Dear Barry,

Before we bought our home, the sellers kept flowery room deodorizers throughout the house. We didn’t think much about it at the time. But since moving in, we’ve become increasingly aware of the rank cigarette smell that permeates the interior. Our home inspector has no suggestions for getting rid of this awfulness and we’re wondering what, if anything, can be done to eliminate it. We suspect that the sellers deliberately concealed this smell — a suspicion that has been confirmed by some of our new neighbors. What, if anything, can be done to remedy this condition, and how should we communicate our displeasure with the sellers? –Dana

Dear Dana,

For those who do not smoke, the ashtray atmosphere of a smoker’s house is exceedingly unpleasant. The search for a cure-all to cigarette odor is like the quest for the Holy Grail. Though sought and hoped for by many, it remains, as yet, unattained. Products and techniques compete in the marketplace, each professing to be the answer, but none has earned the popular acclaim that would accompany a truly successful treatment.

There are service providers who employ ozone generators and hot air treatments to eradicate smoke smells, and there are various chemical products, each alleging to be the great smoke-smell panacea. Most of these have been successful to greater or lesser degrees, but the reviews have been mixed. Some users have hailed their effectiveness, while others have been less than satisfied with the results.

A Google search of “cigarette odor” renders more than 900,000 Web sites. Many promote the sale of “miracle” products, each promising to be the great odor eradicator. Some may weaken the impact of offensive smoke odors, but none has delivered the final knockout punch. Satisfied product users may disagree with this assessment and proclaim the efficacy of one concoction or another. If any of these inventions were proven to be effective, the hotel industry would be its greatest customer. It would no longer be necessary for nonsmoking travelers to request nonsmoking rooms.

The most effectual short-term approach to the smoke-odor problem involves total repainting of walls and ceilings, complete replacement of carpets and draperies, and extensive cleanup of everything else. Another problem area that warrants attention and is often overlooked is the interior of forced-air heating ducts. These can emit odors every time the heating or air conditioning is operated. Some kinds of air ducts can be cleaned, while others must be replaced.

The most reliable long-term remedy, however, is the one usually mentioned as a final footnote. It is the simple passage of time. If you live in your home long enough, the cigarette odors will gradually but surely become a vague remembrance.

As for the sellers of your home, they may or may not have been deliberate in masking the smoke smells. You can pursue them with various means of formal and legal complaint, or you can simply let the memory of their offense fade with the receding essence of their final departing smoke.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at

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