Lingering cigarette odor is not only smelly, it’s also dangerous to health. Known as thirdhand smoke, the cigarette odor that clings to clothing, skin, hair, and your environment contains active chemical substances, which have been linked to multiple health issues, including:
If you smoke, you’ve probably become used to the smell and don’t realize how strong it is. If you want to get rid of cigarette odor, asking a nonsmoker to sniff out the situation will help. Of course, the best way to eliminate thirdhand smoke smell completely is to remove cigarettes from your life.
Perhaps you’ve recently stopped smoking and want to remove all traces from yourself and your home. Or, you’ve recently bought a car whose previous owner was a smoker. Or, you’ve spent an evening at a smoky pool hall and want to stop smelling like a smoky pool hall.
The reasons for getting rid of thirdhand smoke are endless. Keep reading to learn about cleaning solutions that will help you get rid of cigarette smell and its toxic residue.
Cigarette smoke affects the way your skin, hair, and body smell from both the inside and the outside.
On the outside, cigarette smoke deposits a carcinogenic residue on everything it touches, including hair and skin. You may not feel it, but it’s there, releasing a smoky odor.
The absorption of nicotine, both into the lungs and through the skin, also affects the sweat glands. Nicotine makes you sweat more, and taints the way your sweat smells. If you sweat profusely, your skin will start to smell like rancid smoke.
Cigarette smoke coats the inside of your mouth, gums, teeth, and tongue. As any nonsmoker who has ever kissed a smoker will tell you, cigarettes make your breath and mouth smell and taste like a dirty ashtray.
The following solutions will help remove some of the cigarette smell from skin, hair, and breath.
- Wash your hands. Holding a cigarette makes your fingers smell. You can eliminate this by washing your hands immediately after smoking. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to several squirts of liquid hand soap in your palm, mix together, and rub vigorously under warm water. Pay attention to the skin under your nails and to the area between each finger.
- Cover up. Covering up as much skin as possible while you smoke will help keep the smell off your skin.
- Cleanse your face. Using facial cleanser pads on your face will help eliminate cigarette smoke residue, although this will also mean you’ll need to touch up any makeup you’re wearing.
- Use hand sanitizer. Some smokers use alcohol-based hand sanitizer on all areas of exposed skin. This will remove some odor, although it may also burn or irritate sensitive skin, and shouldn’t be used around the eyes.
- Take a shower. It may be impractical to take a bath or shower after each cigarette, but do make sure to bathe as often as you can, especially after activities that make you sweat.
If you’ve ever left a smoky environment only to revisit the stale smell of cigarettes once your head hits the pillow, you know how much smoke hair can absorb.
- Rinse and repeat. Shampooing and conditioning your hair is the best way to remove cigarette smell. That goes for beards and mustaches, too.
- Spray on some dry shampoo. If you can’t wash your hair, dry shampooing can help reduce cigarette odor.
- Grab a dryer sheet. You can also try rubbing a dryer sheet all over your hair, ears, and the back of your neck. Make sure to rub your entire head of hair, including the underneath layers.
- Brush your teeth. If you smoke, brushing, flossing, gargling with mouthwash and using a tongue cleaner after each cigarette is the best way to remove odor. Brushing your teeth after each cigarette will also help reduce the staining that tar and nicotine can cause on your teeth.
- Try a lozenge. Hard candies, cough drops, breath mints, and gum can also help keep the smell in check.
Keep in mind that cigarettes cause the inside of your nose to smell, which can also affect the smell of your breath.
Even if you go outside to smoke, you’re bound to bring a cigarette smell back inside with you, unless you remove it immediately from clothes and shoes. If you don’t wash your clothing after each use, your closet will also smell like cigarettes. These solutions can help:
Machine or hand-wash with baking soda
- Wash your clothing in regular detergent with a cup of baking soda added. Let it line dry if possible. If one washing isn’t enough to eliminate the odor, wash as many times as needed prior to drying in a machine. Dryers can bake the smell in, making it harder to remove.
- You can add baking soda to soapy water to hand wash delicate items.
Use dryer sheets
If you need to remove cigarette smell from your clothing in a pinch, rubbing a dryer sheet on each entire garment you have on will help. Don’t forget hats, scarves, gloves, shoes, or boots.
Try a deodorizing spray
Spraying your clothing with an air freshener made for fabric, or with a spray-on antiperspirant, is another way to remove cigarette odor from clothing. This hack may be overpowering, however, given that you need to spray the entire garment in order to get results.
Mask the odor
Essential oil sprays won’t absorb thirdhand smoke smell, but certain scents may be effective at masking it to some degree. These include orange, grapefruit, eucalyptus, and lavender.
Don’t put undiluted essential oils directly on your skin.
Thirdhand smoke accumulates with each cigarette smoked. It can continue to permeate homes for months or longer, after that last cigarette has been smoked.
It can be very hard to get rid of because thirdhand smoke contains toxic particles and gasses which can permeate both hard and soft surfaces. Nicotine even contaminates dust.
How to remove an old, lingering smell
If you’re moving into an environment that smells like cigarettes, try these solutions:
- Ventilate the entire home by opening windows and running fans.
- Prior to painting, clean the walls with a heavy-duty cleaner designed for this purpose, such as trisodium phosphate. Then, use a primer that contains an odor sealant.
- Rip up any carpets and remove any other soft surfaces on the walls.
- Varnish wood floors.
- Clean tiled surfaces with a 90-to-10 solution of water and bleach, or water and white vinegar.
- Make sure that the HVAC system has clean filters and that air ducts are open and clean.
- If all of this doesn’t work, having a professional ozone treatment may be necessary.
Avoiding thirdhand smoke buildup
If you smoke at home, taking proactive measures to reduce the smell on a daily basis will help eliminate buildup. These measures can include:
- keeping open containers of charcoal or white vinegar in each room, to absorb the smell and changing them weekly
- ventilating your environment, perhaps by directing a fan to blow smoke out the window, and smoking cigarettes only near open windows
- running air purifiers with HEPA filters in each room
- changing filters and cleaning out air ducts of air conditioners, heaters, or furnaces as often as possible to avoid reintroducing the smell
- steam cleaning upholstered furniture, carpets, and other soft surfaces
- washing curtains, draperies, tablecloths, and items such as stuffed animals, once a week
- storing items airtight in closets
- using dryer sheets to rub down mattresses and pillows and items that can’t be washed, such as books
- washing floors, walls, windows, and other hard surfaces with cleaning solutions that contain baking soda, bleach, or vinegar
- masking the smell by burning incense or using essential oils
If you smoke in your car, the smell is bound to linger. You can reduce it by:
- only smoking with the windows open
- washing the inside of your windshield after each cigarette
- avoiding leaving cigarette butts in your car
- washing car seats and carpets with a solution of bleach and water, hydrogen peroxide and water, or white vinegar and water, at least once a week
- hosing down rubber mats with detergent
- keeping open containers of charcoal in the car
Thirdhand smoke from cigarettes leaves a strong smell in the air, which may be more apparent and distasteful to nonsmokers. This smell is not only unpleasant, it’s also dangerous to health.
You can reduce thirdhand smoke cosmetically, but the best way to eliminate it completely is by not smoking.