Thirdhand smoke can leave a lingering odor on carpets, cars, clothes, skin, and hair after a cigarette. The best way to remove this odor is to quit smoking, but a person can also help improve or remove the smell.

The odor of cigarette smoke remains due to a residue that can cling onto clothing fibers, skin, hair, surfaces in the home, and dust in the environment. This residue gives off toxic chemicals from tobacco that have demonstrated a risk to health in animal studies, including DNA damage.

Thirdhand smoke may not even be noticeable for people who smoke tobacco. A person’s sense of smell might take 15 years to return to usual. It may be worth asking a friend who does not smoke to help identify what still carries a smoky odor.

This article explains how to remove the smell of cigarette smoke from items, materials, skin, homes, cars, and other places.

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Several products and tools may be necessary for getting rid of cigarette smells. These include:

  • hygiene products, including soap, cleanser, hand sanitizer, shampoo, conditioner, and dry shampoo for deodorizing hair
  • toothpaste, mints, gum, and lozenges for your breath
  • baking soda, detergent, air freshener, and dryer sheets for clothes
  • white vinegar or bleach, wood varnish if necessary, and odor-sealing primer for removing cigarette odor from the home
  • air purifiers
  • essential oil or incense burners

Airing out environments with fresh air will also be useful throughout.

The skin can absorb toxins and nicotine from thirdhand smoke, although we need more research on the health implications for humans.

Covering up as much skin as possible during smoking might reduce exposure to the odor.

Skin deodorizing methods include:

  • Handwashing regularly: Baking soda can help remove cigarette odor in many instances. Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda into a few squirts of shower gel or liquid soap in the palm, then thoroughly rub the mixture together and clean the fingers, nails, and areas between each finger using warm water.
  • Using face cleansing pads: Gently cleaning the face with facial cleansing pads can remove cigarette residue. If a person wears makeup, a retouch might be necessary.
  • Applying alcohol-based hand sanitizer on exposed skin: This can remove some odor, although it may irritate sensitive skin.
  • Bathing or showering as often as possible: This is especially important after sweating, as sweat can carry a tobacco smell.

After exposure to secondhand smoke, nicotine can build up in the hair shafts and follicles. The odor also clings to the hair, meaning that people tend to bring smoky environments home with them.

Shampooing and conditioning facial and head hair is the ideal method for removing cigarette smells. This also works with dry shampoo if a full hair wash is not an option.

As the mouth is the body’s main entry point for tobacco, it can lead to an odor on the breath. There is no evidence that this provides any extra health risk over smoking tobacco in the first place, but it can be unpleasant for smokers and those around them.

A person can consider gargling with mouthwash and using a tongue cleaner after each cigarette to remove the odor. Mints, lozenges, cough drops, and gum might also overpower the smell of smoke.

Learn more about removing bad breath.

Cigarette smoke clings to clothing, even after smoking outside. Not only is it unpleasant to the senses, it could expose a person to health risks.

The skin can absorb thirdhand smoke from clothes at a similar rate to inhaling secondhand smoke, according to a 2017 study. Therefore, keeping clothes smelling smoke-free could remove a potential health risk.

  • Adding a cup of baking soda to washes: Whether handwashing or through a machine, washing clothes with baking soda as many times as necessary might remove cigarette odor. Line-drying clothes in the fresh air can help — machine-drying the clothes can bake in the tobacco smell.
  • Rubbing a dryer sheet over a garment: This also works for footwear, gloves, hats, scarves, and shoes. All of these may also absorb the cigarette smell.
  • Using a fabric-freshening deodorizer: Spray the whole garment with a fabric-specific air freshener or, at a pinch, an antiperspirant. However, this can provide an entirely new overwhelming smell.
  • Applying an essential oil spray: Those looking to conceal rather than remove cigarette smell from clothing could use an essential oil spray such as lavender, orange, or eucalyptus. However, this would not negate the health risks of thirdhand smoke. Avoid applying these directly to the skin.

In an older 2012 study, 56% of tenants preferred smoke-free properties.

Tobacco residue can stay in the dust, draperies, and carpets and absorbs into both soft and hard materials in a property. This exposed infants to 3–8 times the amount of environmental tobacco smoke in houses not exposed to indoor smoking in an older 2004 report.

Removing an old smoking odor from a house

This can be challenging due to the extent and depth of tobacco odor in an environment. However, it is sensible to follow the advice that the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation gives to landlords converting properties from smoke-filled units to smoke-free units.

Repainting nicotine-stained walls takes a few steps:

  1. Washing the walls with extremely hot water and purpose-made detergent, being sure to use gloves, and regularly replacing the washrag.
  2. Applying an odor-sealing primer.
  3. Painting on two or three layers.

The following steps can help remove the odor from every possible surface:

  • Ripping up and replacing carpets and other soft surfaces on the walls.
  • Cleaning the floors and walls thoroughly with detergent before laying the new carpet.
  • Replacing curtains, window coverings, and blinds.
  • Replacing ventilation filters and cleaning out the ducts.
  • Varnishing wooden floors and panels.

This will not eliminate every potential health risk of thirdhand smoke exposure, but it should at least remove the unpleasant odor. Professional odor removers may be able to complete any unsuccessful odor removals.

Nicotine can build up in the dust inside a vehicle and on a car dashboard. It may even do so from tobacco smoke that enters the car from outside, according to a small older study from 2011.

The following may help to remove the tobacco smell from a car:

  • Keeping windows open while smoking and making sure cigarette butts stay outside the vehicle.
  • Washing the mats and inside of the car at least weekly with a mixture of hot water and bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or vinegar.
  • Hosing down all rubber mats with detergent.
  • Opening charcoal containers in the car, which may help absorb the odor.

The best odor-buster is to avoid adding to the smell with more smoke. Nicotine is an addictive chemical that can make quitting difficult. However, several measures can help people quit smoking, including:

  • Counseling: This can help smokers create a plan to quit and address urges and emotional issues on the journey.
  • Medications: Nicotine replacement therapy and medications such as varenicline or bupropion can help people manage urges and reduce withdrawal symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer several free resources to support people looking to quit smoking. These include:

Learn more about quitting smoking.

The odor from smoking on clothes, walls, hair, and skin means that a potentially harmful residue still lingers. There are many ways to address the odor, including removing it with soaps and cleaning products, thoroughly washing clothes with baking powder, and completely refitting and redecorating homes.

Not every method removes the residue, however. Some simply mask the unpleasant odor with more pleasant alternatives.

Whatever approach helps, quitting smoking is the best way to avoid the smell of smoke. Various options, such as counseling and medications, are available to help support a person stop smoking.