Lessons Learned About Pervasive Odors

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Vinegar, water, baking soda, and a little bit of lemon are often enough to freshen up the air in your home, but sometimes they don't scratch the surface. What happens when you have a pervasive smell like cigarette smoke or pet odor, how do you clean it?

When a couple wrote into the San Francisco Chronicle, they wanted to know how to get the smoke smell out of their rental house once their tenant of 15 years moved out. Unfortunately, years of cigarette smoke has caused a permanent stench, and the experts have advised them to remove all fabric and scrub every inch, right into the duct work and subfloor!


The ultimate prevention for this level of pervasive odor is to remove it altogether. Smoking outside or having your pet spayed or neutered will help limit the amount of smell making it into the house.

Also, clean frequently as you go. Before the smell gets bad, try these things: 

  • Wash fabrics. Curtains, upholstery, blankets, sheets, towels, pillows—any fabric that has been exposed to the smoke should be washed completely clean, preferably in a warm or hot load, and do this often—no less than once a month while the source of the odor is still in the room.

  • Deep clean carpets. Unfortunately, this will take more than a vacuum. You'll want to use a steam cleaner instead.
  • Extensively clean every surface. This includes walls, ceilings, floors, cabinets, and counters. Surfaces can store smells, and it requires some dedicated cleaning to get the odor out of them.

Worst Case Sceanrio

As with the San Francisco couple, the very worst case scenario is that prevention is impossible and the house ends up needing a lot more work. This could include replacing carpets, furniture, curtains, and all linens, getting a professional to clean all of the duct work in your house, cleaning all of the surfaces with an industrial strength cleaner, and then redesigning the house altogether with new paint, carpet and furniture. Prevention is definitely the better option!



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