt I was having allergy issues I’d throw $20 at it to see if I felt it was worthy of 5 stars too.  Those online reviewing them claim they help with odors and that they feel better as well. Molecules are molecules and when you find a way to work with nature it’d make sense you could be on to something.
  7. Baking soda — yep it works in the refrigerator. 🙂
  8. Air-ReNu — I was researching odor related solutions (odd thing I do) and came across the mention of a product called Air-ReNu. It’s an additive you put into the paint and mix in. Apparently it works well. It only had 15 reviews on Amazon at the time I read on it (October 2016) but they were close to 5 stars.
  9. I’ll add some more thoughts as I think of them on eliminating odors in your home or business.

How To Get Rid of Cigar and Cigarette Odor From Your Home

As much as I’d like to rent you an ozone machine I happen to realize that sometimes nothing takes the place of good old fashioned elbow grease. If smoke odor is a problem in your structure read these tips or watch the video for the right process to mitigate smoke odors from your home or business.


To Get Rid of the Smoke Odor You Will Need to Have:

  • Two – 5 gallon buckets — the larger Home Depot or Lowe’s size buckets.
  • 2 Swiffers or 2 Sponge mops — I’ve only ever used a sponge mop but have heard people say they like the Swiffer approach. It would seem to me the Swiffer might work well especially if the walls and ceiling are smooth. Only problem is I don’t know how much water it would hold to clean with.
  • TSP – it’s sold in boxes as a gritty powder and in liquid form. It’s a mild-ish acid so beware and protect your skin and eyes. If you use your bare hands it can quickly breakdown your skin – so you are duly forewarned. Also wear safety glasses. It troublesome if it gets in your eyes.
  • KILLZ Paint Primer – I am personally a fan of this approach if it’s pretty bad. Of course pretty bad isn’t exactly scientific but then again neither is our opinion of what’s a bad odor and what isn’t. I’ve personally used both the oil based and water based killz. If it’s a big color problem with stains etc., I’d go oil based. Be sure the walls are thoroughly dried out.
  • Large rags – more is a good idea – have lots of them on hand. Garage sales are a good source for old towels.  The rags are part of a tactic I’ll share further down the page.
  • Rubber or Latex Gloves and eye protection. I am doubling up to make sure you understand that TSP on odor clean ups can be hard on your skin and of course eyes.
  • A board wrapped in a towel 6-8 feet long.
  • At least one fan to keep the humid air moving.

Cigarette Smell & Cigar Odor Stink — Get It Out of Your House

As a guy that bought multiple properties and held a real estate broker’s license in Michigan for over a decade I can say with no doubt that almost as important as location is odor. People just don’t like to buy stinky houses. If you’re willing to work fairly hard or hire someone to do so, you can make a serious impact on your smoke odor problem. Be forewarned as well that serious smoke odor is very difficult to get out of carpet fibers. I nearly always tell my clients preparing to list their homes for sale that replacing the carpet is hard to get around. I’d also be quick to point out that though you may not see it when you start to wipe down the walls, even if they don’t look yellow-ish – you’ll be amazed at how much yuck comes off that surface. That yuck is causing odor issues in your home. Think about the first time you came home from a smoky bar. If you were like me those clothes went into the washing machine immediately because they’d stink up the whole house. Imagine how bad those walls have gotten from years of smoking those cigarettes or cigars…

Here is a guide — step-by-step on how to clean the nicotine from the walls. It would usually be a whole day process for myself and my business partner doing fix and flips. Of course it would depend on how big the home was. And of course being younger made it easier. We did have an advantage as we didn’t “deal” with the flooring until we were past the wall and ceiling issues. If the floors were decent we would cover them BUT not obsess over a splatter here and there because again we weren’t about “perfect” we were fine with “good”. Making stuff perfect in a rehab in the city of Detroit was a recipe for losing money – fast. With my wife and our own home — perfect is the only option. She’s a perfectionist.

Cleaning With TSP

TSP stands for trisodium phosphate. It is a Heavy-Duty General Purpose Cleaner, an “acid” solution that can be found at most any hardware store and even some of those grocery super store places. TSP is an effective cleanser that is safe for walls, woodwork, and floors but you have to make sure not to SOAK the materials. Wipe it on with a gentle scrubbing/pressure. I always run fans too as the humidity can be intense. TSP will remove both the smell of smoke (and it’s source compounds) off of your ceiling and walls but it can also help with stains that may have been left due to heavy smoking or cooking/food stains.

  1. Get your supplies and tools together and rid the room of obstacles. Cover anything you can’t move so the TSP doesn’t negatively impact the surface. The first items you will need are a few large rags that you don’t mind throwing away later, a scrub broom or brush, a sponge mop, two five gallon buckets, and the TSP powder.
  2. Ceiling Fans and light fixtures are best removed and cleaned if you can. If not wipe them FIRST !
  3. I’m going to assume you need to keep the baseboards in good shape. One trick is to lean a covered 2×4 (or 2×6 depending) wrapped in towel against the wall just above the baseboard. This will keep most of the water from bleeding past the towel/board and disturbing the finished baseboards. IMPORTANT to note that baseboards should be pre-wiped to eliminate the dust and dirt that accumulates on the top ridge. If you have taller baseboards you can use a 2×6, 2×8 etc. wrapped in a towel or at least draped over the top of it while leaning into the wall.
  4. Mix according to the TSP package directions. I like warmer to hot water as at a molecular level it seems to be more powerful and faster.

The Duties/Jobs involved include –

  1. Bucket Filler
  2. Baseboard Protector Mover Person
  3. Washer/Scrubber
  4. Rinser
  5. Bucket Refiller
  6. Dryer

Start to Clean the Nicotine Coated Walls With the Warm Water TSP Solution.

IMPORTANT — the walls are most likely made of drywall. If this is the case know that the drywall has a paper coating under the paint. Be careful not to soak or scrub too hard. You will compromise the paper/drywall and that’ll create new problems. Plaster walls are a bit more forgiving but still it’s best not to soak walls or ceilings while cleaning them.

Wash the Walls: Gentle pressure and smooth up and down action will work just fine. You shouldn’t have to be sore from going nutso on the wall. Gentle can win the race – really. Work from ceilings to wall top, then down the wall. So — BOTTOM to TOP in the wash cycle. Seems backward but it works better like this.

We know that smoke rises and though I’d certainly clean the baseboards and lower wall, it’s the ceilings and the top few feet of the wall that’ll be the most stained with cigarette smoke / nicotine. REMEMBER — running fans will help keep you comfortable and keep the walls from getting too wet. ALSO you may want to vacuum walls prior to this process if they happen to be full of cobwebs and dust/dirt. Especially the baseboards as stuff accumulates on the top ridge over time.

OPINION — I realize some people will recommend more aggressive scrubbing but for me I’d rather go over something moderately several times as it saves both the wall and my energy levels. I also find that like any stain when I go back and forth gently-ish I seem to be able to “lift” the stain as opposed to driving it deeper or creating in this case wetter walls and dirtier streaks. ON STREAKS — be aware and keep tracking them while cleaning the wall. RINSING WITH A CLEAN SPONGE MOP OFTEN IS YOUR MOST VALUABLE PRACTICE.

You’ll get a rhythm but make sure it includes handing off the sponge mop or swiffer for regular rinsing if you’ve got help. I think working as a team is best because it keeps people fired up and motivated to continue. Also you can swap jobs.

Rinse the Walls/Ceilings: One section of wall/ceiling at a time – say 6 feet wide is a decent bite. Once you finish scrubbing the first section of the wall or ceiling, take your sponge mop, soak it into the clear water, and make sure you squeeze out all excess water. OR have one sponge mop dedicated to the rinsing phase. NOW proceed to wipe up the scrubbed wall from top to bottomThis is the opposite of what you did before. I can’t repeat enough — rinse the sponge frequently to get out excess water, and keep the mop clean. Change the water out as often as you can. Once you can’t see into the rinse water — change it. Putting dirty water back on the wall is not a great idea.

Wipe the Baseboard of Excess Water: Remember the baseboard protector (board wrapped in towel)?
When you are done with one section you’ll need to move onto the next section which will require moving the baseboard protector to the next area to be washed and rinsed. In spite of your protecting it some water will likely bleed through. If you’re quick enough you can minimize or eliminate any uglies on the baseboards. Just be prepared to wipe the baseboards and replace the towel around the protector board as you move along. Don’t wait until the end.

Wash Rinse Repeat: Repeat this process until you’re done with mitigating the smoke damage in your home. It’s not fun but it will help immensely.

To Clean Baseboards of Smoke Odor

Once you’ve finished with all the walls and ceilings take a smaller rag that fits about the width of your baseboard and wash the baseboards using the TSP mixture. WEAR YOUR GLOVES – you’ll be directly in contact with the mixture at this stage so leave your gloves on from the first process. I’m assuming you’ll be wearing latex or rubber gloves but I figured I’d better mention that. It is important that you wear gloves during this portion, since there will be direct contact with the TSP mixture. The mixture will irritate your skin if you have prolonged exposure to it. This process goes much more quickly than cleaning the walls, although there is a lot of bending.

Cupboards Closets etc.

This same solution of TSP and warm water can be used to clean ceilings, light fixtures, cupboards and closets. In fact I’m hoping you were planning on cleaning all these anyhow. Smoke gets everywhere. Here again wipe from bottom to top then use a rag, “undyed” sponge or sponge mop.

Using the TSP solution on wood, raw or stained can adversely affect the material and it’s finish. If you must, wipe it on then off quickly.

Painting Over Smoke Damage

You need to realize that there are 4 places that smoke odors get into. Walls & Ceilings, Cupboards and Closets, carpet fibers (pad too most likely) and the heating and cooling system.

When you are done with the process of wiping down all the availble surfaces in your home or office it should be considerably better if not smoke odor free especially after it dries out. It is possible that an odor still remains. Sometimes I’ll repeat the process for clients knowing darn well the smoke damage required the extra effort. Usually though I’ll suggest they use a primer on the walls before painting ensues.

There are primers specifically formulated to stop odor and prevent stains from seeping through your paint color. There are even formulas that target smoke smell. One such primer is KILLZ. Some have had luck using KILLZ Primer alone, but if the smell is strong, primer alone will not do the job. I know this from personal experience renovating homes. If you cover up a wall that stinks even with strong oil based primer like Killz, it is NOT a guarantee you’ve solved the problem. THAT IS WHY pre-treating with TSP and ozone if it makes sense is some extra insurance that it’ll get done right. Once the primer is painted on you won’t be able to solve for odors buried underneath. The TSP will help the primer go on better too.

Remember for really tough smoke odor jobs elbow grease will Trump Ozone. But you can’t get in the duct work and ozone can. So for that Ozone is still a winner. If you live in Southeast Michigan and you’re prepared to spend some money now to get more later (from a home sale) then call me. I’ve got a crew that can TSP and ozonate your property to mitigate the smoke odor damage. I’ll tell you now I won’t go out for less than $3000 to both TSP and ozonate but that’s a small price to pay when compared to someone buying your troubled stinky property. You’ll get 10%-30% less for your home if it’s got the stink stigma attached. Partly because it’ll go stale on the market as well. Smells are unknowns and people don’t like unknowns. Uncertainty is a trust issue. Trust is paramount to all dealings. Broken furnaces, windows, plumbing electrical and even roofs are easy to get your head around but odors scare people. So be proactive and solve the problem.