Ask LH: How Can I Get The Smell Of Smoke Out Of My Things?

Ask LH: How Can I Get The Smell Of Smoke Out Of My Things?

Dear Lifehacker, We recently moved my father into a long-term care facility. There are a number of wonderful things he wanted my sister and I to have and to share with our children. The trouble is that he was a lifelong smoker and everything reeks from years of smoke. We want to keep these things, but the smell is just awful. What can we do? Thanks, Smoked Out

Lead photo by DucDigital. Other images by trenttsd, 邰秉宥, Robert Sheie, Kamal Hamid and Daniel Dudek-Corrigan.

Dear Smoked Out,

Smokers lose sensitivity to the smell of their own smoke, especially over years of smoking. And yes, if they smoke inside, the smell gets into everything. The good news is that we have some pretty good methods for destinking your mementos.

Check The Labels On Clothes

How Can I Get the Smoke Smell Out of Things?

While it’s tempting to just toss smoky clothes in a hot washer with nice-smelling detergent, it pays to check the labels first and keep a couple of things in mind. If the clothes are indeed machine-washable, don’t mix them with your other clothes. Wash them separately using the hottest water the fabric allows and toss in a cup of bicarb soda or borax for some extra smell-fighting power. When you’re done washing the clothes, smell them before you dry them to see if they need rewashing. And when you’re finally done washing, make sure your washer hasn’t picked up any odour itself. If it has, run it through a cleaning cycle.

There are some other things you can try for stubborn clothes or for those that you can’t machine wash:

  • Spray them down with Febreze or another odour eliminator (but do test it on the fabric first).
  • Leave them hanging for a day in sunlight and fresh air. You should also dry them this way after washing, if possible.
  • Take delicate or dry-clean only clothing to a professional. If you don’t like chemical treatments, let them know and they may have some options for you.

Remove Smoke Smell From Leather

How Can I Get the Smoke Smell Out of Things?

Getting the smoke smell out of leather goods can be easy or difficult. It depends on whether the leather is hard (like a biker jacket or cowboy boots) or soft (like a purse or more stylish jacket) and on what’s on the inside, which is proably where most of the smell has collected.

Either way, the place to start is with a good leather cleaner recommended for your type of leather. According to cleaning website How to Clean Stuff, you can also use a diluted vinegar or rubbing alcohol solution to clean the leather, though you’ll want to careful not to allow the solution to soak into the leather. Personally, I think I’d spring for the cost of the leather cleaner.

How you clean the inside of the item depends on what it’s made of. Many purses and bags have a nylon interior that you can wash down with soap and water (or a vinegar and water solution). For fabric interiors, follow the cleaning instructions or you can first try to simple deodorise using these tricks:

  • Place coffee grounds or charcoal inside a nylon stocking or wrap them up in cheesecloth. Put this inside the item and leave for several days.
  • For bags, you can also use an opened box of bicarb soda in the same way.
  • As with other fabrics, fresh air and sunlight will go a long way to reducing odours.

Destink Books With Vinegar And Water

How Can I Get the Smoke Smell Out of Things?

If you have some books with a stubborn smell, there’s another simple solution. Mix equal parts warm water and distilled white vinegar. Apply to the covers of the books (hard cover or paperback) lightly using a clean cloth and let them dry. If the cloth gets dirty, switch to another clean one so you’re not just smearing grime around.

Vinegar also does a great job at removing mildew from books and other surfaces. And don’t worry. The smell fades quickly so you won’t be reading vinegary books.

You Can Even Tackle Smelly Furniture

How Can I Get the Smoke Smell Out of Things?

There are a lot of variables when it comes to cleaning the smoke smell out of furniture. Is it wood or upholstered? If it’s wood, is the wood well sealed? What’s the upholstery made of? Nevertheless, here are a few tricks that can help:

  • If the piece has drawers, place small bowls with bicarb soda or charcoal inside and let them sit for a few days. Replace the material as needed.
  • Wipe the outside down with a white vinegar and warm water solution and let it dry. After that, use a good quality wood cleaner.
  • If you just can’t seem to get the smell out of wood furniture, you may have to resort to refinishing the piece or even painting it. If you do decide to paint, start with a good sealing primer first to help kill that smoky smell.
  • Many upholstered pieces are OK to wash yourself, but check the labels first. You can do it by hand using a mix of warm water and detergent or, better, use a carpet cleaner with an upholstery tool.
  • You can also try a deodoriser like Febreze on fabrics or, according to Organic Authority, just mix up a little vodka and water in a spray bottle.

Hopefully those tips help you out a bit, Smoked Out! Good luck clearing the air, and enjoying those memories that your father gave to you and your family!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Had a really strong smoke smell from a camp fire in my leather jacket, Got rid of the smell completely by just leaving it outside in fresh air and some sun.

  • I’ve read that ozone generators can be used to remove cigarette smoke smell. Is this true? If so, how effective is it?

    • Hotels use them to clean up ‘smoking’ rooms.
      While I was doing some cabling work in the city in some major hotels I saw staff using them and they old me it was to scrub the air in the room to remove the smell and honestly after i walked in when it was done I couldnt even tell someone had ever lit up in there so pretty damn effective

      • Thanks for sharing your experience! I wonder why it wasn’t mentioned in this article, as I have read (and heard) that it works wonders. I rent a house and was interested in getting rid of the cigarette smoke (although the tenant only smokes outside) and ozone generator is on top of my list.

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