After air conditioner runs, an odor of cigarettes

By Alan J. Heavens / The Philadelphia Inquirer

Published Aug 5, 2014 at 12:02AM

Q: Over the last month, after running the air conditioner in my son’s room, we noticed that it smelled like an ashtray.

There is no hidden source, like a collection of cigarette butts in his room, so the logical thing was to clean the current air conditioner and see if it still smelled.

Long story short, we ran an ionizer in his room when he was at overnight camp and bought a new air conditioner.

After running the new air conditioner for two nights, the smell is back. The air conditioner must be drawing in smoke from the outside.

As far as we know, neither neighbor on either side smokes in the house, or in the back alley where cars are parked. Two doors down, there are smokers, and when we walk by the front of their house, it smells like an ashtray.

A: A while back, we had a similar situation — this one involving a central air-conditioning system, and the rowhouse neighbors actually did smoke.

Experts I consulted suggested reasons why this might be happening. One possibility: The smokers removed weatherstripping from the base of their bedroom door, and the smoke smell seeped through the gaps in the party wall into the adjacent house.

Your problem involves a window air conditioner and nonsmokers on both sides, however. I’m stumped.

I’ve noticed that when I’m driving on a hot summer day, and the air conditioning is running, and I pass someone smoking, I can smell tobacco, but the scent disappears rapidly.

Tobacco-smoke odor does linger, though — for years in a lot of cases. Maybe it is present in your son’s room, in the paint or the floor, and the air conditioning draws it out.

I’m just guessing. I’m hoping my experts can come up with something definitive.

Shower stalls

Here’s a cleaning tip that has worked for a Chicago reader.

“Use inexpensive shampoo on a rough washcloth or Dobie pad to gently clean shower doors while you’re in the shower. Squeaky-clean hair and glass at the same time.

“Smells good, too.”

— Contact: aheavens@phillynews.com.