I ran across an issue this week when showing a home. The house was a beautiful late 1920's bungalow with a wrap around porch in a very desirable neighborhood in Birmingham. There was one problem though, the home had been smoked in for almost 20 years. This begged the question, can smoke stains and smells ever be completely removed from a home? After doing hours of research, the answer is, YES!
If you purchase a house that has been smoked in, this is how you begin the cleanup process. First, put on a mask or respirator and remove all fabrics including carpets, upholstery and fabric window treatments from the home. You would also need to remove any blinds and shutters from the windows. My personal opinion is that I would throw the blinds away. The shutters may be cleaned and possibly salvaged, but I would definitely consider starting over with all new window coverings.
Next, it is time to tackle the painted surfaces. After doing a quick search of the web for removing nicotine stains and smells from walls and ceilings, it looks like there are several methods that involve cleaning the walls and ceilings with a homemade or store bought cleaning solution. Do your own due diligence here, but it appears you can accomplish this initial cleaning with a vinegar and water or ammonia and water solution. I also read about a product called "Odorcide Cigarette Smoke", which works through a process of counteraction and absorption. I would probably use vinegar and water initially, and then switch to the odorcide. Yes, it is a lot of work to clean these surfaces twice, but worth all of the hours you spend in the long run. You don't want any carcinogens left behind to bleed through your paint. After all surfaces are good and dry, the next step is to paint the walls with an odor killing primer. Zinsser makes one that gets good reviews, but I read about a few other brands as well. After priming the walls, you can then paint with two coats of latex paint. Wood stained surfaces, such as doors and trim can also be wiped down with warm vinegar and water solution and odorcide.
Now would be the time to have a duct cleaning company come in and clean out all of the air ducts. They will walk through the house dragging a large suction tube, so this definitely needs to be done before you refinish your hardwood floors (yes, hardwood floors must be refinished). I would also get an HVAC company in to clean the furnace. You should purchase the proper size filters for all of your units and have these on hand so they can replace the filters for you as well. You should also get a chimney sweep in to check and clean your chimneys at this time.
Next, you should get a professional to steam clean all of the tile surfaces in the kitchen and baths and anyplace else in the house that may have tile. I have had Sanitary Rug Cleaners in Birmingham do this for me in the past. They charge $99 for first 150 SF and .66 cents per SF after that. Check out their website because sometimes they have a coupon. We used SRC to clean our terra cotta tile floors and they did a great job.
A word about terra cotta. Steaming terra cotta floors will take the finish off. Steaming any tile floors may take the top coat off of them, so talk to the professionals about this before you do it. We had to go back and reseal our floors, but it was something that we intended to do anyway, so we were fine with the steam cleaning process removing some of the topcoat. We re-sealed them ourselves using a Behr wet look sealer and they look great!
Harwood floors must be sanded down and refinished. Seal off your newly cleaned air vents and turn your systems off. I am including pricing here for you so you can run the math on hardwood floor refinishing. My hardwood flooring contractor charges $2.25 per SF, with a 400 SF minimum. Other contractors will charge more. I don't know of any who charges less. If you would like the name of my Birmingham area hardwood flooring contractor, please send me an email.
After cleaning, painting and refinishing all of these systems and surfaces, you should be able to live in a house that was previously smoked in without any residual problems, and enjoy that home for years to come.
**All price quotes are from March of 2018