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Understanding the Dangers of Thirdhand Smoke

Ask This Old House home technology expert Ross Trethewey and painter Mauro Henrique discuss how to remove a cigarette smell from a home and why it is important to do so.

In this video, Ross explains that the lingering smell left behind by cigarette smokers is actually a form of smoke called thirdhand smoke.

What is Thirdhand Smoke?

Thirdhand smoke is a residue that contains the chemicals from a cigarette and sticks to any porous surface, including carpeting, drywall, furniture, etc.

Aside from the nuisance of the smell, thirdhand smoke is also as harmful as secondhand smoke; a recent study indicated that children exposed to thirdhand smoke had equal levels of nicotine in their urine as children exposed to secondhand smoke.

How to Get Rid of Cigarette Smell

To remove the smell and the residue, Mauro suggests that, at a bare minimum, everything needs to be cleaned with a tsp solution. This process includes cleaning the ceilings, the walls, baseboards, floorboards, etc. and then painting over the materials with alcohol-based paint to seal the building materials.

What if Cleaning is Not Enough?

Ross suggests that cleaning the surfaces may not even be enough. If that thirdhand smoke residue has been on the surface for a long time, then the building materials have absorbed it and they need to be completely replaced, which would require a full gut renovation.


Expert assistance for this segment was provided by the Collins Research Group and Peter DeCarlo, PhD, Johns Hopkins Environmental Health & Engineering.

To learn more about thirdhand smoke, visit