Cigarette odor can be difficult to remove

Posted9/9/2018 7:00 AM

Q. I have a home I'm selling in New Mexico. It's a 1,300-square-foot brick ranch 25 years old. A relative lived there and was a heavy smoker. I had the home completely rehabbed, and carpet, base trim, furniture, window treatments, light fixtures and all cabinetry and bath fixtures were removed, so the home was down to bare walls. The vinyl windows that were yellowed from tobacco stain were rejuvenated with TSP. The walls and ceiling were primed and then painted. New vinyl flooring was installed throughout as well as cabinetry and baths remodeled. The drywalled attached garage was TSP washed, primed and painted.

We can't seem to get rid of the smoke smell, which almost seems to come and go, sometimes more intense than others. That is what I surmise from Realtors' comments after showing the house. We get comments like the smoke smell completely turned off my buyer. I am not there to monitor it. The home is vacant. My sister has stopped in and can hardly detect it, and her husband cannot. The Realtor can hardly detect it.


The heat is forced air and the AC is a swamp cooler. The ductwork is not sheet metal, it is a round foil-wrapped product. Ceilings are vaulted in both the living room and master bedroom.

Here is what we have tried: Fresh wave canisters were put out and packets were left in the duct work. A turbine vent was installed on the roof to pull air from the attic as it smelled smoky, too. The home was sprayed with Odorcide 210 Cigarette Smoke Concentrate purchased from Jon Don ( My contractor has also put that in the swamp cooler water on several occasions. I think the ductwork may be the culprit, but the crawling, scrubbing duct cleaning equipment doesn't work on the tube-coiled ductwork in the home. My contractor sprayed Odorcide 210 into the vents after removing the vent covers, but could only spray a few feet.

Have you any ideas or product knowledge for this cigarette smoke problem? I want to eliminate the smell, not cover it up.

A. If I understand correctly, Odorcide 210 was sprayed in the air after the walls, trim, etc., were painted. If this is the case, unfortunately you didn't eliminate, but covered up the smell when you primed and painted the walls.

Odorcide 210 or an equivalent product should have been sprayed directly on all surfaces, including the vinyl windows and its glass after the successful TSP treatment.

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As for the ducts, you could have your contractor "fine" spray Odorcide heavily into them while the fan is on. This would distribute the deodorizer onto all surfaces and coat them.

All the surfaces in the attic -- rafters, roof sheathing, floor insulation, gable walls, etc. -- should receive a light spray of Odorcide or other odor killer. One that has worked well for me and many readers is Nok-Out (

At this point, if your contractor is not a professional cleaner, member of one of the several associations of professional cleaners with the appropriate training and regular updates, you should consider having such a specialist do a professional and thorough evaluation followed by any recommended treatment, if it is possible under the present circumstances. Janitorial supplies firms are a good starting point.

Q. I have a bowing basement wall and I'm a DIY'er. I'm very thorough and do loads of research before I take on a project, but I can't find an answer to one of my questions, and I thought you might be able to help. I plan on using carbon fiber straps with anchors at the top and bottom, and I also plan on using surface bonding cement because of the massive amount of efflorescence decomposition. I'm trying to find out if it would be best to do the carbon fiber first and use the cement on top or the other way around. I'm unsure if the surface bonding cement will bond with the carbon fiber straps if it's placed on top. And I'm not sure if the carbon fiber straps would be as supportive over the cement instead of on the wall in question. Any opinions or expertise would be greatly appreciated!


A. The bowing of your walls occurred because of great soil and fluid pressure on them from outside over time. Before attempting the interior repair, you need to address the exterior condition or the problems will continue.

It sounds as if the backfill of your foundation was not done properly. A safe backfill includes an effective foundation drain protected from silting with geotextile fabric covered with stones and coarse material, which should fill the trench to within a foot or two of the final grading. The final grading is done with native soil and should slope gently away at the rate of about 2-inches per horizontal foot to move any water away from the foundation. Bushes and flower beds should be avoided close to the foundation; grass is the best.

Obviously, it will be too onerous for you to redo the backfilling as it should have been done, so you are limited to correcting any grade deficiencies around the exterior walls.

Add loamy soil as needed to obtain the recommended slope; move flower beds and bushes a few feet away from the walls, plant and maintain a healthy stand of grass on the soil, check any deficiencies of your gutter and downspout system if you have them, making sure that the downspouts terminate on splashblocks to prevent pooling near the walls.

Once you have accomplished this, work on the inside can proceed. The next question is how extensive is what you refer to as efflorescence decomposition. I read this as you having a concrete block foundation, which has been subjected to so much moisture penetration from outside that its surface is spalling.

Efflorescence is not the culprit; these salty deposits are left when moisture that leached them out of the masonry has evaporated. Salts are an inherent part of all masonry products and concrete, and can be brushed off with a stiff brush.

If the deterioration of the surface of the blocks is severe enough that it needs to be repaired, it should be done with an epoxy compound after throughly brushing any loose material off the surface. But if the deterioration is minor, clean the loose material off and apply the carbon strips vertically with epoxy cement as directed.

I strongly urge you not to coat the entire block walls with a waterproofing coating as it would trap any exterior moisture still working its way into the blocks with disastrous effects over time.

• Henri de Marne, a former remodeling contractor turned columnist and consultant, is the author of "About the House with Henri de Marne" (Upper Access Publishing). He continues to take questions from readers for this column and his website, Email questions to

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