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25 Years of Cigarette Smoke in Old House

jcharbonneau's picture

Smoker has lived 25+ years in nice old (1920s) house we're interested in buying. I realize getting rid of smell would be difficult and pretty extensive renovation is planned. Still, I'm wondering, would it be right decision? What are all the things we'd want to do to get rid of smell/toxins? Or would it even be possible?

(post #82072, reply #1 of 24)

My inlaws smoked three and two packs of cigarettes a day, it was so bad that I couldnt stand to go there for a visit - well that was as good an excuse as I could muster but it worked!

I hated it when my wife came home from visiting them, the smell of nicotine was so strong in her hair that I had to insist that she take a shower as soon as she came in the  door.

Well anyhow they quit smoking after 25-30 years and we went in and took everything off the walls, tore up the carpet, threw away all the drapes. We cleaned all the walls/ woodwork, even the windows with a strong cleaner(cant come up with the name right now but it has a very good scrubbing agent in it) after we did that we painted the whole place with Kilz and then two coats of latex paint. Couldn't smell the cigarette smoke/nicotine after that.

It is possible and not the most expensive thing you'll ever do, a lot of elbow grease but ........


(post #82072, reply #2 of 24)

I'll second Doug.

The smell is either in something like fabric, rugs or wall paper, that can be discarded, or on something that can be cleaned and recoated.



"When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking." — Sherlock Holmes, 1896

(post #82072, reply #3 of 24)

It is possible, & not nearly as difficult to remove as cat ####.  You will need to wash all the walls & ceilings with a TSP solution, or Soilax, or some such agressive cleaner.  Then, assuming the plaster is in decent shape, prime with pigmented shellac and finish as wanted. 

If the plaster needs work, paint with pigmented shellac anyway, & skimcoat over that.

Rip out the carpet, if any, and refinish the floors to suit.

My house had been rental property for many years before we got it - every horizontal surface had nicotine stalactites hanging down.

Speaking as a confirmed old house junkie, I'd consider this a negligible problem, if everything else is good.

Good Luck!  Keep us posted...

(post #82072, reply #9 of 24)

Soilax.... haven't seen those in years! I like those stuff and they are great, where can we find them? Website?

(post #82072, reply #18 of 24)

It's in the supermarket, in the detergent aisle...

(post #82072, reply #19 of 24)

Not in my area around Tinley Park Illinois..... where are u?

(post #82072, reply #4 of 24)

I smoked (1 1/2 packs a day) for 22 years in our current house.  I quit 4 years ago and within a few months no one could tell the house had ever been smoked in.  We did nothing more than routine cleaning.


(post #82072, reply #20 of 24)

i am with you on that but I quit smoking in the house 8 years ago. I still smoke but the house I live in today had been smoked in since I am guessing 1915. So about 85 years. that is a long time. You can't tell today but we gutted a lot of stuff. Wash the walls with TSP and I think you are good to go.

We still smoke in the garage in the winter and have have some white melamine cabinets in there and after about 4 years of smoking in there in the winter I had to spend all of 10 minutes cleaning off the cabinets. Smoke clings to some things and I guess not others.

(post #82072, reply #5 of 24)

Comments so far encouraging. Anybody have a different take on things? What about woodwork, wood floors? How about attic insulation?

(post #82072, reply #6 of 24)

There are also ozone machines that are used to clear smoke smells.

But I do a house that must have had 50 years of HEAVY smoking.

Likewise to some of the other posters. Washed the walls several times. Then sealed with Kilz (oil based) and then textured, resealed and painted.

But also had to keep the registers and return grill. The furance (old gravity feed) and duct work was only a couple of years old.

And removed all soft surfaces.

A-holes. Hey every group has to have one. And I have been elected to be the one. I should make that my tagline.
. William the Geezer, the sequel to Billy the Kid - Shoe

(post #82072, reply #7 of 24)

Almost every house more than 40 yrs old has been smoked in for 25+ yrs.

There are worse things to worry about.

Radon gas in basements

Benzine accumulation from attached garages


overuse of pesticides/insecticides indoors

lead paint


"Perfect is the enemy of Good."    Morrison


(post #82072, reply #8 of 24)

We moved into a house that reeked of smoke, had tar stains on all the walls, and had cigarette burns in the carpets. Here's what I learned. For the smell/air quality: Get rid of the carpets and pad (and other soft surfaces) immediately -- you can't clean the smell out, we tried. For the stains: clean all the walls, woodwork, and ceilings with tsp or equivalent. Prime everything with a heavy coat of BIN (pigmented shellac). (But overprime with Kilz in the bathrooms, b/c he BIN doesn't stand up well to moisture.)

(post #82072, reply #10 of 24)

Basically a fire restoration job. Lots of Kilz and all the carpeting, drapes, etc. will have to go.

Call in somebody to clean the ductwork.

Edited 4/13/2008 9:39 am ET by TaunTonMacoute

(post #82072, reply #11 of 24)

Basically what Doug said but Ive done it with less work. I do it quite often with rentals . Ive been thinking about banning smoking but havent .

In a rental I clean all surfaces before painting . I spray a type of paint thats similar to Kilz however it doesnt small that bad. Kilz is terrible to smell.

Im not at liberty to replace carpets and pad with every smoker . I buy 4 bags of charcoal and pour them into open containers like 5 qt paint buckets . I sit them around in all the rooms . Within a week the charcoal will asorb the odor. The longer the better . 2 weeks and its pretty well 90 percent . The paint smell will disquise all other smells for a good while using oil and kill odors it covers.




(post #82072, reply #12 of 24)

Ok, sounds like getting rid of all carpet/fabrics, elbow grease, deep cleaning and some good paint like Zinsser will do the job along with refinishing floors. I know it probably sounds like overkill to most of you, but what about insulation? Just seems to me it would have absorbed a lot of smoke over the years, especially in attic?

(post #82072, reply #13 of 24)

If you have drywall , dont worry about anything past it .

Youve got a worse picture of this smoke thing than it is . Its not that bad really.

Zinser is what I use instead of Kilz.

I just did a house that was burned and started from deisel. The fuel smell was the worst . Zinser did that house . I was prepared for an ozone machine but didnt need it . I priced it and the chemicals to spray and it was 250.00.

Super Clean cuts smoke and grease better than any other cleaner . Try that . Walmart carries it .

Clean and paint everything down to the carpet .

Hire the carpets cleaned . They have an array of chemicals you and I dont . 75 bucks well spent even if its 100 .

Do the charcoal thing if it needs it .

Next hire the ozone machine . [if]

Last resort replace pad and carpet unless it needs replaced now .

My guess is the charcoal will finish the job complete . Its the real deal if you leave it out long enough. Im as high on it as I am Zinser and Super Clean. You have to let it have time to do its job just like baking soda in a fridge.





(post #82072, reply #14 of 24)

"Just seems to me it would have absorbed a lot of smoke over the years, especially in attic?"

Are you looking for permission to reject the deal?
Do you think the previous owners did their smoking in the attic?

Smoke is an aerosol made up of mostly of particles of soot, oils, and sometimes chemicals along with H2O and CO2. Its smelly components are large molecules that can't pass through walls and ceilings. When you remove smoke residue from surfaces or encapsulate it under stain-killing primer you're good to go.


(post #82072, reply #15 of 24)

I bought a house like that, I washed the walls with tsp over and over, the water was brown, it was sick, i used a mop, after 10 times we painted with kills as a primer then paint , tried to clean the carpets with the machine you rent, no dice, hired a pro, No dice had to rip them out, But at the end it was ok, I still cant believe how the water was deep brown.

(post #82072, reply #16 of 24)

BTDT. Carpet, pad and drapes in the dumpster. TSP and elbow grease. Didn't need to prime anything.


But you all knew that.  I detailed it extensively in my blog.

(post #82072, reply #17 of 24)

Sounds like the entire house needs to sprayed with Kilz and repainted. Carpets replaced as well. My folks home is tr=the same, and we expect to have to do the same thing there.


(post #82072, reply #21 of 24)

If you didn't want to DIY, there are companies that specialize in post-fire cleanup.

Charcoal to absorb smoke smell (post #82072, reply #22 of 24)

I just read this 2008 post that a landlord cleans up homes by putting 4 bags of charcoal around the house and it removes all the bad smell.

Is this true? Just normal charcoal briquettes like Kingston brand?

It is true that it is wishful (post #82072, reply #23 of 24)

It is true that it is wishful thinking.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

Charcoal (post #82072, reply #24 of 24)

If Tim Mooney says it works I say believe it.

That guy knows more about rentals than anyone who ever posted.

Joe H