Non-smokers can’t stand the odor of cigarette smoke or the residue that stays behind. The residue, in particular, is incredibly unpleasant, quite potent, and dangerous to anyone’s health.
Nearly every non-smoker you may come across is also quite particular when it comes to lighting up; none in the house, none in the hallway, none in the building, and a few don’t even allow smoking on the balcony. There are even people who don’t allow vaping!
But there will be times when you’ll simply sniff out the smoke. It won’t come from any smoker around you, and it will not come from you either. The odor will simply linger in the house, whether you like it or not.
So, what can you do when there’s cigarette smoke in your home, but you know for a fact that nobody smokes around you and that no smokers have ever entered your home? Can this cigarette odor be as bad for your health as smoking itself? Will the smell get you to start smoking at some point? If you need answers to these questions and more, you’ve come to the right place.
Table of Contents
Different Types of Smoke
Generally speaking, as of the early 21st century, there are several types of smoke that come from cigarettes.
First-hand smoke is, well, the first of the three. It’s the smoke that goes directly from the lit cigarette into your lungs when you take a drag. And it’s safe to say that nearly everyone today knows how harmful smoking is, including smokers themselves.
Next, there’s second-hand smoke. Let’s say you’re in the presence of someone who likes to take a drag every now and again. Whenever they light one up, the smoke coming from the lit cigarette (or cigar) will reach your nose, and soon enough, your lungs. You don’t technically inhale it from the cigarette itself, but rather by simply breathing in the smoky air.
Second-hand smoke can be just as dangerous as, if not more dangerous than, first-hand smoke. After all, the person with the cigarette is taking in the smoke through the filter while you’re inhaling it raw. The health risks of second-hand smoke have been well documented for years now, and it is definitely not to be taken lightly.
And then there’s the final type of smoke that has only been studied in the past decade or so — the so-called third-hand smoke.
What Is Third-Hand Smoke?
Third-hand smoke refers to the tobacco residue on everything inside your home. For example, if you’ve ever been inside of a smoker’s home, you can definitely recognize the odor. Everything, from drapes and chairs to ornaments, smells like a cigarette. Even doors and windows aren’t immune to the smell.
But it’s not just the objects that can retain this odor. Third-hand smoke is, in fact, common among smokers themselves. Their clothes and footwear will often have a strong cigarette smell, and so will their skin, fingers, mouth, and hair. It’s no wonder that so many people simply refuse to date smokers — they just can’t handle the smell.
Why Is Third-Hand Smoke Dangerous?
Several different studies and scientific articles have been published on the subject of third-hand smoke and its effects on your health. Here’s a brief list of all the potential health issues you may face if you’re constantly exposed to third-hand cigarette smoke.
One study in 2013 found that third-hand smoke might cause damage to human DNA. Normally, you would be exposed to third-hand smoke for months, even years. During that time, the odor would actually manage to break down DNA, which could make you susceptible to many different diseases and health conditions.
Cancer Cases Increase
Lung cancer is an issue that has been linked to both first- and second-hand smoking. Any kind of direct exposure to cigarette smoke can directly lead to this condition.
However, recently, there has been a rise in lung cancer cases that has nothing to do with either first-hand or second-hand smoke. Scientists are concerned that there might be other factors involved, and one of the most likely culprits is third-hand smoke residue in people’s homes.
Nicotine gets released when you smoke, and if it reacts with nitrous acid in the air, it can form carcinogens. These compounds are directly responsible for developing cancer.
An active smoker who does it indoors will release large quantities of nicotine, which will stick to various surfaces, like walls, carpets, etc. That ‘fresh’ nicotine will almost certainly react to other substances in the air. However, tobacco residue from third-hand smoke is not as potent, so scientists are still not sure if it can lead directly to carcinogen formation.
Harming Children and Non-Smokers
As stated earlier, third-hand smoke will stick to a surface in your home. That surface can be a carpet, a tablecloth, a wall, a curtain, a doorknob, a rag, dishes, utensils — in short, anything that is exposed to the cigarette smoke can be affected.
Children are, by far, the most vulnerable to this type of smoke. During playtime, they can grab hold of items or lean on walls that have nicotine residue and then touch their faces or mouths. That way, they directly expose themselves to harmful chemicals.
Toddlers, in particular, can suffer the most. Since they’re still developing their senses at this age, they can literally touch anything with their hands and then put their fingers in their mouths. When they do that, the harmful materials directly reach their bloodstream, which can cause lots of health issues.
However, it’s not just the children. If you happen to live with an elderly person or a non-smoker, you will also expose them to tobacco residue if they constantly inhale it. In addition, people with immunity problems can suffer if exposed to it for too long.
Doctors and researchers are focusing their time and effort on studying these particular individuals with immunity problems. The results will help them learn the best way to handle third-hand smoke exposure and what its effects on the human body are.
Removing Third-Hand Smoke
Now that you know a little about the risks and dangers of third-hand smoke, you’ll need to learn how to remove it properly. It can be extremely difficult to get rid of nicotine layers that have been piling up for years, but it’s not impossible. All you need to do is think about all of the spots where the smoke can linger and start from there.
Cleaning Mirrors and Glass Items
Believe it or not, mirrors and items made from glass attract a lot of negative odors, and smoke is right there at the top of the list. When you smoke a lot, the soot and tar collect on the glasses, plates, bowls, etc. and linger there for a long time. Not only do these items look dim thanks to the smoke exposure, but their odor may prevent you from using them any time soon.
So, when getting rid of third-hand smoke, always focus on glassware first. Scrub it down with a mix of vinegar and warm water (half each) and then use fresh water to rinse.
Washing Soft Furnishings
Curtains, bed sheets, blankets, and other soft furnishings will always pick up most of the odor from cigarettes. That’s why it’s highly important that you wash them first before covering any of the hard areas in your house, like the bed frames or the doors.
Wiping Down Ceilings
Smoke tends to float upward, and a lot of it can get stuck on ceilings. In fact, when experts were cleaning the Hathor Temple at the Dendera Temple complex in Egypt, they found that the soot had preserved some stunning, colorful original artwork. Thousands of years of smoke exposure and soot caused the ceiling to go completely black.
Of course, your home will not be nearly as smoke-filled as the temple, but you should still address your ceilings. Using the same water-vinegar mix for mirrors and glassware, slowly scrub the ceiling and focus on the spot under which smokers usually sit. Let the vinegar dry and remove it later by washing it off.
When cleaning the ceilings, always remember the two golden rules:
- Never use the vinegar mix on wax surfaces, as you can strip away the top layer of wax.
- Never use bleach with the vinegar-water mixture since it can create toxic chlorine gas.
Putting your furnishings in the wash will usually get rid of the cigarette odor quickly. However, sometimes, the constant washing can damage the fabric beyond salvaging.
When this happens, you will have to reupholster, and that can be expensive. Of course, with the right DIY option, you can do it properly and save money at the same time. More importantly, reupholstering is an incredibly easy way of getting rid of the smell altogether.
Using activated charcoal is a popular method of removing foul odors from any home. The carbon molecules in charcoal tend to pick up the molecules of the odor. These odor molecules become ‘trapped’ inside, leaving the area fresh and odor-free.
Once you’re done using activated charcoal, you can simply recycle it by pouring it over your garden soil to help with plant growth. In short, it’s the perfect natural solution to getting rid of foul smells.
Lots of people who smoke tend to use activated charcoal. So, does your home have that lingering third-hand smell? If so, simply place a bag of charcoal at strategic locations (i.e., the spots with the worst smells) and let it work its magic.
Cleaning the Carpets
Carpets are like upholstery, a fabric that picks up cigarette odor easily. However, since a carpet or a rug can be heavier and bulkier than a curtain, it can’t exactly go into the washer.
So, if there’s a lingering third-hand smoke odor, get your carpet outside, shampoo it, and wash it with a steam cleaner. Of course, there are other methods you can employ, as well. And if you feel like you can’t perform a DIY carpet wash, simply take it to a professional carpet cleaner.
Using Air Fresheners
There are so many different air fresheners on the market today. Naturally, all of them will claim to be the perfect odor-removing solution. And truth be told, some of them actually work.
By far, the most popular brand of air fresheners is Air Wick. It offers customers a wide variety of sprays, scented oils, reed diffusers, and candles. All of these are perfect for removing third-hand smoke and diffusing a pleasant scent instead.
Using an Air Purifier
Air purifiers are great for filtering out nasty smoke odors. In addition, they get rid of dust, mold, germs, and any other airborne debris.
All you have to do is maintain them and change the filters regularly. A dirty purifier can actually reintroduce the smoke smell you’re trying to get rid of.
Some air purifier brands claim that their products directly improve your health. However, researchers are still unsure if an air purifier can do things like alleviate allergies and help you handle respiratory problems.
Airing Out the Rooms
Sometimes, the most old-fashioned methods work the best. If there’s lingering smoke in your room, simply open all windows and let the fresh air in. You can speed up the process if you install a fan and allow it to help circulate the air.
People who live in suburban homes tend to use this method a lot. However, it’s highly recommended for folks who live in urban areas. A typical apartment building today has improved insulation, which can make the air inside the rooms stagnate and help mold grow. By airing out your apartment, you’re preventing all scents from sticking around for too long, including the smell of third-hand smoke.
There are plenty of other things you can do to get rid of third-hand smoke. However, if you need a professional, you can find lots of useful links on the subject right here.
Buying a New Home From a Smoker
Third-hand smoke will always be the worst in the home of a chain smoker. As someone who doesn’t smoke, you might avoid walking into those homes. But there are times when non-smokers want to buy a property. And that property happens to be owned by someone who enjoys a good cigarette from time to time.
So, what do you do then?
Step 1: Check for Odors
One of the first things you need to do when buying a home from a smoker is to sniff out any foul odors. If they happen to linger, you risk inhaling carcinogens and harming your health.
Step 2: Check for Stains
Smoke leaves a brownish-yellow stain on different surfaces, so pay close attention to the items in the room. If you see lots of patches of third-hand smoke in your new home, you’ll need to invest a lot of time and effort into removing them. And sometimes, the stain can be so strong that you might have to throw away an item altogether (examples include blinds, carpeting, and window covers).
Step 3: Check for Damage
Smokers are not always careful. Sometimes, they stay asleep with the cigarette on. Other times, they simply flick the ash onto the floor without thinking. All of these actions can seriously damage your home, especially the carpeting and the upholstery.
Step 4: Calculate the Restoration Costs
Whether you’re doing a DIY job of removing stains and odors or calling in a professional, there’s a good chance that you’ll have to pay thousands of dollars for a good cleaning. Sometimes, the cost of cleaning might actually exceed the price of buying a different non-smoker apartment. In that case, there would be no point in buying a place where a smoker used to live.
Third-hand cigarette smoke is no laughing matter. Even if it isn’t as powerful as the other types, it can still cause significant harm to your health. Hopefully, by following everything laid out above, you’ll find yourself living in a fresh, odor-free home in no time.