Why Is It So Hard to Get Cigarette Smoke Out of Clothing?

You’ve tried to wash the cigarette smoke out by using detergent. You’ve washed the clothing in vinegar. Maybe you’ve even tried rinsing the clothing in vodka or scotch. Has even the hydrogen peroxide wash failed?

Some of the best products to get smoke smell out of clothes can provide mixed results when clothes are completely saturated with cigarette smoke odors. It is important to wash them more than once if the smoke particles have mixed into the fibers of the fabric. It can take 5-7 washes with your preferred product for embedded odor particles to dislodge.

Although simple, fresh air can be an effective tool to remove the strongest odors from the clothing, it won’t remove them all. Using a masking agent on the clothing will make them smell better for a time, but not remove the odor particles.

Why is it so hard to get the cigarette smoke odor out of clothing? It’s because the odor is trapped in oils and tar. Many detergents and clothing treatments don’t remove those items in the wash, which means the odor stays.

How to Remove Oils from Clothing

One effective method of removing stubborn cigarette smoke odors from clothing is to pre-treat the items with dishwashing soap. The smoke from a cigarette creates a thin, oily layer over the fibers of your clothing fabric. Use hot water and a colorless dishwashing soap in a container large enough to hold your clothing.

You may need to use a clothing brush or scrubbing tool to work the dishwashing soap into the fabric.

Always read the garment care label first. Hot water can damage some clothing.

If the oils are not removed from the clothing and they go through the dryer, it can cause the oil to set into the fabric, which makes it even more difficult to remove the smoke smell.

You may need to let the clothing soak in the water/soap solution. For difficult odors, it may require an overnight soak.

Then rinse with your preferred product to get smoke smell out of clothing and run through the wash separately. Allow the clothing to air dry.

How to Remove Tar from Clothing

When tar from cigarette smoke embeds into your clothing, the micron-sized bits can solidify within the fabric of your clothing and be like dried asphalt. No matter how often you wash the clothes, the resilience of tar means the smoke odors will remain.

If your preferred smoke odor removal product is working but isn’t removing the last traces of cigarette smoke, then pre-treat your clothing with olive oil. This will soften the tar particles in your clothing and then you can use your odor removal product with your preferred detergent to remove the last vestiges of smell.

It may take up to an hour for the olive oil to soften the tar particles. Then follow the steps to remove oil stains from your clothing to restore them to their previous condition.

Cigarette smoke in clothing can be difficult to remove because of how the smoke particles create oil and tar layers on your fabrics. Find your preferred products, have some patience, and you’ll get that odor out.

Please note: dry-clean only clothing should not be treated with these methods. Take clothing items like this to a professional dry cleaner for best results.

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  1. Morgan

    July 30, 2018 at 12:21 am

    Can both of these methods be used at the same time? I think I’ve got both issues, needing both dish soap and olive oil, in all of my clothes.


    • Tim Strickland

      May 14, 2020 at 3:37 am

      I wouldn’t combine them at the same time.


  2. Morgan

    August 18, 2018 at 4:35 am

    I’ve done the dishsoap and then olive oil and then washed my clothes and they still have a bitter smell to them. The odor still comes back after washing and air-drying the outside. Any more thoughts about how to get rid of the last of the bitter/sour cigarette smell?


    • Tim Strickland

      May 14, 2020 at 3:37 am

      You might need to repeat those steps a few times to get the last of the cigarette smell out of your clothes.


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