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Fire Restoration May 19, 2011

Tobacco and Smoke Odor Removal

Restoration professionals are often asked if they are able to remove cigarette or tobacco smoke odors. For instance, a home may need to be deodorized when it is being sold; an apartment may need the service between tenants; an automobile may need odor removal; etc.

The EPA says that Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) is the mixture of smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, plus the smoke exhaled by the smoker. It is a complex mixture of over 4,000 compounds, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals, and many of which are strong irritants. ETS is often referred to as “secondhand smoke,” and exposure to ETS is often called “passive smoking.”

The smoke from tobacco clouds the air and sticks to every surface of the area. People can also see, smell, and feel a yellowish-brown, sticky substance that is left on all surfaces and furniture in areas where smoking has taken place. This extremely hard to remove residue discolors painted surfaces and plastics. It can permanently change the appearance of wallpaper, blinds, paint, and many other items in the area. The smoke can penetrate into furniture, carpets, walls, windows, and every other nook and cranny in the area. And the building’s HVAC system will carry the smoke odor and the residues throughout the structure. The contaminants are not only unsightly but can off-gas odors that many people simply find unbearable.

The end result of long term smoking in enclosed areas is much the same as that of an actual fire. Unfortunately, one difference is that the smoke from a fire is sometimes much easier to remove from walls or other surfaces than tobacco smoke. Removing tobacco residues can be a real challenge. It is very time consuming, as residues are present throughout the entire home, business, or other affected area.

Restoration professionals, insurance professionals and property owners should be aware, at the beginning of a tobacco-smoke cleanup project, that there is no magic bullet that just whisks away residues and smells. Though it would be nice to be able to plug in a “magic” machine or spray some “miracle” liquid to eliminate tobacco smoke problems, such products simply do not exist. The only effective way to remove tobacco residue and smell is through very thorough cleaning and then sealing all structural surfaces. Even though residues may appear to be concentrated in only one area, once cleaning starts it will normally be found that all areas are contaminated, and cleaning all surfaces will be necessary to remove contaminants and odors. The very tiny particles of tobacco smoke find their way into all areas. The cleaning process will always include deodorizing agents to help with that process. Even after thorough and successful cleaning, it is usually necessary to seal surfaces with a sealant designed to lock in the very last of the stains and odors. It is important to recognize that a normal “primer” is not sufficient, and a product designed to seal smoke residues is required. Finally, the surfaces will be ready to paint, refinish, or to apply new coverings.

The “soft” things in a home such as upholstery, bedding, window coverings, clothes, etc. will need special attention. Because they absorb odors so well, and are often easily damaged, they will be very difficult to successfully restore and may require outside specialists. Testing should be conducted to evaluate the success of such efforts. In many cases, the decision is made to simply replace these materials and items.

After the restoration professional has finished the cleaning, it may be necessary to use specialized, professional equipment to help remove the very last of the odors, often in areas that cannot be cleaned (inside joints, inside walls, etc.) This will often involve hydroxyl generators or ozone generators. Both are professional equipment that creates molecules which can follow the smoke into tiny spaces, and both processes effectively destroy the malodorous particles.

As with every property loss, PuroClean restoration professionals help bring property back to a pre-loss condition. PuroClean restoration professionals are highly trained and skilled in procedures not only to remedy tobacco smoke odors, but to return property owners to their restored property cost-effectively and in the shortest time possible.