You’ve been looking for the perfect property for months. Finally, you’ve found it. It ticks every single box and you’re excited to get in and make it yours.
There’s a problem…. The previous owners were smokers.
You didn’t notice the smell on the first walk round. Or even on the second viewing. But as the removal van drives away and you’re left standing in your new living room surrounded by boxes, an unpleasant but familiar smell tingles your senses. Cigarette smoke.
You immediately open the windows to let some fresh air in and mumble to each other that you don’t remember smelling cigarettes when you viewed the place. That you’ll just “air the house out” and in a few hours, the smell will be gone.
But the smell never goes, does it? After you closed the windows and went to bed, the stench of stale cigarettes still hit you. Days pass and still, as soon as you enter certain rooms, as soon as you enter the house from work, there it is. The unmistakable smell of tobacco. Your perfect home being tainted by the lingering odour of something that wasn’t even your own doing.
So what can you do?
Cigarette smoke seems to get everywhere and make everything smell. And no matter what you do, it just doesn’t seem to fade. Below, we take you through why the smell of cigarettes gets everywhere, why it should never be ignored, and more importantly, what you can do to get rid of it.
Most people have heard of second-hand smoke and know the risks and dangers associated with it, but what exactly is third-hand smoke and why should you care?
Third-hand smoke is the reason your new home smells. And what’s more, it’s just as dangerous as second-hand smoke.
That lingering smell of cigarette smoke that seems to cling on to everything once it’s been exposed to cigarettes. Like the smell of somebody who’s just been out for a fag break and as they come back into the office and walk past your desk, they leave a trail of cigarette smoke wafting after them, making it perfectly clear what they’ve just been doing. Or, like how your perfect new home stinks of the previous owners, despite having aired the entire place out.
Have you ever caught someone out for smoking in the car hours after the fact, or caught the smell of cigarette smoke on your children’s clothes? This is all due to third-hand smoke.
But this third-hand smoke isn’t just unpleasant. It can be dangerous to those who come into contact with it.
According to Cancer Research UK, smoking is the biggest cause of cancer in the world. In the UK, around seven out of ten lung cancers are caused by smoking, including the inhalation of other people’s cigarette smoke. Even light or occasional smoking increases your risk of developing cancer.
Every puff of a cigarette releases hundreds—if not thousands—of chemicals, many of which are completely unknown. Alongside the unknown are ammonia, carbon monoxide, and cyanide. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that any environment which is left smelling of cigarette smoke is actually toxic and potentially harmful to your health.
Who’s at risk?
Exposure to third-hand smoke usually happens through skin contact, rather than inhalation. So it’s unsurprising that young children are most at risk.
Even if cigarettes are smoked outside, there is still a risk to others in a close vicinity, or those who share a building or vehicle with the smoker. Nicotine residues and the toxins released during smoking soak into a smoker’s skin, their clothing, even their hair. These toxins are then carried back inside with the smoker and transferred to other surfaces, spreading across the building or vehicle.
If somebody then places their hand on a contaminated surface, that third-hand smoke and nicotine residue is transferred to their hand, which is then a risk to their health should they put their hands on their face or touch their mouth.
As you can probably imagine, young children, especially those who are still crawling, come into contact with the most variety of different surfaces and have the worst hand hygiene of everyone, making them the most vulnerable. Not to mention that at a young age, everything still goes in their mouths. And due to their size, the same amount of exposure as an adult is far more dangerous; developing brains are more susceptible to even low level toxins than a fully developed brain.
A study investigating the effects of short-term third-hand smoke found that exposed mice were more likely to develop lung cancer compared with mice that were not exposed.
What does third-hand smoke stick to?
Cigarettes contain chemicals and toxins. The toxins released remain in the smoke that lingers in the air, and when these combine with the chemicals, a “coating effect” is created. This coating then creates a layer on the surface which it comes into contact with, which can continue to build. Every cigarette smoked adds another “layer” of toxins and chemicals, trapping the odour with it as it settles on a surface.
This third-hand smoke can stick to virtually any surface including skin, hair, walls, carpets, and other furnishings. And leaving windows and doors open doesn’t help anywhere near as much as you might think.
Much of what is burnt during the smoking of a cigarette is tar, meaning that the smoke becomes sticky which then cools on surfaces and creates a yellow stain. On certain materials, like plastic and painted ceiling/walls, it’s easy to spot this staining and what areas are contaminated.
How long does cigarette odour linger?
Tobacco residues—or third-hand smoke—can remain on walls, floors, furnishings, carpets, upholstery, clothing and hair for days, weeks, and even months.
The toxins released during smoking cannot be eradicated by ventilation by way of opening windows and doors alone, although this may still help. Some studies found that under certain conditions, third-hand smoke can last on fabric for a year and a half after its last exposure to cigarette smoke!
The amount of time that the smell of cigarette smoke lingers will depend on the size of the room, how well it’s ventilated, and the level of airflow exposure that occurs within that space.
Odour particles are trapped by the chemicals and toxins and seep into the fabric of the surface they land on. Certain items cause the smell to linger for longer, for example, fabrics, upholstery, and carpets.
If more cigarettes are smoked in the same room/area, the smell will increase—remember the layering effect we spoke about earlier? So, smoking one cigarette a day in your car compared to a whole packet will have a significant impact on just how much the car smells.
Removing cigarette smoke odour
General ventilation by opening windows and doors isn’t enough to eradicate the smell of cigarettes, although air purifiers may help to some degree.
Ozone generators are the best chance of eradicating cigarette odour, as well as removing the toxins from the air. But not all are equal in performance.
A quick search on the internet will show countless attempts to remove cigarette odour without success, therefore, it’s imperative that you do your due diligence and choose a provider with a proven track record of eliminating odours.
Ask your provider what type of treatment they complete and whether their ozone generator is an oxidiser that’s capable of breaking down the chemicals that are found in third-hand smoke. Because even many commercially available ozone generators are not capable of such. Not only will this leave your home odour-free, but you’ll know that the health risks have also been eradicated along with the stench.
It should be noted that ozone generators can be dangerous to use. Depending on the intensity of the odour and the treatment being carried out, it may not be safe for any person, animal or plant to be in the treatment area(s).
For help in removing the smell of cigarettes from your home and returning it to a safe environment, speak to one of our experts today about our cigarette odour removal service.
 Hang B, Wang Y, Jen K, et al. Short-term early exposure to thirdhand cigarette smoke increases lung cancer incidence in mice. Clinical Science [serial online]. n.d.;132(4):475-488. Available from: Science Citation Index, Ipswich, MA.