Get the smell of cigarette smoke out of wooden furniture

Remember how I said I was going to paint the headboard for Leah’s big girl bedroom?  That sneak peek was two weeks ago already, and it still isn’t done… sigh.  We bought this headboard used on kijiji from a home that had smokers and it smelled terrible!  I have every intention of painting it, and I think the paint will cover it up, but I don’t know for sure.  I want to do everything I can to get as much of the smell out of that wooden headboard as possible before I refinish it.

headboard smells like smoke

It was one of those purchases where I had forgotten to ask the sellers if they were smokers, I had already driven all the way across town, and the townhouses were a little shady, so I just wanted to get out of there.  It didn’t even occur to me that it smelled until I got it in the back of my station wagon (yes, I drive a station wagon!) and the whole car started smelling like cigarette smoke.

When I got home, I offloaded it into the garage and it stayed there for a couple weeks.  I don’t have any experience with smoky furniture so I was really hoping that airing it out in the garage would help, but it didn’t.

So I brought it inside, and I started wiping it down with Lysol wipes, just to be sure any germs from the sellers were gone.  It didn’t get rid of the smell, but at least it felt more sanitized.  Lots of dirt was still coming off of it, so I decided to move on to dish soap and warm water.  So I scrubbed with a cloth and got even more dirt off, but the smell was still there… and getting the wood wet just made it worse!

At this point I had no idea what to do, so I had to Google it.  One recommendation was to try a mixture of half water and half vinegar and to scrub it down.  So I used a bathroom brush scrubber to scrub it down.  Now it was wet, it smelled like vinegar AND smoke.  It was really awful.

water and vinegar didn't get rid of smoke smell

I knew I couldn’t paint it if it was wet, so I set it aside to let it dry in my sewing room and it smelled up the ENTIRE room, to the point that it gave me a headache when I was sewing the tulle bedskirt!

Seeing that the vinegar didn’t work, I tried something else recommended on Google – baking soda.  I’m happy to report that this seemed to work really well!

Get the smell of cigarette smoke out of wooden furniture

baking soda to get rid of cigarette smoke smell

I sprinkled about a box and a half of baking soda onto the headboard.

baking soda sprinkled on headboard

I tried moving it around with a paint brush, but it was better to just sprinkle tons of it on to make sure it was fully covered.

baking soda to remove smoke smell in wooden headboard

I read that you can remove the baking soda after letting it sit overnight, but I didn’t think that sounded like it would be long enough.  So I was on the cautious side and let it sit for a whole week.

mini dustpan sweeping up baking soda IMG_7583

I also read that you should use your vacuum to clean it up, but I’m pretty sure that would have majorly clogged up my vacuum and gone right through the filter and back into the air.  So I used a mini brush and dustpan to sweep as much of it up as I could, and then I vacuumed up whatever dust was left.

See how much baking soda I used!?

baking soda on smoky wooden headboard

After all the baking soda was off of it, I smelled it and I was super impressed!  You really couldn’t smell the cigarette smoke at all on the side that had the baking soda!  The front still smelled awful though.  So here is where it stands right now (or rather where it lies on my basement floor):

IMG_7589 IMG_7590

I had to flip over the headboard and start again on the front of it.  Rather than opening a new box, I just sprinkled the used baking soda onto this side.  It’s sitting in the basement as we speak, so I still have to wait a few days for it to absorb the smoke smell.  It’s still going to be awhile before I can get it painted.

It took a few tries, but I figured out how to get the smell of cigarette smoke out of wooden furniture and I am relieved to know that painted or not, the awful cigarette smoke smell will be gone from Leah’s headboard!

PS - Here's a list of my favourite link parties.

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  • Maria D. Nieves-Goldman

    Thank you. Just bought a table and chairs yesterday– way too far from home and at too good a price to turn it down, but it stinks. Will try this, though will have to modify a little.

  • Kate

    THANK YOU! just brought home a dresser I found on Craigslist and it REEKS of smoke. I’m going to give this a try.

  • Whitney

    Would this method work on all wood furniture that is painted? I bought my daughter a desk and also failed to ask if the house was smoke-free.. unfortunately, it was not and I can’t stand that it smells smokey. Thanks.

  • Mark Basta

    I’m looking at doing the same thing with a corner hutch that I inherited from my recently deceased mother. I was wondering though, did the used baking soda on the other side work just as well?

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      Well, it worked on both sides to a certain extent, but I found that in the summer when the room got warm I could still smell the smoke. Unfortunately it didn’t get rid of all of it. It’s a pretty inexpensive thing to try, so it’s definitely worth a try!

      • Mark Basta

        Many thanks for sharing.

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  • Jennifer

    I just had the exact same experience today. Boughta beautiful headboard from someone in a shady apartment. Smell of smoke almost kocked me over when I walked in her house. I never thought that the smell would be stuck on the furniture. Ive had the headboard in a spare bedroom for a few hours and it reeks. Im going to try the baking soda thing. Im so disappointed though. I really love this headboard but its for my daughter and if it smells to bad I cant have her around that.

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      Yes! That’s exactly what happened to us! In the end, even though I
      scrubbed it, used the baking soda, and painted it, I realized months
      later that the smell still came out of her headboard when her bedroom
      got warm. It was fine during cold weather, but it wasn’t worth the risk
      so we bought her a different headboard, that as it turns out, we like
      even better than this one. Good luck with getting the smell out. I hope
      it works for you!

      • sara

        OH BUMMER!!! I just sent my husband out to buy two boxes of baking soda!

        • Debbie @ One Little Project

          Don’t worry – it still GREATLY improves the smell!! And maybe for you it will fix it?

  • Jennifer

    I read online that if you use vinegar you have to wipe the wood down with plain water, then with the vinegar solution, then rinse with straight water. I also read you could use ammonia in the same way. It seams like a lot of work but apparently not many chemicals break down the tar and nicotine. If you are painting there is a product that you can buy from Home Depot (Not sure who else carries it) it’s called kilz. It is a primer/sealer with stain and odor blockers. It comes in spray cans and roll ons, from 1 gallon cans to 5 gallon pails depending on your needs. DH has used this product in the past on house walls with success. I just used orange glo on a china cabinet. It smells better now but we will see for how long. I’m going to try the baking soda in the drawers just because I couldn’t use the orange glo in those areas. If this doesn’t work then I guess we will have to paint it. DH is not going to like that lol.

  • Temple Hansen

    I have a dresser I got from my grandparents, that was stored in a heavy smoker’s apartment for about a year and half. It’s sitting in the middle of my kitchen at the moment, until I figure out what to do about the smoke in the wood. My boyfriend says he can’t smell it but I can. That would be a lot of baking soda to cover the whole dresser, inside, in the drawers and the outside (might be little more challenging to do) but if I can’t find anything else that will work I’ll give this a try.
    Thank you for your information Debbie

  • Guest

    Has the smell stayed under control? I’m looking at trying this, with a combination of a few other things, to try to save a few pieces of furniture.

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      Yes, it has definitely stayed under control. Sometimes on really hot and humid days the smell starts to come out again, but the rest of the year I can’t smell it at all.