We have recently moved into a rental apartment (built early 1990s). The previous resident was a smoker, and there is a distinct smell of cigarette smoke. She lived there for 15 years. The apartment was newly painted before we moved in. There are no carpets, curtains, or wallpaper. It has parquet flooring. We took over a few pieces of furniture but none with fabric or leather (only wood and glass). We have tried to spray with a household "anti-tobacco smell" product (brand febreze), but the smell returns within hours. People with similar problems report they are still facing the smell after 10 years.

What measures are effective to permanently remove the source of old cigarette smell? Google Search results in a wide variety of partly contradictory recommendations. This company claims that their ozone generator is more effective than household products, but wikihow states that If the smell has sunk into the walls, floors, curtains, and furniture, you may not get the smell out all the way. Others recommend salmiak, Febreze, candles, orange or sandarac. But overall, advice varies from "clean well" to "only a complete renovation will work"; for each advice short of complete renovation there is another advice claiming it doesn't work. Incidentally, we are in Germany and the landlord may be legally responsible to fix it, but that is a question for another site.

Advice on the internet is anecdotal and contradictory. I'm a scientist and am interested in a permanent, evidence based solution. Short of burning the building down and rebuilding from scratch, what measures will permanently and completely remove the source of old cigarette smell from the previous resident?

  • Possible duplicate, or at least, relevant : diy.stackexchange.com/q/6667/97780
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 12:46
  • @SolarMike I saw that one but I don't agree it's a duplicate; we didn't inherit any upholstery, so I doubt the answers there are applicable.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 13:19
  • why I used the word "possible"... unless you try those answers the doubt remains...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 13:53
  • 3
    Possible duplicate of What is the best way to remove cigarette smoke smell from a house? Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 14:16
  • A shellac-based primer like Zinsser BIN is great for covering odors on walls and other surfaces. It dries very fast and isn't the easiest to use, but it does a great job covering odors and yellow staining.
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 16:31

2 Answers 2


I had a house I purchased that had previous residents that were very heavy smokers. Everything in the house was covered in a yellow brown film. Steps I had to take to remove the smell.

  1. All hard surfaces were washed twice with TSP in hot water. This was necessary because the yellow gunk was so thick that the first washing just could not get it all off. Changing the wash bucket often was also necessary.
  2. Pop corn type ceiling texture in the whole house had to be scraped off. Then the ceilings were sealed with two coats of a roll on sealer and a new ceiling texture sprayed on.
  3. Complete stripping of the finish on all of the kitchen cabinets and re-finishing with new stain and polyurethane.
  4. Every wooden door and trims were washed with TSP and then repainted with four coats of new paint.
  5. All carpet and padding was removed. Open floors were left for a week or so to air out before new carpet was installed.
  6. Every wall surface was repainted with at least two coats of new paint including inside of closets. In the worst rooms, such as the kitchen, vinyl wall paper was installed instead of painting. Bathrooms also got the wall paper treatment because those rooms were almost as bad as the kitchen.
  7. Had to go into the attic with a shop vac and clean away years of smelly dirt and dust. This was an old house in warm climate and so there was no insulation in the attic. Thus replacement was not needed.

There were probably other things I did that I do not recall as this was over 30 years ago. As I did most of the work DIY the cleanup and redecoration of the house took almost a year and a half. After that there was no noticeable old smoking smell.

  • Materials like smoke-tar will frequently bleed through. Contact a specialty paint shop for the paint used when restoring after a house fire. Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 19:44

It is a shame that someone smoked in the house. It is not easy to get the smell out of everything. The smoke lingers and settles into fabrics mostly. It also creates a yellow film on nonporous surfaces, like glass. For the fabric, you might have to tear it out as even an ozone generator will not remove the smoke, only the smell. For the hard surfaces, you can wipe them down with a strong cleaner to get rid of the residue. You also want to get rid of furniture, as sofas and beds will absorb the smoke. For a short term solution, a lot of air freshener will dull the smell, preferably something strong. However, this will not last forever, and now your apartment smells like air freshener instead.

  • Hi Garrett, thank you for your answer. There were no fabrics in the apartment (but we moved in some ourselves), the floor is parquet. I have seen conflicting evidence online about whether strong cleaning will work. The smell may be coming from behind the new paint layer!
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 13:23

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