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Home » The Vine

The Vine: May 29, 2009

Submitted by on May 29, 2009 – 9:37 AM37 Comments

Hi Sars,

My new downstairs neighbors smoke and I'm very sensitive to it. In addition, the building I live in is VERY dusty. Therefore, I'm interested in purchasing an air purifier of some kind — but I have NO idea what kind to get.

I know they can be both loud and expensive — I'd like to find something reasonably priced that's not too loud (if such a thing exists). Any ideas?

Also — if you have any suggestions about dealing with smokers in the building (especially when some of the smoke ends up in your apartment), that would be greatly appreciated as well.


Dear Allison,

I'll let the readers handle the air-purifier question, as my idea of an air purifier is the cheapest possible oscillating fan at the dollar store.

As far as dealing with smokers, if smoke is getting into your apartment, you should mention that to the neighbors and ask if they'd mind stepping outside with their cigarettes.Certainly if they use common areas in the building, that needs to stop, but if they're inside their own apartment, there may not be much you can do besides a polite request for them to go outdoors, coupled with mentioning it to the landlord or management company.

Not that they could necessarily do much about it either, but you could leverage the livability issue into getting them to pay for part or all of the air purifier.

Let's see what the readers think.

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  • Arlene says:

    I wouldn't mention it to the neighbors at all. Assuming you don't live in a smoke-free building complex, they are well within their rights to smoke inside their own home (assuming they aren't doing so in common areas as Sars mentioned). Asking them to alter their (rightful) behavior to benefit you may result in resentment and some dirty looks. As a smoker who can barely smoke anywhere anymore except inside my own home, I imagine this would be my reaction, anyway. It couldn't hurt to mention it to your landlord, however, and see if they might comp you for the cost of the air purifier.

  • scienceiscool says:

    I agree with Arlene – it's the neighbors' right to smoke in their apartment. If they, say, smoke on their balcony and the smoke comes up into your windows, you might politely inquire about the possibility of changing their habits, but they have no obligation to do so.

    If the smoke from their apartment permeates yours, it's your landlord's responsibility to make your space livable. Some apartment buildings have ventilation systems which circulate between units, or there might be a draft somewhere. You should bring up the problem to the landlord, with purchasing an air purifier as a possible compromise.

  • Cori says:

    If at all possible, get an air purifier with a reusable/washable filter. My air purifier has been discontinued, and filters are now impossible to find.

  • Karen says:

    We have had good luck with the Hunter QuietFlo:
    The filters are super easy to change and do not need to be changed all that often. Not sure what you concider too expensive, but we found this model and filters to be reasonable. It's also quite, the mid level setting results in nothing more than a low hum.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    You say that the building is old and "VERY dusty". If you would be buying the air purifier for that reason anyways, dragging the neighbors who are doing absolutely nothing wrong into it is ridiculous. Otherwise, see if management will help with the cost.

    If you really can't handle smoke, find a smoke-free rental complex or a single family place. Keep your problems your problems.

  • Cyntada says:

    Sheesh. I once lived in a ground-floor apartment next to smokers who *only* smoked outdoors… resulting in smoke that blew directly in my window on the prevailing winds. And? That was one of very few windows in the apartment, so on hot days it was swelter city in there. I could choose between "refreshing" sea breezes with wafting smoke, or rigging a series of fans trying to cycle fresh air in and out of the same patio door. Good times.

    And if the neighbors ever *did* light up in their apartment, the smoke came right into mine through the stove hood, because my unit and theirs shared a common air duct. No-win situation. We finally moved to a carriage unit in the same complex. Manager normally didn't approve people "downgrading" to a smaller unit, but in light of the smoke and neighbor issues he made an exception for us. Fresh sea breezes and being upstairs away from passers-by staring in our windows was so worth giving up a bathroom and a "backyard." The rent was cheaper too!

    Since moving is probably not an option though, I recommend Amazon for a purifier. Even if you buy it locally, the reviews there are invaluable for making the right decision.

  • Linda says:

    It's all well and good to say they're within their rights to smoke inside their own home. But I'm well within my rights to listen to music in my own home as well, and I still understand that my activities have to be show consideration to my neighbors. When your music or your smoke (or your tapdancing or your burning of incense) is bothering your neighbors and affecting their ability to live comfortably, I can't understand why you'd be entitled to shoot them dirty looks or be resentful just because they tell you it's happening.

    If it's a smoke-free building, then you have an enforceable right to make them stop. But if it's not, you are in the same position that neighbors are always in, which is that when someone else's exercise of their free choice is making life unpleasant for a neighbor, you can politely ask if they'd be willing to compromise. There's no special smoking exception that means it's a resentment-worthy offense to mention it, any more than it would be with incense or whatever.

    In my experience, many smokers are very considerate to the absolute best of their ability, and the LW's neighbors may very well not even know the smoke is escaping the apartment. You can't make the person stop, but I'd treat it like any other neighborly inquiry about how to share space so everyone can live comfortably.

  • Rob says:

    Austin Air Filters; I have one — there are a lot of different kinds. Check them out at You can dial it up to different settings: the lowest settings are very quiet; I keep mine on the highest — it's "white noise" which I find helps me get to sleep (it's in my bedroom.) You can read about the specs on the site — you can order them from various places online (not directly from Austin Air, I don't think, but they have a list of dealers.)

  • Rob says:

    … sorry, I should add: I'm not sure what qualifies as expensive for the poster's particular budget … some of the sizes of the Austin Air machines can get pricey, but the smaller ones aren't too bad, and when you figure that the filters are designed to last for years, they aren't soaking you on buying filters constantly. Like most things, you get what you pay for… some machines which are cheaper don't work as well, have you buying filters all the time, or break.

  • Krissa says:

    Oh, I don't know – if your downstairs neighbors were (rightfully) listening to music, but it was too loud, you'd say something – well, I would. I hate being forced to listen to someone else's base. So yes, they are allowed to smoke in the apartment (we're assuming), but they should also be making every effort to make it as unobtrusive as possible. (By which I mean keeping a window open while they light up, not leaving dirty ashtrays everywhere, taking out the trash with great regularity, etc.)
    I would speak to the management about the ventilation, mention that the smoke stack from downstairs seems to enter your living room at some point, and if they can't do anything about it, then I would take it to the neighbors in the most polite and apologetic manner possible.
    AND, as you say, get some sort of air purifier – which I cannot help with. I'm standing with Julia Roberts in front of that oscillating fan Sars mentioned.

  • Katxena says:

    While there aren't any states in the US that have smoke-free apartment laws, in some communities, local environmental safety laws sometimes apply to second-hand (from other people's cigarettes) and even third-hand (embedded in paint or other building materials) smoke in high-density housing like apartments and condos. There are many organizations active in this area, with resources available to help tenants deal with landlords and neighbors. If you are in the US, try googling "smoke-free apartments" and the name of your state or city and see what you can find. At the very least, you should be able to break your lease with no penalty (due to the environmental hazard your neighbors are creating) and move to smoke-free housing, should you choose to do so.

    As for air purifiers, I have moderate hay fever and dust allergies, and I've tried several. I think they are all crap, regardless of price point or quality claims. Most allergens are only a problem when they are in the air, and most air purifiers stir up more allergens than they clean from the air. I hired a house cleaning service that cleans on days I am out of the house, which is a much better solution for me.

  • Kathryn says:

    When I go to stores that have display models of air-purifiers running I notice that they seem to have an odd smell about them. Something like plastic, or ozone, but also weirdly organic. I don't have any smokers nearby, so the only reason I'd get a purifier is to improve the air quality in my house, and to make it smell fresher. Buying something that's going to add MORE smells seems counter-productive. Does anyone know if all air-purifiers have this problem, or is it just the ionic ones?

  • Leia says:

    Are they smoking in the bathroom with the bathroom vent/fan on? In my mom's townhouse, when her downstairs neighbor smokes (or, I think when he has people over that smoke), it seems to come right through the bathroom vent. They turn on the vent and if just rolls right into her floor. Even if she turns on her vent too, the smoke lingers. Of course, if they smoke outside on the patio, then she can open her patio/bedroom window because it rolls right in there too. So…lose/lose.

    I would double check the lease. Any smoking rules (probably not, but maybe)? If you can hear the bathroom vent going while they smoke, maybe have a chat with them and be like, "Man, this place is built like crap and when people smoke and try to vent it using the bathroom fan, it just rolls into the next place" (try to blame the building, don't yell at them for smoking. Ask if they could consider cracking a window or something instead. Or maybe you could go straight to the landlord first, but I don't know if you can fix the vent situation without a tear out.

    If its the regular wall vents…well…then you're back to the air purifier.

    I have friends that got a round HEPA filter for my SO when he comes over to their house. He's allergic to cats. So they turn it on and run it off and on to clean the air. They just have it in their basement. Its a portly little thing. He claims that it helps. It looks rather like this: Of course, that's cats and general basement, not dust and smoke.

  • Margravine says:

    I second the recommendation fpr Hunter Air Filters. I have 3 and they're magnificent. They've helped a great deal with seasonal and cat allergies in my house. Just make sure you get the right size for the room it's going in.

    The main filters need replacing about once a year. The carbon pre-filters (which do the main de-stinking duty while the filter grabs allergens) need replacing more often and you can buy big sheets of universal carbon pre-filter material for much less than the brand name costs and cut it to shape.

  • Kris says:

    Sure, if your neighbors were blasting their music too loud, you'd be in the right when complaining. But if they're playing the radio softly, and you're bothered by it because there's no sound insulation between your apartments, that's a building issue, not a neighbor issue. I think that smoke is the same. If you're going to complain to anyone, complain to the landlord (you probably won't get much satisfaction, though).

    I would probably not say anything to the neighbors at all. If you ever want to open a window in the summer, you don't want them smoking outside, or with their windows open, anyhow!

  • Vanessa says:

    When I first read this letter, I got the impression Allison was feeling more tolerant about the smoking/dust issue than a lot of the responses to the letter have been. I am a smoker who smokes in my house. I was a renter who smoked in my apartment for years. I probably annoyed someone, but no one ever mentioned it. Rather than arguing about what you have the right to do as a smoker/nonsmoker, what strikes me is that most people don't know the mechanics of where the smoke goes to or is coming from and how to minimize the smoke transfer between one apartment and another.

    Maybe Allison could ask her downstairs neighbors if they could figure it out together? If they discover that the transfer takes place primarily in the kitchen vent, maybe the neighbors would be willing to not smoke in the kitchen.

    To those who rent and are non-smokers, smokers can get irrational when asked not to smoke in their own homes, renters or not. You may have the right to ask for them not to do something, but it is an addiction. We can't smoke anywhere else these days and cigarettes are legal. The difference between loud music and cigarette smoke is there are noise ordinances but no "smoking in my home" ordinances anywhere I've ever lived. Basically, if you ask me not to smoke in my house because it bothers you, don't be surprised if it pisses me off. But I'd be pretty happy to compromise so we could both enjoy our apartments.

  • Linda says:

    "But if they're playing the radio softly, and you're bothered by it because there's no sound insulation between your apartments, that's a building issue, not a neighbor issue."

    Nevertheless, if I lived in a building with thin walls, I would try — *try* — to be sensitive to the fact that the walls were thin. I just don't really…I don't grasp the offense in asking. As other people have pointed out, maybe emptying the ashtrays more often would help. Maybe they smoke in the bathroom or the kitchen and the vents are affecting it. There are things that might not be all that inconvenient that would help solve the problem. Small change for you; big change for them.

    I think the healthiest approach is to thoroughly understand what you are and are not legally entitled to, but also to be open to asking and being asked about ways to avoid making other people uncomfortable. You don't have to prevent every problem, and just as you have to be considerate, your neighbors have to understand that life in an apartment is never perfect and they can't expect to never notice anything you're doing. But if you could do some relatively minor thing that would really help your neighbors be more comfortable, why wouldn't you want to? And you're never going to know unless they let you know the problem exists.

  • amy says:

    Funny, my husband and I just had this discussion this very morning!

    Our upstairs-condo-neighbors smoke in their condo and the smell comes straight through the vents into ours. Ditto the across-the-greenway-neighbors who smoke on their back patio which therefore funnels their smoke directly into our (one and only) window. It's soooo frustrating, but as I told him – we can't really ask them (a) not to smoke in their own homes or (b) on their own patios. So it's just another reason, in the lonnnng list of reasons, to hope that this housing market turns its ass around so we can sell this place and move into A Real House with A Real Yard.

  • Cij says:

    I used Friedrich Air Filter for awhile- it sounds a bit like an air conditioner and it wasn't cheap, but it really helped me conquer the dust problem- and the occasional smoke that comes from my neighbor when he had a party. I bought it because Consumer Reports gave it a good review, so I would check with Consumer Reports when you are shopping.

  • April says:

    I'm happy with my Holmes HEPA air purifier. I don't know the model offhand, but this one looks about right: I got mine when I adopted my cat, and it's done wonders for keeping my allergies under control.

    It's only loud when I turn it up to max (which, OK, I'm a bad housekeeper and I do that all the time) but even then it's a bit quieter than a fan. I paid $129 for it and it works for my entire living/dining room. If you want something to work for a large room, you'll probably have to pay $100-150. If it's just for a bedroom, you can get away with a small one that costs about $75 or so.

  • Kristen says:

    The HEPA (high-efficiency particular air) filters are probably the best choice for your health. Be aware that certain components may require cleaning and/or replacement in order to maintain effectiveness. The "ozone" type have been shown to aggravate some asthma and other lung disorders; many ionizing air "purifiers" have been recalled for this reason.
    Link to American Lung Association summary of air filters:
    Good luck.

  • Bev says:

    I have used the sort of large electrostatic air purifier that Sharper Image sold. It does produce a bit of ozone, which, luckily is a smell I like. works great for cigarette smoke and allergens, but not well at all on basic dust. You rinse the filter, so you don't have to replace it. They might be cheap on ebay.

    Some people with asthma have trouble with the ozone producing air purifiers. I have asthma, and this has not been a problem for me. but it might be a problem for you.

    Since I have had problems with allergens, cigarette smoke, and dust – i have to tell you…
    one purifier/filter can handle the first 2, but you need a different size filter to handle dust.

  • Jane says:

    If you are going to talk to them, I think Leia has the best approach, because it is really the building's problem, and this way you're making it clear that you're trying to use the building, not them, to fix it. Though I'm a nonsmoker, I probably wouldn't bring this up with the other tenants myself, unless I already had at least a hall-nodding acquaintanceship with them; I think the resemblance is less to playing music than to cooking stuff that the upstairs neighbors don't like the smell of, and that's a tricky, tricky area.

    Consumer Reports likes the Hunter pretty well, and the Whirlpool and Kenmore a little better than that.

  • Jo says:

    I'm a non-smoker who's always kept my mouth shut about the neighbors' smoking, but I think there's a difference between someone who just dislikes the smell/risk of second-hand smoke and someone with major allergies or asthma. If it's making you physically sick on a daily basis, I think you should mention it to the landlord. Of course people should have the right to smoke in their own homes, but you know what? People have the right to NOT breathe polluted air as well and there's got to be a compromise.

    I have an asthmatic cat, and I had something similar to this to help with his allergies. Mine was quiet and the air it blew back out was cool enough that it felt like a fan: /dp/B000PX0O9O/sr=1-7/qid=1243653834/ref=sr_1_7 /188-9769006-8344345?ie=UTF8&frombrowse=0& index=target&rh=k%3Aair%20purifier&page=1

  • Mary says:

    We had this problem in the high-rise condo we lived in a few years ago. I'm highly allergic to cigarette smoke and was sick constantly from the neighbour's smoke (a chain smoker, as luck would have it). We could not use our balcony much because of it.

    The second day after I moved in, the air got cloudy in our apartment from the smoke. I never talked to her; it was not a non-smoking building and frankly I couldn't see what that would accomplish. At best I'd have made her feel guilty for doing something perfectly legal if totally obnoxious. I couldn't think of a change in her behaviour that would help particularly – asking her to only smoke outside would have been a BIG request given our climate, even forgetting about the fact that as a chain smoker smoking only outside would mean living on her balcony. And asking her to quit for my health seemed presumptuous – presumably if it were that easy she would not have been smoking to that degree in the first place.

    At worst I would have made an enemy of my neighbour and there are thousands of ways she could have made my life more miserable. I have noticed that many smokers will go out of their way to be obnoxious when asked to tone it down because they are making others sick (true for perfume wearers too – but I digress). Eg Someone smoking upwind at a bus stop? I'll try to move upwind rather than asking them to move downwind. A small thing, but about 80% of smokers when asked to move downwind will make a production about blowing smoke deliberately in my direction.

    Anyway, we installed an air purifier and sealed the heck out of our place, especially common walls. Silicone along baseboards, foam behind every lightswitch and outlet, and practically every kind of foam and sealing solutions for the door. When you opened the door there was a "whoosh" sound and you had to step over a rubber stopper which pressed against the bottom of the door but it was a major improvement.

    The building helped to the point of installing part of the sealing on our door and the neighbour's door.

    We got it to the point where there was no air coming into the apartment at all from the hall or obvious entrypoints, but we still got some along electrical wires etc. So we ended up moving.

  • Shan says:

    Although I don't smoke, I know lots of smokers, and they are very defensive about their gradual loss of places that they can smoke. I also think the comparison people have made to this being more like a cooking smell intruding in your apartment (as opposed to this being like your neighbor listening to the TV too loud) is completely appropriate. It would be unreasonable to tell your neighbor that you can smell their cooking, because it implies that you want them to stop cooking inside their home. The smokers I know find it just as offensive to be asked to smoke outside of their homes.

    When people ask smokers to smoke outside, they are asking them to do something that is part of their daily life in the heat, or the cold, or the rain. It's degrading to be told over and over that you ought to suffer in the elements because of your habit.

    This seems like a building problem, not a neighbor problem. If I were in the same situation, I'd take it straight to the landlord.

  • MoonLoon says:

    With regards to the comments about smoking invading someone else's space, in the same way loud music would, I'm with Kris above – smoke can and should be contained within the neighbour's own home, so it's a building issue, NOT a consideration-of-others issue.

    Cooking certain ethnic foods, or meat, can be very offensive to some people, but no-one would try to enforce a change of diet on their neighbours because of it – the answer would be to fix the way the odours are coming through.

    I suspect an element of unconscious moral judgement here in some comments, including, dare I say, it, Sar's reply – but you know, they are adults in a free country, they pay the same rent as you do, and they can make their own choices without anyone else having to like them.

    I mention that because, as a lifelong non-smoker whose loved ones smoke, I get to see both sides of the issue, and the ongoing intrusions into smokers' lives horrify me – it's not like they've somehow missed the issues, and unless we want a (health-)police state, people are going to do what they choose to do.

    All of which I mean far less rant-y than it probably reads!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Let's not turn this into a caucus on smokers' rights. Lord knows I'm the last person who's going to judge anyone for smoking inside, but the issue is how a smoker and a non-smoker can work together to address the issue of the smoke going where it shouldn't. Nobody's "telling" anyone to do anything; they're sharing information. Pretty sure everyone's on the same side here.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    "So it's just another reason, in the lonnnng list of reasons, to hope that this housing market turns its ass around so we can sell this place and move into A Real House with A Real Yard."
    I live in a Real House with a Real Yard and I can still smell my smoker neighbors. They won't smoke in thier own home so they stand outside. Sometimes they stink. I used to smoke, I used to stink too. Oh well. I figure it's my turn to put up with it. Life is never perfect.

    Have you tried Ozium? (The unscented stuff is best, IMHO.) Good luck.

  • MoonLoon says:

    Yes we are (on the same side, I mean) but – their home? I wouldn't want to have to carry out whaveter is unfashionable next year outside my home.

    (Unless it's pay-per-view!)

    Back on a serious note, maybe we need to have landlords 1. properly insulating places and 2. people who want smoker-friendly homes, actually getting up and making that happen. And 3. ditto the smoke free people. Like I said, it's easy for strong opinions on this to come over as rants, when really all anyone but the health police want is for us all to feel great about how we live in our homes.

    So I'll shut up now! ;)

  • Cate says:

    In a previous apartment, I only smoked on my patio (my grandmother burned her house down with a cigarette, so smoking inside terrifies me) and my upstairs neighbor told me I'd have to start smoking inside because it was coming in his patio door. I tried suggesting he put a fan in the door to blow the smoke away from his space, but he went off on a rant about how much longer he'd lived there, how he shouldn't have to change his lifestyle, etc. I would have worked with him to find a solution, this side of the patio versus that side, going around the corner on windy days, if he hadn't tried to intimidate and boss me.

    So making requests for small adjustments is fine, trying to make someone else feel responsible for your problem is the wrong tone to take. Maybe offer to buy them a window fan that will direct much of the smoke outside for a wall where you'll keep your own window closed?

  • Pandy says:

    I think one standard for establishing a nuisance in a multi-unit environment is whether it affects more than one unit. Although this typically applies to noise, you might want to find out if any of your other neighbors are bothered by the smoke. I realize this is a longshot, but if someone else is bothered by this, you have a better case to present to your landlord to do something about it, re: better insulation, ventilation, etc.

  • Linda says:

    "I wouldn't want to have to carry out whaveter is unfashionable next year outside my home."

    I do see both sides of "talk to the landlord" versus "talk to the neighbor," but I think it's unduly optimistic to hope that smoking is something your neighbors dislike simply because it's "unfashionable." It makes people other than the smoker sick, it aggravates asthma, it gets in the carpets and curtains and clothes, and stale smoke makes it smell like your apartment is musty and dirty all the time.

    It's one thing to say it's a landlord problem and not a neighbor problem, and I get that, and that's a completely fair perspective. But it's another thing to believe that it's not a problem at all except in the sense that there's a fad where people don't want their apartment to smell like other people's smoke. In my experience, other people's ethnic food has never made my carpets persistently smelly, required me to have my clothes specially dry-cleaned, or settled in my hair simply because I'm nearby. In my experience, you can go to an Indian restaurant and still wear your coat the next day without people knowing; if you go to a smoky restaurant, your coat will smell like smoke until it's cleaned.

    Like I said, whose problem it is I think is up for a totally fair debate, but treating it like it doesn't actually affect anyone else's enjoyment of their apartment and they're just picking on you to be cool is, I think, not that helpful.

  • Bria says:

    Heh, Linda – you are clearly not frequenting Korean BBQ establishments often enough. That stuff will stick with your clothes, hair, purse, whatever until cleaned.

    In defense of the speaking to the neighbors idea, let me just add this. Parties, speaker-shredding music, indoor bonfires…there are things that obviously intrude upon neighboring apartments. But there are so many other things – like cigarette smoke – that can be hard to pin down as intrusive or not. Rightly or wrongly, it's reasonable to believe that if you've never had a complaint, it isn't a problem. No one can read minds; there's just no way for an indoor smoker to figure out to what extent, if any, their smoking affects other dwellings without being told. If Allison wants their help with any part of this, she's got to go talk to them.

  • TashiAnn says:

    In the print edition of the Washington Post yesterday Miss. Manners answered this very question. The solution that worked for the reader was to place 5 open boxes of baking soda around the apartment, near the doors and vents. The writer said that after a few days it worked.

  • Pam says:

    One suggestion I have not seen is maybe (and I know they aren't cheap) is to buy the neighbors an air purifier along with one for you so that at least the amount of smoke entering your apartment is considerably cut back.

    Make friends, maybe offer to help a little with the upkeep.

    We smokers aren't all evil and would like to compromise as much as possible to make living around up pleasant for everyone.

    People I used to work with were even nice enough to ask if I would like to sit in the smoking section at restaurants (when they still had them). They finally quit asking when they realized I could make it through the ride there, lunch and the ride back without a ciggie.

  • janet says:

    I am a smoker, but not a chain smoker, that just recently moved into my apartment. My upstairs neighbor (the lady) asked me nicely if I could not blow smoke up into her apartment cause it was driving her nuts. So I agreed and made accomodations to lessen the smoke going out. the other day my jack russell ran out to the patio to bark at a cat and I had a cigarette in my mouth as I ran out to get him. Some smoke went up into the neighbor's apartment and her boyfriend, really rudely, told me to stop smoking because it stinks. I wanted to tell him a million things because it was offensive. Not the way to go about it. So really the best approach is to just ask nicely. Smokers will make accomodations, afterall we were non smokers once too.

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