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I bought a house that has had a cigarette smokers in it for 40 years. Would a general contractor be able to fix this? Or do I need to first get a company that usually handles massive fire damage or something to remove the smell? Does someone need to clean the HVAC stuff?

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A general contractor is not needed for something like this.

A fire/smoke remediation company would likely be best to talk to, but this is pretty easy stuff to DIY for the most part. At a minimum, I would expect the HVAC needs cleaned very well, all air filters need replaced, every surface cleaned very well, carpet replaced, every wall/ceiling repainted (likely after putting a stain blocking primer on), and an air purifier run to help clean any lingering scents.

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    I'm not sure the HVAC can be DIY cleaned very well, at least not into the ducts anyways. The really thorough ones put robots down there and scrub it.
    – Nelson
    Dec 19, 2023 at 6:51
  • @Nelson Well... at least as good as possible. Clearing out all the dust bunnies would be a great minimum. Dec 19, 2023 at 12:38
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    Not as an advertisement or endorsement, but this product is a primer designed specifically for this purpose. I'm sure there are other brands and some may work better or worse than others. Dec 19, 2023 at 15:15
  • @Nelson I'm wondering if a full duct cleaning is the best solution there too. I have no experience with it, but I'd be worried about scrubbing at the stuff caked into the ductwork and not capturing it all. Is there a risk of releasing more into the air through scrubbing than the air picks up from the duct? Seems like the kind of thing you either want to do right ($$) or possibly skip that step unless the other steps dont remove the smell. Though talking to a pro should also answer this.
    – JMac
    Dec 19, 2023 at 20:29
  • Cigarette smells, mixed with moisture and dust, creates a permanent source of scent. I do IT work and smoker's computers are very nasty, as with any game consoles or other electronics. The ducts will be in the same condition and it would need to be cleaned, especially after four decades.
    – Nelson
    Dec 20, 2023 at 3:04
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I have a rental and it had a smoker for many years. I rented an ozone generator. It worked! New tenant is a non smoker and couldn't smell tobacco. I rented it from local tool rental place. It looked something like this.

I also cleaned and painted everything.

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  • Did you run the ozone machine first and notice an immediate relief? Or had you cleaned and painted everything first? I've read (from fairly reputable sites) that the ozone machines are no better than a regular air purifier and can be a bit hazardous. Dec 19, 2023 at 16:43
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    @UnhandledExcepSean I've read that ozone generators are useful for neutralizing smells. Ozone doesn't 'purify' the air (it's toxic.) I understand the idea is to react with the odor causing molecules. No one should be in the home/room while it's running and until the air in the room/house has time to turn over.
    – JimmyJames
    Dec 19, 2023 at 17:22
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    Honestly, with the enthusiastic first paragraph, product link, and the small "I also cleaned and painted everything", this reads like an ad. Also: in what order did you do it, did you first run the ozone, or did you paint the walls first?
    – jaskij
    Dec 19, 2023 at 18:03
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I happen to own a large commercial ozone generator that was used to remediate mold. My wife's niece's apartment was inundated with smoke from a fire in a neighbor's apartment and they couldn't get ride of the subsequent smell. They borrowed my ozone machine and it cleared out all odor problems in a day.

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I think the answers above are good. I have no experience with ozone generators, but I'd just simply introduce some categories.

  1. Really smooth surfaces can be washed with a TSP-substitute.
  2. Painted walls can be prepped, primed, and painted.
  3. Stone surfaces can be power washed.
  4. Rugs can be scrubbed with a carpet cleaner.
  5. Consider the use of HEPA filtration or ERVs.
  6. Of course, anything can be rehabbed (or coated) if you're willing to accept the costs.

If you go the ozone route, be careful since O3 is a powerful oxidizer and is considered an atmospheric pollutant at certain levels, and let us know how it goes. (See also this article on how ozone generators are unregulated and their misuse can be toxic.) I'm not sure that you can generate enough ozone to strip a layer of nicotine from a wall, but who knows!

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