“Has someone been smoking in here?”
I remember my aunt’s first words the second she walked into the house my wife and I had just bought. The house was everything we were looking for, except for the obvious smoke smell from the previous owner.
And no matter what we did to remove the smoke odor, it would not go away. Had we made a huge mistake?
How the smoke smell got in your house doesn’t really matter. It could have been bad tenants, previous owners, or even your kids.
But bottom line, the smell is there – and you want it gone!
Just like with my aunt, it’s one of the first things people notice when they walk in a home. No matter how nice the house is, the smell will be what stands out to them.
You’ve likely fretted wondering what the right solution is. We had friends telling us that it is soaked into the drywall and in the HVAC ducts. Talk about a hassle replacing drywall!
Since that episode, we’ve become professional house buyers, so we deal with foul smells all the time (pets too). We’ve developed what we believe to be the easiest and most economical solution to knock out any odor that you’re dealing with in your home.
Close, But No Cigar…
There are several ideas that start coming into your mind when trying to remediate smoke odor. And we get it, you want the problem fixed with as little time and money invested as possible. However, if you don’t address it the right way, you’ll end up doing more work in the long run when you keep fighting with the smell. Here are some things that are common to try, but usually don’t get the job done.
Cleaning Carpet: While freshly cleaned carpet can really improve the feel of your home, it will simply not cut it when dealing with smoke odor. It may even provide temporary relief, but often the smell will come back because it has sunk down even to the subfloor.
This is a picture of a house that we recently bought where smoke odor was honestly the least of our concerns with all the other issues. But notice the distinct outline of the bed where soot from smoking has settled. There’s no way all of that odor had stayed on top of the carpet. Over time it makes its way down through the pad to the subfloor.
Replacing Flooring: This is definitely a step in the right direction. Any carpet definitely has to go (pad and all). However, this may not fix the problem forever if the odor has gotten into the subfloor (don’t worry – you don’t have to replace the subfloor). If other types of flooring (laminate, tile, and vinyl) are in good condition, you may be able to get away with just thoroughly cleaning them.
Painting: This is usually the first solution people think of when trying to remediate smoke smell. The issue is that latex paint does nothing to hide the smell – it just works its way back through. Without getting into a chemistry lesson, you need to use something oil-based to lock in the smell (spoiler alert).
To get started, you’ll need to remove any carpet. Most carpet installers include existing carpet removal in their prices. The only issue is, they usually remove the old carpet and install the new on the same day. The problem with this is that you’ll be priming the subfloor to lock in the odors trapped there. It would also be helpful to use this time to quickly sweep the subfloor.
Pro Tip: To make the carpet removal much easier, use a sharp utility knife and cut the carpet into approximately 3 foot strips and roll them up. This will make them much more manageable, especially when carrying them though the house.
Because you will be priming and painting, you’ll need do the typical preparation involved. Remove everything from the walls and mask off anything you don’t want paint on. If you won’t be doing the finish painting yourself, you don’t have to go too crazy here, since cutting in won’t be necessary.
Pro Tip: Make sure to mask off any flooring that you will be keeping. Otherwise you’ll have tiny dots of oil-based primer speckled on them that are very difficult to remove.
The Most Important Step In Remediating Smoke Smell – Priming
An oil-based primer is going to be your secret weapon when getting rid of smoke odors. We typically use KILZ Original. It’s not too expensive, and that’s good because you’re going to need a bunch. We’d recommend buying it by the 5 gallon bucket. What’s great about this primer is that it’s made to block stains and odors – and you can paint over it with your choice of latex paint. The primer does the job of odor blocking and the paint gives the color you want.
We usually go with the shotgun approach and cover everything with primer – subfloor, walls, and ceilings. We’d recommend you do the same. This makes sure you are completely covered and your work won’t be in vain.
The good news is that you don’t have to cover every square inch of surface area. If you cover 95%, that means you’ve trapped in that much of the odors, and the rest will dissipate with time. So don’t worry about cutting in and making everything look perfect. That’s what the finish paint coat is for. Here, you’re just looking for a healthy coat that covers the acreage.
Pro Tip: Use a large 18” roller or a sprayer to make the job go much faster.
Because the primer is oil-based, the smell it gives off is intense. The solvents in it make it very dangerous to breathe in. We’ve worked with it a lot, and if you’re not careful it can make you extremely dizzy. That said, proper ventilation will make it much more manageable. Make sure to open plenty of windows and doors to get fresh air flowing. You must also wear a proper respirator that is made to filter solvents.
Finishing Off The Job
Painting: Now that the odors are locked in, you can move forward with all the finishing touches. You will need to paint everything (walls, ceilings, and trim). Any high quality latex paint should definitely do the trick here. Unless you just want to do the painting yourself, we would highly recommend hiring a painter since they can do the job faster and provide a better result.
Flooring: Now you can replace all of the flooring that was removed. If using carpet, we’d definitely recommend hiring an installer. They usually include installation labor in their prices anyway. Other types of flooring (laminate, hardwood, and vinyl) can be a DIY project if that’s something you want to tackle.
Air Filter: The last step is replacing the air filter with a premium air filter. This will catch any soot particles that are in the air and will help dissipate any remaining odors.
We buy houses in Huntsville, AL and the surrounding areas. If you have a property that you need to sell quickly, we are serious about buying it. Whether it smells like smoke, needs extensive repairs or updates, or even if it’s in pretty good shape, we will make you an offer to buy it.
We will buy your home as-is, so there is no need for you to hassle with fixing it. We also charge no commissions, and even pay your closing costs!