Smoking in a home can reduce that property’s resale value by up to 29 percent, according to realtor.com®. And home buyers who fall for a home that reeks of smoke shouldn’t assume the odor will go away as soon as the smoker moves out.
Tobacco-specific nitrosamines and nitrous acid can cling to walls and other surfaces within the house. “You could breathe in several hundred nanograms of these carcinogens long after the last cigarette burned out,” warns Joshua Miller, director of technical training at Rainbox International, a home restoration company.
Researchers at San Diego State University measured third-hand smoke pollutant levels in smokers’ homes after they moved out. They found that pollutants remained two months later, even after the homes had been cleaned and vented.
Sellers are not required to disclose that someone smoked inside a home. Buyers can detect a smoky smell themselves, or they may suspect a strong wave of air fresheners is masking an odor. A home inspector may be able to weigh in, too, or buyers can have their agent ask the seller’s listing agent directly.
Removing the cigarette smell from a home is not easy and sometimes removing entire systems is the only way to remove the stench quickly—the smoke will seep into everything.
“Clean the air ducts,” advises Richard Ciresi, owner of Aire Serv in Louisville, Ky. “Professional air duct cleaning is an effective way to eliminate odors that manifest when you turn on the furnace or AC.”
He also suggests changing the filter on your HVAC unit as frequently as every 30 to 45 days.
Miller recommends washing the walls and ceiling with a 3:1 vinegar-water mixture. “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 says.
Repainting the walls may help but the smell will eventually come back if homeowners don’t first use an odor-neutralizing primer, such as Kilz, before repainting.
Fabrics can also hold smoke. “You can sprinkle a deodorizing powder like baking soda on carpets,” Miller suggests. Odors can cling onto lightbulbs as well, so be sure to insert fresh bulbs.