If it Smells........I was inspecting a home that also had a rental cottage. I was informed the rental unit had a long-term tenant, a kindly old gentleman. When I entered the cottage and met the tenant I noticed the walls were harvest gold at the top but light beige at the bottom. All the windows were open but as I worked my way toward the rear of the cottage I was picking up the odors of a smoker. I was chatting with the gentleman who said that he had lived in the cottage for over 15 years but was finally going to live with family upon the sale of the house. It turns out the harvest color was actually years of cigarette smoke build up on the walls. As I suspected I got a call from the buyer asking me what they can do about the cigarette smell in the cottage.
In addition to being a home inspector I have also been a firefighter for 30 years and know the effect of smoke on a home. The oils in smoke soak into everything. Just ask my wife; she has to wash my smoked soak clothes several times to get the smell out from just one fire!
The cigarette odors in the home originate from the oils and nicotine in the smoke. The overall objective is to remove these byproducts however that’s easier said then done. Many sellers think that by just removing the smoking activity from the home that the smell will go away. Time has little to do will the smell, as long as the oils are present so will the smell. Once the oils have soaked into to something, it takes a determined effort to remove them.
Here are some tips for getting rid of the odors:
Remove all fabrics such as drapes, upholstered furniture etc. If they can’t be removed have them professionally cleaned. Once the smoke soaks into fabrics, you will never completely get rid of the smells.
Wash all hard surfaces with TSP or Simply Green solutions. It may take more than one application. I want to reinforce “ALL SURFACES”. Smoke gets everywhere. The smoke film needs to be removed if you really want to get rid of the smell.
Once washed, paint all appropriate surfaces with the stain blocker Kilz. Kilz will encapsulate the oils and help prevent the oils from soaking through to the surface. Repaints all surfaces with semi-gloss or gloss paint. Avoid using flat finish paints. Flat finishes tend to be porous and will let the nicotine soak back through. Gloss or semi-gloss are less porous.
If the home is carpeted, get rid of the carpeting if you can. Smoke tends to rise but carpeting is a major absorbent. If you can’t get rid of it have it professionally cleaned. If it still smells after cleaning, sprinkle Carpet Deodorizer on the carpeting and let it set for several days then vacumn. Repeat as needed.
If the home still smells after all the cleaning and painting, consider ozone treatments. Fire restoration companies use industrial ozone generators to oxidize the oils. The company will bring in one or more generators and immerse the interior in a high concentration of ozone. The ozone interacts with smoke oils and it eliminates the oils with no toxic byproducts. During the treatment the home cannot be occupied. Car dealers use similar units to prep smoker’s cars for resale.
DO NOT put plug-in deodorizers in every room! This has to be the most abused seller’s tactic. For me this is a red flag. I never claim to be an odor expert and disclaim that responsibility in my contract but when I see a sign I gently point it out to the client. I pointed this out on one home and the client immediately dropped to the floor and was running her nose across the carpeting exclaiming about the urine smell – no I don’t do that!
There are a lot of ads of miracle smoke removal products. If it doesn’t have a cleaning agent in it, you’re not going to get rid of the smoke smell. Scent-generating deodorizers only serve to mask the smell. Of course, we’ve all heard of Febreze, and wonder why it works. Well, Febreze uses a chemical compound called cyclodextrin that has been used in household and custodial cleaning products for quite some time. The sugar-like substance doesn’t necessarily “clean” the odors out, but acts as an absorbent like baking soda or charcoal, to help soak the odor out. Yes, Febreze does work, but let’s be honest. Spraying everything down with Febreze isn’t the answer to years and years of built up of cigarette smoke oils and nictine. There is one thing I would suggest in an odor removal product and that is baking soda. If you see baking soda in an odor removing product, it’s likely to succeed at removing odors.
Rick Bunzel is the Principle Inspector at Pacific Crest Inspections. If you would like to know more about your home go to http://www.paccrestinspections.com/ If you have questions or comments, Rick Bunzel can be contacted at Pacific Crest Inspections @ 360-588-6956