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How to Get Rid of Smoke Smell in Your Rental Unit

Landlords always want to attract the best tenants possible, and along with using some of the many great ways to find quality renters, they know that it’s important to keep the property itself in its best shape possible. This can mean a nice-looking exterior, modern windows, up-to-date appliances, and fresh paint. But one aspect might be lurking beneath the surface ready to undermine the entire search for a new tenant: the dreaded smoke smell.

If there’s a nasty lingering scent of smoke in the rental property no amount of good looks will be able to overcome it. One walk through and your prospective renter will be heading for the door seeking a better-smelling living situation. No one wants to live in the leftover haze of someone else’s smoking habit–but it is entirely possible to get rid of it.

As a landlord, you’ve got a number of methods at your disposal for making that awful smell vanish, leaving your rental property with vastly improved chances of attracting some quality tenants. Naturally, you can pay top dollar for professional cleaning services to freshen the air, but there are many effective DIY techniques for banishing the smoke forever. So, before you empty your bank account attacking this problem, take a look at the options we’ve covered below. The ghosts of old tobacco may be easier to evict than you think!

Follow along as we cover some of the best ways for getting rid of smoke smell, both on your own and with a little help. In almost no time at all, you can have your rental property not only looking its best, but smelling great too.

Clear the Air

The first thing you’ll want to do in your multi-pronged attack will be to improve the air circulation in the entire unit, whether it’s an apartment or an entire house. Begin by getting the windows and doors open wide to create a cross breeze that will move the stale air right outside. Strengthen this process by using a free-standing air filter fan–available at most big box stores– and even a dehumidifier, if you have them available.

If you want to take this process a step further, you can add some DIY air freshening methods. For example, you can place a bowl of white vinegar or ammonia in particularly smelly rooms and let it sit for up to 24 hours, then replace it with a second bowl for one more day for maximum effect. This will actually break down the smell remaining in the air, and the chemical smell it leaves will be gone quickly. For a speedier solution, try simmering a small pot of vinegar on the stove–with enough time, this can deodorize the whole house. Once the stench of smoke is gone, you can even add a fresh scent by boiling orange or lemon peels.

Clean the Surfaces

So, you’ve worked to get the smell out of the air, but it’s still coming from somewhere. It might seem obvious, but remember that the smoke particles have settled all over the walls and ceiling of your rental property. Even if you can’t see it, it’s there, coating these surfaces and begging to be scrubbed clean.

You can remove the surface odor from walls and ceilings using a couple different methods, both related to the prior step.

Method one involves combining ammonia and water, and using a sponge or cloth to wipe down the walls and ceiling. Just two tablespoons of ammonia in a couple cups of water should do the trick. Unless there are noticeable nicotine stains–which can occur thanks to long term smoking damage on lighter colored surfaces–you won’t need to scrub hard for the solution to work.

Method two involves vinegar and water. Because vinegar is a much weaker chemical, you can mix it in an equal amount of water to get your solution. The process is the same, so spread it on your ceiling and walls to get that clinging smoke smell gone.

Tackle the Carpet

Carpet, like any porous material, will be one of the toughest places to eradicate smoke smell. Even worse, the smoking tenants may have dumped ashes onto the floor, leaving physical material that needs to be removed in addition to the smoke that clings to the fibers. But take heart, because there are well tested methods for cleaning and deodorizing the carpet in your rental property.

DIY – You’ll want to begin by spreading baking soda over the entire area in a thin, even layer. Now, let it just sit on the carpet overnight. The baking soda works its reactive magic to neutralize the odors in the material. Then, you can simply vacuum up the baking soda, taking the smoke smell with it. This handy, cheap, DIY method is generally considered safe for all types of carpets.

Professionals – However, sometimes a DIY solution won’t cut it. If the baking soda doesn’t do the trick, you’ll want to call a carpet cleaning company. Whether they use steam or dry-cleaning techniques, they’ll do what’s best for your type of carpet. The cost is obviously more than a box of baking soda, but it’ll be worth it in the long run – with a fresh smelling property, you’ll be far better equipped to attract the right kind of tenants.

Replacement – In the absolute worst-case scenario, you may need to replace the carpeting altogether. While this is the most expensive method, it brings other big benefits along for the ride. Fresh, attractive, up-to-date carpeting will not only smell a thousand times better; it’ll be another selling point to potential renters. There’s nothing quite like walking into a potential new home and seeing brand new carpet. Besides, if the smell was that entrenched, the carpet probably needed an update anyway. Think of it as an investment in the future, rather than a repair.

What to Do About Hard Flooring

If, instead of carpet, your rental property has wood or another type of hard flooring, you’ll need to use different cleaning methods. Even between hard flooring types, there are slightly different processes for getting the smoke smell out.

To clean wood floors, you can mix a pH-neutral soap with warm water in a bucket, then use a mop to clean the entire surface. It’s basically how you’d clean the floor regardless of the presence of smoke. Simply let it air dry, and you’re good to go. Tackle it a second time to be extra sure, in the event of a strong smell.

For laminate flooring, you can use the same vinegar and water mixture that you used on the walls and ceiling. The best part is that you can combine a few steps and get the floors, ceilings, and walls done on the same day. Note that, if you have no-wax flooring, you can restore the shine after cleaning with a polish made specifically for this type of surface.

Tile and grouted flooring can be a bit tougher to take on because, like carpet, they are more porous and there are more places for smoke particles to settle. It can require a bit of elbow grease. More importantly, it requires a different cleaning solution than smooth laminate flooring. Do not use vinegar here, because the acidic mixture can corrode the grout, weakening and wearing away the flooring. Instead, use the above ammonia mixture when you mop the floor. The tile and grout will remain unscathed, but the smell will be lifted away.

Now for The Windows

Now that you’ve got all the big, broad surfaces of the property cleaned, you’ll want to turn your attention to the details. Specifically, aim your cleaning process at the windows. Any place that air is drawn toward can be a magnet for smoke, so be sure to wipe down every window sill, every corner, and all the curtain rods you may have.

After you get the window hardware, turn to the window dressings. For drapes and curtains, you can bring back the vinegar–but be careful. To wash these, put them in the washing machine with hot water, the normal amount of detergent, and one cup of white vinegar. Keep in mind that vinegar is naturally bleaching, so add it only at the last second before putting the drapes in the wash – never let them sit in the vinegar water, or you’ll end up with weird, bleached color patterns. Also note: some drapes require dry-cleaning, so check before you start the wash.

If your property has blinds instead of drapes, you can use vinegar here too. Simply take down the blinds and let them soak in a bathtub with warm water and some vinegar. After a couple hours, remove them, rinse, and let them air dry completely before mounting again.

Cabinets and Drawers

Finally, you’ll want to get into all the nooks and crannies of the property, the built-in cabinets and drawers of the kitchen, bathrooms, and everywhere else they may be found. These places are the final hiding spots for any remaining smoke, so they’ll require a detailed cleaning.

Wipe down all exterior surfaces with a soft cloth and the familiar vinegar and water solution. Get any handles, knobs, and detailed corners or patterns while you’re there. Next, clean inside any draws and cabinets, so that there are no surprise remnants of smoke waiting to jump out at your next tenants. You’ll notice the smell right away if you open them and take a deep breath.


Once you’ve cleaned all the drawers and cabinets, leave them open overnight to fully dry, which will allow the last bits of smoke odor to escape. Combine this with the DIY air fresheners from the first step, left out overnight, to fully dissipate any final remaining hints of that old smoke smell. After the thorough cleaning you’ve applied to the property it will be much more inviting and ready to attract the best tenants possible.


Disclosure: This Knowledge Base article is accurate as of the last update. Laws and policies are subject to change. If you have any questions, please call the office. Click here for contact information.