Cigarette smoke has a unique ability to cling to fibers and porous materials, so when it came to figuring out how to remove cigarette smoke odors from solid wood furniture, it took me some trial and error to perfect my method.
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 3 cleaning techniques reliably produces furniture that’s odorless or low-odor and ready to use in my home or sell in my flea market booth.
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. Moving into the cottage and building a home again 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.
So when a friend offered a beautiful solid wood highboy dresser that her neighbor was giving away, I jumped in the car and sped to the address to pick up the free dresser. 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 of my home I realized that the dresser was oppressively covered with the stench of cigarette smoke. When drawers opened. a smell billowed out so strongly you could almost see it.
After lugging this thing into my car and up my stairs, I wasn’t about to give up on it- so I began the process of removing the cigarette smell from this piece of wood furniture using some methods I found online as well as some that I dreamed up, experimented on, and that actually worked!
The main thing to know about removing cigarette smoke smell from wood furniture is that it takes a few different approaches: physically removing smoke odor-causing molecules, absorbing the odor, and lastly, covering any remaining odor. Simply covering up the smell of cigarette smoke with another scent won’t work, and is likely just to make the smell worse. By combining these three approaches: removing, absorbing, and covering, you can fully remove the smell of cigarette smoke from even deeply soiled and stinky furniture like my dresser. Below I have listed each of these steps that I took to remove the smell of cigarette smoke from my wood furniture.
NOTE: It’s important to note that removing 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 smelling furniture (I mean you could but you’d waste all your effort and the product you used in trying to absorb the odor!)
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.
What you’ll need:
- Simple Green Degreaser & Cleanser
- Electric Steam Cleaner Tool
- Activated Charcoal Puppy Pads
- Ozium canisters
1. Wash the wood furniture inside and out
When people smoke near wood furniture, over time the molecules in the smoke stick to surfaces around the smoker – including wood furniture. Covering up or neutralizing these molecules is nearly impossible, so the first step to removing the smell of smoke from wood furniture is removing those molecules.
Take the dresser, table, chair, etc. into 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) using a scrub brush and gentle agitation, and then 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.
*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, but the pressure of the steam cleaner can displace and remove the odor-causing molecules left behind by cigarette smoke.
Steam cleaners are amazing! For around $30 for this Bissel Steam Shot shown here, they blast away gunk that would take a lot of elbow grease to remove. When it comes to smokey furniture, steam cleaners allow you to safely clean with steam, by directing a nozzle to the surface or hard-to-reach places. The reason I include steam cleaning in this tutorial for removing smoke odors from wood furniture is that steam cleaning is an effective way to lift and clear odors embedded in a porous surface like wood.
Open windows. You’ll be amazed at how steam transfers the cigarette smell odor from the wood to the air in the room. Keeping windows open and exhaust fans on will help keep it from settling on other furniture 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 to a steam treatment. Steam permeates a bit 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.
3. Deodorize smoky furniture naturally
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 litter box mats.
Activated charcoal-embedded litter box mats or puppy pads (find them on Amazon here) are a no-mess way to get the odor neutralizing power of activated charcoal into drawers and shelves of cigarette-smelling furniture. As a bonus, 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 clothing or books and the still potentially smoky wood underneath.
4. Cover any lingering odors
Because wood is so deeply porous, it’s possible that unfinished portions of wood furniture (like the inside of drawers or the undersides of tables) may maintain a slight cigarette smell even after deep cleaning, steaming, and odor neutralizing efforts. In the case of my dresser, the odor that lingered is one that probably no one else would notice unless they pressed their nose into a drawer that had been closed for a time, but I wanted my process of removing cigarette smoke odor from my wood furniture to be complete, so 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- and these canisters worked great in my previously smoke-smelling wood dresser to replace the lingering staleness with a fresh and clean smell.
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.