We all love the aroma of a good cigar … but when the smell lingers longer than we’d like, it’s time to find a cure that will remove that smoky smell from our clothes or car, and make them fresh and presentable. The good news: if you search online for a home remedy, you’ll find plenty of them. The bad news: they probably won’t work. Before we try removing that leftover smoke odor, we should first understand why cigar smoke makes our belongings smell – and that’s by examining the smoke itself. Smoke is the result of the incomplete combustion of tobacco, consisting mainly of water, oils, and ash. Ash is particularly interesting: it’s not a by-product of burning, but actually the non-combustible mineral components of the tobacco, like magnesium and potassium. These very fine particles cling together until you knock them off into the ashtray; they also cling well to your shirt, as you can see by the mark those dropped ashes leave behind (no matter how hard you try to brush them off).
The residual oils and ash particles released into the air are what smell – so whether you’re frying fish, cutting grass, or smoking cigars, as long as these particulates remain trapped in the weave of your clothes, they’re still emitting an odor.
Time to get Fresh
As I mentioned, there is no shortage of life hacks and home remedies for fabrics that smell like smoke, and they can get pretty weird. I read a recommendation to pre-treat your clothing with olive oil to loosen the ash; another suggested mixing two cups of Scope mouthwash into the laundry load. Someone else prescribed spraying your smoky clothes with a 50/50 solution of vodka and water, or putting them in contact with a sachet of used coffee grounds. I asked Buddy, my local dry cleaner, about these remedies: “I wouldn’t recommend any of these. At worst, you could ruin the fabric; at best, you’ll smell like you spilled vodka or coffee in your ashtray,” he said.
To remove odors, fire restoration companies will often use an ozone chamber to break down the oils and loosen the ash particles by bombarding the affected materials with O3 – not very practical for freshening your guayabera or your station wagon, however. In the case of your clothes, as much as you’re tempted, don’t throw the offending garments straight in the wash: a wash cycle will loosen some of the smoke particles from your shirt, but may end up sullying the whole load of clothes (or the machine) with particulates left in the water. It’s best to remove as much smoke residue as possible before cleaning.
You’ll need: garment steamer, garment bristle brush.
Step 1: Hang your shirt (or other offending garment) in fresh air, and under cover. If it’s your car, open the windows.
Step 2: Brush the cloth thoroughly; this will loosen the smoke particles trapped in the fibers.
Step 3: Steam the fabric, front and back. Repeat steps 2 and 3. Then, leave your shirt hanging in fresh air for a full day. By then, you should notice that you’ve removed most (if not all) of the smell. Then wash them – or send to your dry cleaner.
Dry Clean Only?
Non-washable fabrics will need a dry, delicate touch. Because dryer sheets and sprays usually just mask the smell of smoke, baking soda and a vacuum will be better friends to your fabrics.
You’ll need: a box of baking soda, a heavy-duty vacuum.
Step 1: Sprinkle baking soda across the surface of the fabric, and let it sit for 24 to 48 hours.
Step 2: Go outside, and shake off any loose baking soda.
Step 3: Vacuum away the remaining baking soda. Try not to press the vacuum nozzle into the fabric, which may grind the particles deeper into the cloth. Repeat all three steps until the fabric is freshened. For auto upholstery, you’ll obviously skip step 2.
It’s not so much that the baking soda absorbs (or more accurately, adsorbs) the odor – it’s that it gives the smoke particles something to cling to before they’re removed by the vacuum. Two commercially available products that may also help you:
The active ingredient in Febreze is cyclodextrin, whose molecular shape is similar to a donut. When you spray Febreze, the odor-causing particle is trapped inside the donut “hole,” and prevented from reaching your odor receptors. “As Febreze dries,” writes chemist Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine on thoughtco.com, “more and more of the odor molecules bind to the cyclodextrin, lowering the concentration of the molecules in air and eliminating the odor.” Then, the particles can be washed away.
A proprietary, natural crystalline deodorant powder that can be added to your ashtray to curb the smoke smell, replacing it with a fresh aroma. It’s can also be used in the same manner as baking soda (above).
If your car has a leather interior, or your leather jacket has retained “that Partagás smell” for too long – a profession- algrade leather cleaner should do the trick. Just remember: always follow the fabric’s cleaning and care instructions, always test on an inconspicuous spot of the fabric, and when in doubt, consult a professional cleaner.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2018. Read more