Ask a Clean Person: The Smoker’s Dilemma

I have a gross cleaning question! You see, a previous renter apparently used to smoke in the bathroom, and over time the smoke stains + bathroom condensation have formed all these yellow beads on the (painted drywall) walls. They’re tacky like dried craft glue, and when I first noticed them I blamed my boyfriend for somehow peeing on the wall. Not attractive. And they’re EVERYWHERE, on the walls and the ceiling.

I’ve tried using Windex, vinegar, and bathroom cleaner, but nothing works except scraping each bead off with my fingernail (and even then it leaves a little yellow ring.) Do you have any ideas short of power-washing this room, or should I just continue to avoid touching the walls?

I laughed for, like, 90 minutes at the mental image of you berating your boyfriend for peeing on the walls. Seriously. That is so completely hilarious to me, I love you.

I think you’re going to need to take a two-pronged approach here: First, you’ll need to deal with the beading and when that’s complete, you’ll need to tackle the staining. For the beading, get yourself a scraper tool (you can find these at the hardware store). Actually, get two — ask your boyfriend to help you out (“YOU PEED ON MY WALLS, IT’S THE LEAST YOU CAN DO”) because it’s gonna take some elbow grease. Once you’ve gotten the beading off, mix up a bucketful of cleaning solution. Either bleach or ammonia (but not together! We all remember that lesson, right?) is really going to be the best thing here, but if you’re really opposed to chemicals you can make a vinegar solution instead. Use a large sponge and/or a scrub brush to wash the walls, drying each section as you go with a rag. Depending on how much wall space we’re talking about here, you may choose to use rags to do the washing.

Good luck out there — nicotine stains are beastly!

Help! I had a totally gross roommate who smoked in his room for about seven months, and now that he’s gone I’d like to rent the room to a normal human being with actual senses, but how can I?! The smell! It’s everywhere! How do I get rid of it!?

One of my pet Clean Person tricks is to set out a bowl of white vinegar in a room that needs to be unsmokified; I generally don’t smoke in my home, but when I have friends over I often get drunk and permissible and let everyone (including myself) light up, so this is a thing that comes in pretty handy.

Depending on how bad things are with the room in question, you may want to wash the walls down with a water/vinegar solution in addition to setting out a couple of bowls of white vinegar. You’ll also want to remove and wash any blinds or draperies that might be holding onto the smoke smell. If you’ve got upholstered items that stink, try sprinkling a carpet cleaner on the surface and then going over it with a vacuum that’s been fitted with an upholstery attachment.

Opening the windows will help to keep the place from smelling like a Massengill factory.

Scenario: You’re traveling and only have, like, two outfits for a weekend, end up in a smoky hotel bar one night, and have to wear an article of clothing (a shirt or something) again the next day but you’re like, in a hotel. How can you best freshen it up?

A couple of thoughts before turning this one over to our esteemed commentariat for suggestions: Pack a stack of dryer sheets in your suitcase to keep things smelling fresh, and rub any smoke-smelling items with one or two of them to help remove the stench of your Parliaments. Febreze and Zero Odor market travel-sized spray bottles of their products, maybe pick one up and toss it in your luggage? If you’ve got a travel steamer, fill it with a white vinegar and water solution and give your clothes a once (or twice!) over. Et voila! Fresh smelling, wrinkle free garments.

Previously: Stovetops, Used Bike Shorts, and Yellowing Sheets.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Is anything you own dirty?

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