Maintenance DIY: Oak Cabinets and Cigarette Smoke
man painting a wall

3 minute read
Q: I am refurbishing a vacant apartment, and I’m unhappy with the bathroom cabinet. It is oak and in good shape, and I don’t want to replace it. Any pointers? 

A: We have just the thing for you if you don’t mind a little bit of work. We suggest painting the cabinet a solid color, but not just any solid color, nor white or off-white as typical. Paint the cabinet a bright color like green, red or yellow—any color that will match your current unit environment. Keep in mind that oak cabinets often have grain, and the grain will need to be filled in to have a smooth, good-looking finish. The easiest way to remove the visible grain is to fill it in with wall mud or joint compound. Apply the compound as thinly as possible and once the compound is dry, sand it off until you can see the wood again (use medium to fine grain sandpaper). The grain will be filled in, and the cabinet is now ready to paint. Painting can be done with a paint brush, roller or even a spray can with your choice of color. If spray painting, make sure to cover the floors, walls and countertops to avoid overspray. We suggest two or three coats, and the cabinet will look great. Don’t forget to upgrade your hardware to match your new, great-looking cabinet! This technique will also work with kitchen cabinets. 

Q: I have a vacant apartment that was long occupied by a heavy smoker. Every surface is sticky with brown nicotine, and the smell of smoke is overwhelming. How do I get rid of the smell and keep it from coming back? 

A: Cigarette smoke smell is extremely difficult to remove even after painting and cleaning the carpets. Chances are if the resident was long term, the carpets, drapes and blinds will need to be replaced. Remove the carpets, pad and tack strips. The tack strips are wood and can absorb and release the smell of smoke, urine, etc. Thoroughly clean the floors with soapy water mixed with bleach. After cleaning the floors, it is not a bad idea to paint or use a primer to coat the flooring. One of the best ways to remove the nicotine residue from the walls is using old-fashioned elbow grease. Again, wash the walls with soapy water using a brush or rag. Adding TSP (trisodium phosphate: a powdered cleaning solution available at most hardware stores) or using a degreasing agent will help in the cleaning. If you have flat ceilings, wash them too. If you have “acoustical” or “popcorn” ceilings, that’s a problem. By its nature, acoustical ceiling material cannot be cleaned. Encapsulating the acoustical ceiling with spray paint may solve the problem. You will need a primer coat and a minimum of two coats of paint. If the smell is still present, give it another coat of paint and let the unit air as much as possible. Don’t forget to wash the windows and window frames. You will be amazed at how clean the aluminum or vinyl windows will look after a good cleaning.   


Do you have DIY maintenance questions? Send them to [email protected]