Do you smell like an ashtray, even though you quit smoking weeks ago? Could you even tell…? It takes weeks for the sense of smell to return after quitting smoking -- some of us have kind friends who will let us know we still like smoke, but the rest of us may have no clue.
Residue from cigarette smoke can cling to fabrics long after you’ve given up smoking. The 7,000 chemicals found in this form of secondhand smoke are not only harmful to your health (we’re talking toxins like arsenic, lead, and carbon monoxide) -- they also smell bad.
When tobacco burns, its oil and tar content becomes atomized -- essentially, turned into tiny droplets that float through the air. Because they are oily molecules, these droplets hold onto other chemicals and odors. They also stick to all surfaces that they come into contact with, and they cling particularly tightly to fabrics. Putting your laundry through a normal wash cycle usually isn’t powerful enough to release these molecules from clothes.
Here are the top five ways to remove the smell of smoke from your clothing:
1. Washing Machine Tricks To Get Rid of Smoke Smells
Oil and tar residues cling tightly to cloth, so a regular wash cycle usually isn’t strong enough to rinse them out. Use the hottest temperature possible for the garments you will be washing, and wash as usual with an unscented laundry detergent. During the rinse cycle, add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. Stop the machine and let the laundry soak in the diluted vinegar mixture for 1 hour before continuing the rinse and spin cycles as normal.
Be sure to smell the clothes after the machine wash is complete -- you may have to repeat the process!
- Wash smokey clothes separately to your other laundry.
- Check the care tags on all pieces of clothing! Don’t try to machine wash clothes that are labelled as dry clean only. Delicates should be hand-washed - you can still use the vinegar trick, but be sure to dilute it 50/50 with water.
- For the deepest clean possible, soak your clothes overnight in warm water with 1 cup of bicarbonate soda before washing.If your washing machine smells like smoke after you’ve washed your clothes, run it through a clean cycle with 1 cup of vinegar during the wash cycle.
2. Air Out Your Clothes
Hang your clothing (wet or dry) somewhere with plenty of air flow. Outdoors is ideal, but a room with open windows can do the job in a pinch. If you are able to hang your clothes outside, the best location is a sunny spot with a light breeze. Direct sunlight cuts through cigarette smells by breaking down the oil and tar molecules. However, hang dark colours away from harsh sunlight to prevent them from fading -- the air flow will still help to cut through the smell.
Strange tip: Whether indoors or outdoors, place your smokey clothes near plants. They create oxygen, and oxygen clears out cigarette odors.
NOTE: If you can’t air-dry your laundry, use a clothes dryer on a very low heat setting. High heat can trap odor molecules into the weave of fabric and make the smell worse.
3. Spray Them Down With Essential Oils
If a full wash isn’t possible, spraying your clothes with odor-reducing agents can reduce a good amount of smoke smell. Odor eliminating sprays are designed to do just that -- eliminate bad smells. Commercial brands make sprays specifically designed to reduce cigarette smoke smells, or you can make your own by adding distilled white vinegar and a few drops of essential oil to a spray bottle. Lemon, rosemary, tea tree and eucalyptus essential oils are particularly effective at cutting through smoke odors -- and they may even help to reduce cigarette cravings .
4. Pack Them Up with Coffee Grounds
Coffee and cigarettes go together, right? In this case, coffee wins out every time -- the stronger odor can overpower and neutralise smoke smells.
This is sometimes the only option for clothes like leather jackets, delicate silks, running shoes, and bags that can’t go in the washing machine or even survive a hand-wash.
Place your smokey clothes in a plastic tub with a combination of any of the following odor-busting items:
- Balls of scrunched-up newspaper.
- Create a pouch with a cheesecloth or pantyhose and fill with ½ cup of coffee grounds or roasted coffee beans. Tie off and place in the plastic tub with the clothes. Alternatively, you can fill the pouch with charcoal instead of coffee grounds.
- Open the top of a new box of bicarbonate soda and place it in the plastic tub with the smokey clothing.
- Try a scoop of odor-trapping kitty litter in an open jar…
Close up the plastic tub and keep it sealed for at least one week. The odor-absorbing extras you added should have soaked up and neutralised the cigarette odors from your clothing. Sure, the clothes might smell a little like kitty litter and coffee now, but those odors are easier to remove than cigarette smoke!
5. Remove Smoke Odors From Your Home
Smoke residue sticks to all kinds of surfaces in the home. If you’ve ever smoked in your house, chances are that the smell is still lingering. Going to all of the effort of removing cigarette odors from your laundry won’t do much good if the clothing then comes in contact with smoke residue throughout your home. Here’s how to do a quick clean up:
- The first step is to tidy up. Throw out all useless scraps of paper, garbage, and other clutter that could be holding onto smoke residue.
- Sprinkle bicarbonate soda on the carpet, couches, and mattresses and let sit for a few hours (ideally, overnight) before vacuuming thoroughly.
- Open your windows and use fans to get airflow moving while you are cleaning.Wash any fabrics (couch covers, curtains, throw rugs) that you can in a vinegar wash and air dry.
- Spray down walls with a solution of 75% vinegar and 25% water.
- Remember to clean out your car, too!
Use these five methods to cut through lingering cigarette smoke odor and you’ll soon be smelling as fresh as you feel!
 Sayette, M. A. & Parrott, D. J. (1999) Effects of olfactory stimuli on urge reduction in smokers. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol., 7:2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10340155