Mystery cigarette smoke smell

Apparently my house is haunted. We’ve lived in this house (small split level) for a little over 5 years now, and suddenly about a month ago, the hall closet started to reek of cigarette smoke. It never smelled before and my husband and I don’t smoke (no, not even closet smokers). It’s only in the coat closet, not in the vestibule or any room adjoining it (the garage and my husband’s office). There was old wallpaper in there, a pattern that looks very 70s, but my husband ripped it down a few days ago. The closet still reeks.

Any idea how to get rid of that smell? Any theories as to why it didn’t stink for 5 years?

As a bonus question, if we want to hire someone to come in and test our indoor air quality, what kind of company do we call? Thanks.

Sure it’s cigarette smoke? What kind of heat do you have in your house? Did you start using it about a month ago? Might be worth checking for leaks if the chimney shares a wall with that closet.

Interesting idea. The chimney’s on a different wall though and I think it was still warmer when the smell started, before the heat kicked in. And really, it smells like an ashtray–very typical cigarette smell.

There are quite a few options, but I’ll throw out one from my apartment management days. We had a tenant who had been in an apartment for 7 years and was a heavy pipe smoker. When he moved out, there was a yellow film on the windows from the smoke. We scrubbed every wall, counter, cabinet, ceiling, etc. We sealed the cement floors before recarpeting and put sealant on every wall before repainting. When we rented the apartment to new tenants, you could not smell any smoke.

When the new tenants moved out a year later, there was no question why - the smell was back and about as strong as it was originally. We finally figured out that the smoke oils had soaked into the wooden cabinetry and had oozed back out. You could wipe off that same yellowish oily residue. Before we put a new tenant in there, we re-cleaned and re-varnished the cabinets.

So… I’m surprised that it would take five years for the odor to come back, but I’m not surprised that it did come back eventually.

If you think it’s the walls, my recommendation is to clean with TSP and then put a sealant layer of KillZ before repainting.

But do look around in general. Was there a water leak? A structural shift? Rodent holes? After five years without the smell, I think it would take a significant change to make it come back.

Thanks dracoi for the tips. I’m wondering if the smell is coming out now because the wallpaper in the closet (why wallpaper? who knows?) was coming off. Would wallpaper hide odors on walls? We’ve peeled the paper off and now we have yellow closet walls.

The previous homeowners were strange–okay, cheap. There was a leak in the upstairs bathroom, which we discovered when our ceiling under the bathroom got a hole in it. The plumber discovered that instead of fixing the leak, which had been there for quite some time, the homeowners put a bowl in the ceiling under the tub to catch the water. Nice!

old wallpaper glue on plaster is yellow. wall paper is a quick wall covering that doesn’t stink the house.

the old wall paper was porous to the smoke maybe. the smoke on the surface wore off due to are exposure over years. removing the wallpaper gives better exposure to that which might have gotten trapped in the glue.

Sounds like one of the coats (in the coat closet) may be the culprit. Perhaps it was worn into a smokey bar/restaurant and is now innocently hanging-in and stinking-up the closet. Just my US$0.02

Interesting thought shunpiker, but we don’t go to bars, and any restaurants we’ve been to have been smoke-free. Even if one of the coats had been in a smoky place, I don’t think it would have been that stinky.

In any event, all of the coats and hats,etc. have been out of the closet for several days now, and it still stinks in there. I’m thinking maybe the wallpaper managed to hide it for a while.

Bad Ronald.