It’s no secret that smoke not only smells terrible, but it is also bad for your health. Whether it is from cigarettes, cigars, or a wildfire, not only can it stick to the surfaces of your home, it is toxic and can irritate your lungs and throat, and cause long-term damage to your respiratory system.
Smoke is a known carcinogen, and even small amounts can increase your risk of developing cancer.
The facts are that it is really difficult to get rid of the smell but it is possible to purify the air in your home.
You could hire a professional company to do this work for you but if you are ready to tackle this project on your own, our comprehensive guide on how to clean smoke from the inside of a home will help.
STEP 1: Ventilate the air inside your home
The first step to cleaning smoke from the air that is not from a wildfire is to open up windows and doors to ventilate the space. This will help to remove some of the smoke and or nicotine particles from the air. You can also use fans pointed toward open windows to help circulate the air and remove smoke particles to the outdoors.
Another option is to use or install a whole-house fan, which will move air throughout the house. Just make sure you have a HEPA filter with a MERV rating of 10 or better. I will explain this more below.
STEP 2: Air Purifier
There are several options for air purifiers: HEPA, ionizers, and carbon filters.
They use different methods to remove contaminants from the air, including HEPA filtration, carbon filtration, ultraviolet radiation, and electrostatic precipitation.
The best type of filter for smoke is a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. This filter works by capturing and retaining particles that are harmful to your health—like cigarette smoke, dust, mold, pet dander, and other harmful particles.
They offer a two-stage filtration for cleaner air in your home. The first stage is a HEPA filter that cleans 99.97% of particles as small as 0.3 microns from the air passing through it. The second stage is a carbon filter which helps capture bacteria, viruses, mold spores, and other potentially harmful particles in your home’s air supply.
The air purifier should be run 24 hours a day when there is smoke in the air. The longer you run it, the better. Ideally, you would want to run it for at least a week or two after the fire is out and all surfaces have been cleaned with vinegar and water. If you are away from home for some time during this period, continue running your air purifier so that no one breathes any of that second-hand smoke residue during your absence.
Run your air purifier even when you aren’t in the same room as it (you’ll still breathe in cleaner air). It’s better to err on the side of too much protection than not enough,
The size of an air purifier is measured in square feet (ft2) based on how much area it will cover. For example, a unit rated at 100-200 ft2 will clean up to 200 square feet with one filter change per year.
The best quality air purifiers will cost you anywhere from a low of $100 to $2,500 or more depending on the brand, size, square footage coverage, and other features like UV light or ionizer technology.
Step 3: Clean the surfaces in your home
You will need to perform a deep clean of your house on every surface including walls, ceilings, floors, and all belongings to help eliminate smoke odors. This is the most important step in this process and you will need to do it right to remove all the smell.
This may take 2 or more days to get this work done right depending on the size of the property and how many people are doing the work.
Make sure you have proper protective equipment (PPE) and clothing such as rubber gloves, safety glasses, long sleeves, pants, and an n-95-rated or better like a p-100.
You will need to create two to three different DIY cleaning solutions and a really good HEPA vacuum.
It is always best to use cleaners that are not just deodorants with heavy chemicals that mask and cover up odors. They may smell better, but the toxins from the smoke and now from the cleaning product will still be present in the environment and may cause health issues.
Avoid irritating products, chemicals, air fresheners and other products that can damage your lungs and make breathing more difficult.
Instead, the goal is to thoroughly remove the smoke particles on the surfaces of your property, not cover them up.
Use natural products like all-natural soap, hydrogen peroxide, trisodium phosphate (TSP), baking soda, and essential oils (available at most health food stores) as an alternative.
For a DIY cleaning solution, use a mild soap or detergent and mix it with 4 to 6 tbsp. tri-sodium phosphate (TSP), 1 cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide, 2-3 cups of water, and 15 drops of lavender or lemon essential oil into a spray bottle.
Here is a great DIY formula:
2-3 cups of water
1 to 2 tbsp. Tri-Sodium Phosphate
1 cup of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
10 drops of lavender or a lemon essential oil
The HEPA vacuum will be for the floors/carpet/rugs, drapes, and furniture.
Here are the cleaning techniques and instructions for specific items from the Los Angeles, Ca. Health Department: (1)
Cleaning Techniques for Specific Types of Damage
For Damage Due to High-Oxygen Fires:
Use dry sponges to remove initial deposits and follow with a
low-alkali detergent, then rinse.
For Damage Due to Low-Oxygen Fires:
Do not use a dry sponge as this may create smears and cause the soot to spread. High-alkali detergents are recommended with warm water and washed down.
Remember to rinse thoroughly, as residue may affect subsequent paint applications.
For Damage Due to Kitchen Fires:
Thorough cleaning is required, as residue may not be readily visible.
Remember that usually kitchen cabinets and drawer contents will need to be removed to allow access to hidden areas
Curtains and Upholstery:
Soot is oil and should be removed as much as possible with a powerful vacuum. On sooty fabrics, do not use an upright vacuum or any machine or attachment with brushes or beater bars, as it will force soot into your other possessions and make them much more difficult to clean.
Hold the vacuum nozzle slightly above the surface and let the vacuum do the work in lifting soot from the surface. Remember to cover any cleaned possessions immediately after cleaning with clean sheets to prevent re-soiling during your other clean–up efforts. Do not machine wash drapes or other materials that require dry cleaning.
Smoke odors can remain in fabrics like carpet, padding, and clothing for a very long time. Many of them are invisible to the eye.
When the carpet smells bad, then it will most likely need to be removed because you will never be able to get the smell out 100% to get to the padding and underneath to the concrete or subfloor which needs to be cleaned as well.
If this is not an option because of cost or you’re renting the property, you can clean the carpets yourself or hire a professional carpet cleaner.
Clothes and Bedding:
Smoke odors can remain in fabrics for a very long time. Many of them are invisible to the eye.
Here is a great formula for clothing:
1 gallon of m water
4 to 6 tbsp. Tri-Sodium Phosphate
1 cup household cleaner or for whites, chlorine bleach or for a safer bleaching product, hydrogen peroxide (for itemes that can be bleached)
15 drops of lavender or a lemon essential oil
Hard Materials – Porous (painted surfaces, wallboard, plaster, wallpaper, exposed wood): If soot is present on porous surfaces, we recommend the use of a dry chemical sponge to remove as much soot as possible. This step can prevent soot from being transferred deep into the surface where it may show as a permanent stain.
Hard Materials – Less Porous (tile, countertops, sealed wood, glass, metal, appliances, and vinyl wallpaper): Use a sponge, towel, or mop with household cleaning detergent.
STEP 4: HEPA filter for your HVAC system
If you have a furnace, it’s worth investing in a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter. These filters are more expensive than other types of filters, but they’re worth it for people with allergies and asthma. A HEPA filter is designed to capture 99.97% of particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter—including pet dander, mold spores, and dust mites—and has been shown to reduce symptoms for people with allergies or asthma when used regularly for two years or more.
Minimum efficiency reporting value, commonly known as MERV rating, is a measurement scale designed in 1987 by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to rate the effectiveness of air filters. Higher rated MERV filters in the 8 to 13 range are much more effective at purifying the air.
“High-quality filters must be used in an HVAC system during remediation because conventional HVAC filters are typically not effective in filtering particles the size of mold spores. Consult an engineer for the appropriate filter efficiency for your specific HVAC system, and consider upgrading your filters if necessary.
A filter with a minimum efficiency of 50 to 60% or a rating of MERV 8, as determined by Test Standard 52.2 of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers may be appropriate.
Remember to change filters as appropriate, especially following any remediation activities. Remove filters in a manner that minimizes the reentry of mold and other toxic substances into the workplace. Under certain circumstances, it may be necessary to wear appropriate PPE while performing this task.”
It is recommended that you change your furnace and AC filters every 30 to 90 days. This is especially important if you have a central heating system where all of the rooms in your home are heated with one unit and if there’s a lot of dust in your home from activities like woodworking or painting.
Changing these filters regularly will help keep them from getting clogged up with dust, mold, and other debris, which can decrease airflow and cause problems like mold growth or increased energy usage (which costs more money for you).
Also, make sure you use the right size and kind of filter for your setup.
STEP 5: Clean the ducts and vents in your home
If you have forced air for a cooling and heating system (HVAC), you will need to clean the air ducts or you may have to have them replaced depending on how bad the smoke damage leaked into your ducts. You should have a professional and licensed HVAC cleaner handle this for you
If you need to do this DIY, use a HEPA vacuum with a brush or cloth attachment to thoroughly clean all surfaces of each duct, including the grills and registers. Place a HEPA air purifier right next to you when you do the work and open the windows for ventilation. Don’t use chemicals on any part of the system; it is not only dangerous but can damage some parts of your equipment.
Keeping your ductwork clean can help prevent contaminants from settling onto surfaces where people may by breathing them in.
STEP 6: Set and control the indoor temperature.
Your home is filled with small, invisible particles that can be harmful to your health. It’s important to keep the air in your home clean and free of these particles, especially if you are a smoker.
If you’re not a smoker and think that lowering the temperature may help with the smell (it won’t), try setting it to 68 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This will keep dust from circulating in the air as much as a higher temperature would, which means less dust on surfaces like bookshelves or tables where smoking accessories tend to collect.
STEP 7: Seal up any cracks or holes in windows and doors
If the smoke is coming from outside due to a neighbor or another source, you should also seal up any cracks or holes in windows and doors. Use caulk, weather stripping, or draft guards to create a tight seal between the window frame and wall. This will reduce airflow into your home through unnecessary vents.
If you have moisture problems (your house gets damp from time to time), use a dehumidifier to suck out excess moisture from your home’s air. Make sure all of your doors and windows are sealed tightly so that no water can get inside when it rains outside.
If you have dry air problems (the humidity level inside is too low), use a humidifier to add more moisture into the air of your home during these times when humidity levels drop below 30%. Keep all of these things in mind so that you can maintain balanced levels throughout each season!
STEP 8: Set up carbon monoxide detectors
All smoke releases carbon monoxide. So do space heaters, gas-powered fireplaces, and stoves, furnaces, and water heaters are all sources of carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide detectors are a great preventative measure for detecting smoke and are inexpensive and easy to install in your home. They’re a worthwhile investment in keeping you and your family safe from this potentially deadly gas.
Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed in every bedroom as well as on each level of the house—including the basement (make sure it’s not blocked by an appliance). Depending on where you live, state law may require you to have carbon monoxide detectors installed on every floor or room of your home.
In most states, these devices are required by law when attached to natural gas appliances such as furnaces or water heaters—but they’re also highly recommended for any other type of fuel-burning appliance including fireplaces/wood stoves/kerosene heaters, etc!
Finally, avoid smoking indoors altogether—or at least remove yourself from any rooms where someone else might be doing so! This will help prevent additional exposure when doors open between rooms where smokers are present versus those where no one smokes at all (which should be most of them).
While some of these steps may seem like overkill, the fact remains that they can make a big difference in cleaning and purifying the air with smoke.