Most people are familiar with the dangers of secondhand smoke, but fewer people are familiar with the risks of thirdhand smoke — the chemicals from cigarette smoke that adhere to surfaces. Any time you smell cigarette smoke in a room, you are exposed to thirdhand smoke.
Toxic chemicals, such as nicotine, formaldehyde, and naphthalene, are in thirdhand smoke residue, which penetrates and adheres to furniture, clothing, bedding, drapes, carpeting, walls, and ceilings. Whereas smoke from a cigarette can stay in a room for hours, smoke residue can become embedded in surfaces for weeks, months, or even years — and it will continue to smell as long as it is present.
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Is Thirdhand Smoke Dangerous?
Thirdhand smoke is indeed dangerous. The chemicals in cigarettes are carcinogenic, whether in the air as smoke or when embedded in a surface. While the effects of thirdhand smoke have not been well studied, it is known that these chemicals can cause health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and respiratory issues.
The longer someone smokes indoors, the more residue builds up on surfaces. The chemicals in this residue can enter the body when someone touches a contaminated surface or breathes in the unpleasant odors. Children are the most vulnerable to thirdhand smoke because they spend the most time on the floor. Young children are also likely to touch tainted objects and then put their hands (or the items themselves) in their mouth, dramatically increasing their exposure to these toxic substances.
Getting Rid of Cigarette Smell
Unfortunately, it is impossible to remove thirdhand smoke and the smell of cigarettes by merely airing out an area, vacuuming a surface, or covering up the scent temporarily using an air freshener. While nonporous surfaces, like glass ashtrays, can easily be cleaned without any issue, traditional cleaning methods will not remove the odor or its associated danger in most materials.
Sometimes, the only solution is to replace contaminated materials, such as carpeting, mattresses, couches, or bedding. If the odor is trapped in the walls, a new coat of paint may trap the chemicals and their odor so they cannot penetrate the rest of the room. You may need to hire experts to clean out your ventilation system in some cases.
Preventing Cigarette Odors
The only way to effectively protect an area from smelling like cigarettes and becoming contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals is to avoid smoking indoors, including inside vehicles. If you have to smoke, always do it outdoors.