Next Score View the next score

    Handyman on Call

    Clean, and clean again, to remove tobacco odor

    Q. I live in an 1848 house that reeks of smoke. My daughter lives with me, and smokes, although she does so only in the kitchen. How can I get rid of that odor? The original wallpaper is on the walls.

    Kate Ackerman, Marion


    A. Your problem is that you will never get rid of the smell as long as there is a source of the smoke. The fact that your daughter smokes only in the kitchen is helpful, and she should cooperate further by closing the doors and opening the windows, or install and operate an exhaust fan that blows outdoors.


     She smokes outdoors in good weather, which is a help. She could also buy Honeywell’s AirGenius 5, described as an air cleaner and odor reducer. She could also place bowls of vinegar in the kitchen, which reportedly kills the smoke.

    Get Talking Points in your inbox:
    An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

     The basics are to clean, and clean again, then wash, and wash again. First, remove the wallpaper. Then wash the walls to remove any paste. If the paste is difficult to remove, let it dry, then sand and rewash. If the odor penetrated the old wallpaper to the exposed walls, the walls must be washed.

     Wash everything: walls, woodwork, floors, and ceilings. Any detergent will work, but trisodium phosphate (TSP) is better in many cases, and so is any citrus cleaner, such as Citrus Green. For floors, a wet Swiffer is good. Clean all rugs, plus upholstered and wood furniture. Regular use of Febreze will help. One reader said that Room Shocker, placed in a closed room for 12 hours, will do wonders. On the net at

     After washing, repaint walls and ceilings with a flat latex wall paint and ceiling paint, woodwork with a latex primer-sealer and TWO coats of an eggshell finish latex paint.

    Q. I have a breezeway/entry room that has a door into the kitchen. This door swings into the kitchen, and conflicts with the refrigerator. Can I have this door swing outward into the breezeway, or is that against code?


    Eric Bennet, Wayland

    ERIC BENNET, Wayland

    A. I don’t think there are any rules prohibiting an outward-swinging door in a private dwelling. In fact, patio doors (not sliders), are made in- or out-swinging.

     There are many rules requiring outward-swinging doors in public buildings,implemented after the Cocoanut Grove fire which claimed about 500 lives in 1942. All doors in the nightclub in Boston were in-swinging, which prevented escape and caused most of those deaths. Check with your local building department on the codes and rules.

     Meanwhile, you can remount the door by changing the hinges and latch mechanism. I did this once and it turned out to be fairly easy, but fussy. And all I had to do is reverse the door.

    Q. The elevators in a 1963 apartment building are making intolerable knocks and groans every time they move. All apartments are involved. I and other residents called an inspector who found nothing amiss. What can we do?


    Going Bananas


    A. I think any corrections would have to be made by rebuilding the shaft and installing sound-deadening material. You can contact a sound or acoustical engineer to see if anything can be done.

    Q. The glass top on my table exploded into tiny little chips, for no reason. I can’t put a piece of plate glass on the table because I have children. Is there any reason the glass exploded?

    Miss Angry


    A. The glass is tempered, and is designed to break into many dull-edged shards if it is broken, hit hard, scraped, or cut. How it broke? Who knows? You can install a thick acrylic cover, or none at all.

    Q. My kitchen ceiling above the stove has gotten pretty oily and dirty from cooking, but I cannot clean it because the ceiling has a pattern of pointy bits of plaster that tears sponges when I clean it. How can I clean it? Also, nearby cabinet doors and frames gave gotten greasy.

    Sue Lee, Newton

    SUE LEE, Newton

    A. Your ceiling is called a pulled ceiling, created by the plasterer smoothing on plaster with a rectangular trowel, then pulling the trowel downward, creating lots of little points.

     To clean grease and oil, fill a paint tray with two quarts of water and 1/2 cup ammonia. Dip a long-nap roller in this solution and roll on the ceiling. Repeat as necessary. Ammonia is the best cutter of grease and oil. Wash the cabinets with a regular sponge in the same solution. Replace the ammonia mix often.

    Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to