Expert Answers: How to Remove Smoke Smell

Dinner get a little too done and now your house reeks? HANDY has the answer for removing smoke smell.

Q: I inadvertently left a bagel in the toaster on the “dark” setting while I went out to check the mail. My quick “hello” to the neighbor grew to a chat, and when I went back inside, the house was filled with smoke. (The smoke detector worked, but I didn’t hear it from my mailbox.) Fortunately, there was no fire; however, the burn smell won’t go away. Any ideas? - Jane Watson, Kansas City, MO

A: Clearing the air of visible smoke usually doesn’t eliminate its lingering odor or film. That’s because smoke’s minuscule particles permeate porous materials such as carpet, upholstery, drapes, walls and ceilings and stick to hard surfaces such as woodwork, furniture, flooring, appliances, windows, etc. Here is a 10-step procedure for smoke removal:

  1. Immediately banish charred items (in this case, the toast and toaster). It’s wise to replace the toaster, as it likely failed either before or during the incident.
  2. Turn off your furnace or air conditioner so the smoke is not drawn into your HVAC system. Do not operate bathroom or kitchen vent fans.
  3. Drive the smoke outside ASAP by creating positive air pressure. Work on one room at a time while it is sealed off from other rooms. Prop a large fan set on high speed in an exterior door opening or open window to suck fresh air into the room. Open one window or door at the opposite end of the room where air will be pushed outside. Do this in each room, operating the fan for at least 20 minutes per room. (If there is a directional breeze from outside, work with it, not against it.) To increase airflow, remove window screens and wash, rinse and dry them.
  4. Remove all window treatments. Launder or dry clean curtains and drapes; wash and rinse wood, plastic or metal blinds.
  5. Wash the interiors of windows and window frames.
  6. Air out or wash other fabric items such as pillows, bedding, stuffed toys and upholstery. If the smell remains, you’ll need to use an upholstery cleaner on furniture. Never use fragrance products to mask the smell; that is merely adding another air pollutant to the mix.
  7. Clean carpet using a vacuum cleaner equipped with a high-efficiency filter. Empty the debris immediately. If necessary, sprinkle baking soda on the carpet, let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes and vacuum again.
  8. If you haven’t operated your furnace or air conditioner yet, turn the fan setting to “on” and circulate air throughout the house for several hours (with windows open, if possible). Change the furnace filter.
  9. With the washing solution, wipe down walls, floors, tile, woodwork, furniture, cabinets, countertops, mirrors, appliances and even light fixtures (with the power off, of course). Refresh the bucket contents often. Rinse and dry the surfaces immediately.
  10. If the walls and ceiling retain the smoke smell or stains, you can apply a sealer/primer such as B-I-N or Kilz and then repaint. Tip: Whenever you paint (but especially this time), set out a bowl of white vinegar in the room to help absorb odor.

1 gallon of water
1/4 to 1/2 cup of white vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap