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4 Ways to Remove Smoke Smell from Wood Furniture

Smoke has a stubborn ability to cling to wood and other natural fibers, so when it came to figuring out how to remove cigarette smoke odors from solid wood furniture it took me some trial and error.

In this article, I’ll walk you step by step through the surface cleaning, steam cleaning, and deodorizing method I use to rehab wood furniture that smells like cigarette smoke. Combining these cleaning techniques produces furniture that’s odorless and ready to use in my home or sell in my flea market booth.

I’ll show you how to remove a smoke smell from wood furniture using a few different approaches:

  1. You’ll need to remove smoke odor-causing molecules from the surface,
  2. Use steam to blast smoke smells from deep in the wood.
  3. Use long-term odor neutralizer to remove any lingering smoke smell that emerges from deep in the wood over time.
  4. And finish by using an air freshener specially designed for smoke, if any smoke smell lingers.

When I moved from my tiny Seattle apartment into Hawk Hill Cottage, I moved with little more furniture than could fit inside of my SUV. Making a home meant scrambling to order my big statement pieces, add beadboard upgrades to basic IKEA furniture, and scour thrift stores and online listings for secondary pieces.

When a friend offered a beautiful highboy dresser that her neighbor was giving away, I jumped in the car and sped to the address to pick it up. Although my initial examination (including a sniff test) made me think that it did not have any strong odors, by the time I got it inside my home I realized that the dresser reeked with the stench of stale smoke from cigarettes. When the drawers opened, a smell billowed out so strongly you could practically see it.

This yellow dresser in a storage unit smelled heavily of smoke odors.
My project piece

After lugging this thing into my car and up my stairs, I wasn’t about to give up on it. Instead, I began the process of removing the cigarette smell from this piece of wood furniture. I used some methods I found online as well as some that I dreamed up, experimented on, and that actually worked!

Deodorizers Don’t Work to Remove Smoke Smells from Furniture. Here’s why

Simply covering up the smell of cigarette smoke with another scent won’t work. Instead, they just make the smell worse. By combining my three approaches: removing, absorbing, and then covering, you can entirely remove the smell of cigarette smoke from wood.

NOTE: Removing a smoke odor from wood furniture has to be progressive – you can’t start by trying to absorb the odor and then go back and clean the cigarette smoke-smelling furniture. Work in order through these three steps.

How to Remove Cigarette Smoke Odor from Wood Furniture

This method works on finished and unfinished wood furniture to permanently remove the odor of cigarette smoke. This is not a quick and easy tutorial for removing cigarette odors from wood (the only quick and easy option would be an expensive option: hiring a smoke restoration crew!) instead, with some time and TLC, you can restore smoke-embedded wood furniture to fresh and fine-to-use using these steps.

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Supplies you’ll need:

1. Wash the wood furniture inside and out

I hand holds a scrub brush as it scrubs the interior of the wood drawer.

When people smoke near wood furniture, the molecules in the smoke stick to surfaces around the smoker. This includes wood furniture! Covering up or neutralizing these molecules is nearly impossible. The the first step, then, is to remove those molecules. Here’s how:

  • 🌞 Take the wood furniture out to a sunny outdoor space.
  • 🧴 Mix up a solution of one part Simple Green Degreaser to six parts water.
  • 🧼 Apply the solution to every single surface of the wood furniture (top and bottom, inside and out). Use a scrub brush and gentle agitation to really remove anything on the surface.
  • 🚿 Finally, wash or wipe the cleaning solution away.

Simple green is a degreasing cleaner with natural ingredients that help break down binders, lift, and remove the molecules left behind by cigarette smoke on your wood furniture.

Allow the wood furniture to dry completely in the sun. UV light from the sun can also help reduce musty or old-wood odors in your furniture.

Dresser drawer sitting in a green lawn in the sunshine.

*For solid wood furniture this gentle wash should not damage the wood, however for thin, damaged, or veneered wood, use less water and manually dry with towels to reduce the likelihood of damage or wood warping.

2. Gently steam the furniture using a steam cleaner

Steam cleaning is a great way to remove smoke odors from unfinished wood because steam is able to permeate into the wood in the same way that smoke can. However, unlike smoke, the pressure of the steam can displace and remove the odor-causing molecules left behind by cigarette smoke.

Steam cleaners are amazing! For I’m using a budget-friendly Bissel Steam Shot shown here Steam cleaners blast away gunk that would take a lot of elbow grease to remove.

Steam cleaners allow you to safely clean smoke-smelling furniture quickly. You simply direct a nozzle on the surface or hard-to-reach corners. Steam cleaning is an effective way to lift and clear odors embedded in a porous surface like wood.

⚠️ Open windows before Steam Cleaning ⚠️

You’ll be amazed by how steam cleaning transfers the cigarette smell odor from the wood to the air in the room. Be sure to keep windows open and fans running. This will prevent the odor from settling on other furniture and textiles in your home. 

Working slowly, but being careful not to over saturate any particular portion of the wood with steam (this could cause warping) treat every surface – inside and out – of your smoky furniture. Steam permeates into the wood, and the air pressure created by the steam cleaner helps move those particles out of the wood and into the air.

If you have negative air pressure in the room (like a cross breeze between windows on opposite sides of the room or an exhaust fan) the smoke odor on your wood furniture will transfer to the air which will then flow outside.

A plume of steam billows and to address her without drawers.

3. Deodorize Smoky Furniture with Puppy Pads

After you have physically cleaned the surface of the wood and used steam to clean the wood even deeper, the cigarette smell lingering in your furniture should be reduced by 80 to 90%. For many homes and furniture types, this cleaning will be sufficient. In my case, however, to rehab my smokey wood dresser sufficiently to be used to store clothing in my bedroom meant that I needed to take additional steps to completely remove the smell of cigarette smoke from my wood furniture.

The most natural way to deodorize a surface from any odor is by using activated charcoal. Activated charcoal can be purchased in powder form from Amazon and for home uses like this, some people even make their own activated charcoal using logs from a burned-out and cooled campfire. The easiest way, however, to deodorize smoky furniture with charcoal is by using charcoal-embedded puppy pads or litter box mats (find them at Amazon here).

Wood dresser drawers lined with activated charcoal puppy pads.

Activated charcoal-embedded litter box mats (or puppy pads) are an easy way to get the odor-neutralizing activated charcoal into drawers and remove smoke smells.

As a bonus, with the pads you can begin using your furniture right away. Simply lining drawers and shelves with a charcoal-embedded puppy pad provides an odor-absorbing barrier between your stuff and any lingering odors in the wood underneath.

4. Cover any lingering odors

Wood is very porous. It is possible that unfinished wood (like the inside of drawers) may still have a slight smoke smell even after deep cleaning. In the case of my dresser, the odor that lingered was mild. Honestly, no one else noticed, but I wanted my process of removing cigarette smoke odor from my wood furniture to be complete. I took the extra step of adding a natural and pleasant scent to my wood furniture dresser.

Although you can use essential oils or air fresheners to cover any remaining odor of cigarette smoke, I chose Ozium canisters. Ozium is the choice of car dealerships when they need to give a smoked-in car a pleasant and fresh atmosphere. These canisters worked great in my previously smoke-smelling wood dresser to replace the lingering staleness with a fresh and clean smell.

Ozium pictured in a charcoal paper lined drawer.
The combination of Ozium and charcoal paper should resolve any lingering odors. For extra freshening power, pull out the drawers and, if there is a wood divider between drawers as shown on this dresser, place sections of charcoal sheets on the divider underneath each drawer.

Final Thoughts 

As you can tell from the length of these instructions, the process of doing a thorough job at really, deeply removing the smell of cigarette smoke from wood furniture is not a quick or an easy process. However, with care, elbow grease, and the right products it’s possible to remove the smell of cigarette smoke even from deeply saturated wood products – the fully rehabbed jewel of an antique highboy dresser in my female master bedroom is proof it’s possible.

Dresser drawer sitting on a green lawn in the sunshine.

Kathryn Mathews

Wednesday 11th of August 2021

Would your method work for smells other than cigarette smoke? I have a dresser that smells of perfume. I suppose the previous owner put clothing in it - sweaters, scarves, gloves, etc. - that had not been freshly laundered. It smells so bad that I cannot use it. It's a lovely, old piece in excellent condition so I don't want to get rid of it.

Lindsayanne Brenner

Thursday 12th of August 2021

I have not tested this method on perfume-scented wood furniture, but I think it would definitely make a big difference! I don't know about the composition of perfumes, but my guess would be that the ones that really linger are oil-based. Washing using a degreasing cleaner and then steaming the surface should help a lot. Good luck- I'd love to know how it goes!