By John Otero

Homeowners, realtors, and property managers frequently search for contractors who can successfully remove tobacco smoke and other odors. This service is especially important when preparing to rent an apartment or sell a home—or even before selling a vehicle.

Lingering smoke odors create significant issues. A survey of Ontario, Canada realtors found that 88% of realtors say it is difficult to sell a home in which the previous owners smoked tobacco, and the presence of smoke odors can reduce the value of a home by as much as 20%.

Other malodors that can negatively affect a home’s value relate to pets, overcooked protein, and other food odors such as fish, curry, onions, and garlic. The procedures discussed below apply equally well to these types of odors.

Smoke odor sources

Smoke and odors from tobacco disperse in the air and adhere to all surfaces. These sticky tobacco residues accumulate and continually release malodors. Heavy smoking over a long period of time causes stubborn and severe smoke odors.

The yellowish-brown, sticky substance left on all surfaces and furnishings is easy to see, smell, and feel, but it is extremely difficult to remove. Residue from tobacco often discolors painted walls and plastics, and it can permanently change the appearance of wallpaper, blinds, paint, and other surfaces. The smoke penetrates upholstery, carpet, drywall, and window treatments, and the HVAC system will carry these residues and odors throughout the structure.

The resulting odor and appearance from long-term smoking in enclosed areas can resemble that of an actual fire. To successfully remove tobacco and cannabis residue and odor requires skill and expertise, but it is easily within reach of the well-prepared restoration contractor.

Proven odor removal system

No single product exists that eliminates tobacco and cannabis odors, but there are proven systems that do work. Here’s a three-step process used for many years by professional smoke damage remediators with great success:

  • Step 1: Thermal fog using a heat-activated odor counteractant that penetrates cavities and materials and creates a vapor barrier to prevent smoke malodors from returning.
  • Step 2: Clean all surfaces—including cabinets, inside drawers, ceilings, and walls—with a degreaser that contains brightening and deodorizing agents.
  • Step 3: Treat hard and soft surfaces with a product that is designed specifically to neutralize and deodorize tobacco/cannabis odors. Apply with a sprayer or use with carpet cleaning extraction equipment.

Remember that all areas of the home are likely contaminated, so you need to clean all surfaces to truly eradicate odors. This includes wall surfaces, doors, moulding and trim, ducting, ceilings, carpet, tile and grout, and cabinetry. Finally, don’t forget to clean the air in the space. Use a HEPA air scrubber equipped with an activated carbon filter to not only assist in removing odors, but also improve the indoor air quality, as recommended in a recent Environmental Protection Agency guide. (See link at the end of this article.)

After thorough cleaning, you need to seal surfaces with a special primer designed to lock in any remaining stains and odors—standard paint primer is not sufficient. Once the primer is applied, the surfaces will be ready to paint, refinish, or apply new coverings.

Soft goods such as upholstery, bedding, window coverings, and rugs require special attention. Because they absorb odors so well and are often easily damaged, these items may require specialty upholstery or fabric cleaning expertise to restore. In some cases, the owner may prefer to simply replace these items. Treatment of antiques, paintings, jewelry, electronics, and anything that is irreplaceable or especially valuable to the customer may best be referred to a restoration specialist for that specific item. As always, maintain clear lines of communication with your customer, and don’t proceed with any cleaning procedure or disposal without permission.

Be the solution

People react differently to smells. Some potential homebuyers may immediately decide against a house where malodors are present, while others may remain open to it, knowing they will have to invest time and money into remediation. In either case, negative odors will make a significant impact on how the home is perceived and valued. That means your ability to remove tobacco smoke odors is a high-value asset.

Delivering the “smell of clean” using a proven odor removal system will result in satisfied customers, positive referrals, and a stronger bottom line for your business.  Tobacco and cannabis smoke removal is an excellent way to diversify your business.

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John Otero has been in the cleaning and restoration industry for 29 years and is currently the restoration chemicals category manager for Legend Brands. He is IICRC certified in CCT, UFT, fire, smoke, trauma/crime scene, commercial drying, and WRT. John has taught hundreds of educational seminars and CEC events to more than 3,000 restorers and other professionals in the United States and Canada. For additional information, please contact John Otero at j.otero@legendbrands.com.