Being a Non-smoker I can candidly tell you I hate the smell of smoke…and although my olfactory glands aren’t what they used to be, I can still walk into a room and tell if a smoker lived there. As an affordable housing property manager of a multifamily Section 8 property will tell you it’s not easy getting rid of the stench after a tenant moves out. The stale smoking odor gets into everything: carpets, walls, ceilings, cabinets… even the insulation. It’s just a nightmare for those trying to present a clean and healthy environment for their tenants. And before you… refund the tenants Security Deposit, you want to make sure that you do a thorough Move-out inspection so you can recoup the expense of the costly clean-up and labor charges.
The smell of cigarettes is the gift that keeps on giving long after your tenant moves on out. Try as you will but that stench seeps through if you paint the walls and ceilings without first removing the layer of nicotine which builds up when people smoke indoors. Before you start trying to cover up that smell, there are a variety of heavy-duty chemicals can get rid of that layer (TSP, or tri sodium phosphate, being one that my painter recommends), but there’s also a more natural solution: 2 cups white vinegar, 1/4 cup Borax and 1 gallon warm water. Wash the walls from top to bottom, left to right. Work in 3 foot wide sections, and rinse with clear warm water as you go. Change the cleaning cloth when it starts turning brown, and change your washing solution when it starts to look cloudy. Let the walls dry, then go back over them with a damp, warm cloth. If you’re still seeing brown, you’ll need to repeat the process before moving on to the next step.
The next step would is to use a good primer, such as Kilz. This puts a fairly impermeable layer between the wall and the fresh coat of paint you’re getting ready to apply. Not only does it keep any remaining smoke smell on the walls from seeping through, it also helps make sure that nasty nicotine layer won’t affect your new paint color.
The walls of course are not the only thin harboring the smoke smell, it’s very possible the smell is coming up from the carpeting, too. So, sprinkle baking soda heavily and work it into the carpet with a scrub brush, then let it sit overnight. Afterwards, vacuum real well, taking care to use the crevice attachment at the base of walls and where the stair riser meets the tread. Then steam clean your carpet but, instead of using carpet shampoo, add the same amount of vinegar to the water dispenser. (This is why vacuuming extremely well beforehand was so important.) You’ll probably want to steam clean two or three times using this method — working the room at different angles so you’re cleaning all sides of the carpet fibers. Since the vinegar not only lifts the nicotine but also makes a great odor killer, this should make a huge difference.
Next, clean all other hard surfaces. Use a homemade cleaner on painted wood work, scrub tile floors with the vinegar/Borax/water mixture mentioned above, and clean recessed light bulbs, windows and wall mirrors with a homemade window cleaner.
Still have a stench? Then it’s possible the culprit is your home’s heating/cooling system. You may want to consider hiring a professional duct cleaning service. Making the unit ready for the next tenant is costly especially when the apartment is plagued with cigarette smoke. Maybe it is a good time to create a non-smoking policy…make it part of your house rules. With Special Claims for Damages you may be able to recover some of the costs and if it fits under the category of “Excessive cleaning” you may need to bill the former tenant. Also you should consider reading the Special Claims guide or take one of our class on Special Claims so you can determine what is normal “wear and tear” versus “Tenant Damages: http://www.ahtcsonline.com/class_shcedule.html