Saving Smokey Furniture

I recently received an email from a lovely reader who was scouting for ways to save this lovely buffet:

Saving Smokey Furniture

Here’s the scoop on her problem:

Hi Liz!  We just got some really nice wood furniture. But it came from a house where someone smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for many years. The actual wood has a residual smell of smoke on all of it. Do you know what product we could use to try to mask/get rid of this smell? If there’s nothing we can do, we’ll just live with it, and keep our windows open as much as possible until the smell subsides…but I thought you might have an idea?  If you have no idea, no worries – just thought I’d check with you since you’re my go-to blogger for all things home improvement and design related!

Since flattery works every time (I’m blushing!), I wasted no time digging into this dilemma.  Smoke-smelling furniture is a problem that we’ll all likely encounter at some point, given that cigarettes were once practically a way of life.  Since that practice has now gone by the wayside, I did a little research and found these tips to help you combat that pesky smell:

1.  Soak it up. Before you start scrubbing away at your pretty wood furniture, you may want to try a few of these simple methods that may  eliminate the smell by absorbing the odor, without running the risk of harming the wood:

-  Sprinkle baking soda on the furniture. Be sure to do a test patch in an inconspicuous spot before sprinkling baking soda all over the furniture – if nothing happens, then you’re in the clear and can sprinkle it all over the furniture.  After a few hours, vacuum up the baking soda.  Repeat as necessary.

- Place fresh coffee grounds into coffee filters and tie them closed. Place these little pouches of coffee on the furniture and spread them out to cover more area. Leave them there for several hours.

- Dab a cloth in vinegar and set it on or near the furniture. Leave it there for a couple hours.

- Cut up an onion and place the pieces on a piece of plastic wrap on the furniture. Allow the onion a few hours to do its work and discard it.

- Place bowls of crushed charcoal around the furniture and leave it overnight.

2.  Scrub a dub. The reason that cigarette smoke is such a difficult smell to get rid of is because the nicotine from cigarettes actually soaks into (unfinished) wood, and also leaves a nasty residue on the surface of wood furniture regardless of whether it has been sealed.  Even though it will pain you to do so, the word on the street is that you’ll likely have to scrub the wood with a wet solution to remove the layer of nicotine from the wood.  When you scrub the wood, you’ll want to use a stiff plastic brush and a cleaning solution.  Be sure to use a brush with flexible bristles – you don’t want to scratch all of that gorgeous wood!  And to protect your wood from warping or staining as much as possible, be sure to dry the wood thoroughly with a cloth (do not leave any water pooling on the wo0d), and leave the piece to dry for a day or two indoors – don’t leave the wood in the sun, as it could cause the wood to warp like crazy.

3.  Clean it up.  There are a lot of different opinions on the best cleaning solution to use on the wood – here are a few of the top contenders:

- Murphy’s Oil Soap

- 1/4 cup of Witch Hazel and several squirts of Dawn dish soap.

- Lysol Basin and Tub Cleaner

- 50% white vinegar, 50% water

- Lemon or orange oil cleaners

It is likely that the wood will have to be cleaned several times before the smell is gone (or faded enough so that it’s no too noticeable), and in some cases it may never disappear.  Arm yourself with air fresheners like Arm & Hammer Deodorizing Air Freshener to help eliminate any lingering odors.  Some people even go so far as to polyurethane the wood if the smell is not completely eliminated.  The theory is that the polyurethane seals the odor into the wood so that you can no longer smell it.  This seems like an absolute last resort, and I would recommend speaking to a furniture store before taking this step.

Have you guys encountered this problem before?  How did you deal with it?  Have you tried any of the tips above and, if so, how did they work?  Fill us in!!

This post is shared with Hooked on Houses.

Sources for this post include the following: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

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