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Thread: Getting rid of the tobacco smell from a used ukulele

  1. #1

    Default Getting rid of the tobacco smell from a used ukulele

    I bought a beautiful used vintage KoAloha ukulele on-line (not from UU) without being able to ask about smoke exposure history.

    After many attempts at getting rid of the tobacco smoke odor from the ukulele (and not just finally giving in and getting rid of it), I thought I'd pass along what seemed to work best.

    At least, for a while, filling the ukulele cavity with hamster chips (e.g. Cedar or similar) and leaving them in for a week or more seemed to work the best. Baking soda, Febreze, airing out the instrument in the fresh air outside and in the garage, filling the cavity with laundry fabric softener towelettes, and calling up KoAloha for suggestions were all unsuccessful.

    I still have to go back and repeat the hamster chip process every so often, but it's worth it, since it keeps the odor controlled for the longest time.

    Perhaps others have suggestions, if anyone else has ever experienced this problem.
    Last edited by bigbird1; 06-06-2014 at 06:29 AM.

  2. #2


    I bought a uke off of UU that reeked of tobacco when I got it. I tried leaving the case open for several days - no help. I sprayed the case lining with fabreze a couple of times and that helped. It took over a year but the odor is now completely gone. I couldn't even play the uke at first because the tobacco smell was so strong it made me gag.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    St. Paul, MN


    Charcoal works really well to remove odors. Activated charcoal (AKA activated carbon) is available in pet stores and industrial supply houses. This is the stuff used in a lot of air purifiers. If you can't get activated charcoal, try ordinary pulverized charcoal - just make sure it doesn't have any additives. Is doesn't cover the odor, it absorbs it. Smoke is made up of several carbon compounds, with trace amounts of other elements that bond with the smoke particles. These accumulate on the surface area of activated charcoal.
    Last edited by gnordenstam; 06-06-2014 at 06:53 AM.
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  4. #4
    Manalishi Guest


    I have read online that rice works too.Pour the rice inside the uke,
    leave for a couple of days then shake it all out.Repeat as needed.
    It is supposed to clear the smell in a few attempts.Never tried it but
    it allegedly does the trick!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    DFW, TX, USA


    Yes, don't forget the case! If you don't get the odor out of the case fabric it will be right back in the uke. Fabreze works well on cases. Don't forget that the outside of the uke - at least parts that don't have a heavy finish - will absorb odors, too. I have found that rubbing the outside, especially of unfinished or lightly finished wood, with a dryer sheet helps. Finally, I make "capsules" out of dryer sheets and put them inside the uke body. I fold up a dryer sheet into an envelope that I fill with baking soda and I slip that into the body, held in place by the strings.

    Finally, and perhaps most important, try to give both instrument and case as much "open air" time as you can. If you keep putting it back in a closed case the odor is going to keep coming back. Treat case and uke and leave them separate for as long as possible (obviously, depending on the humidity in your uke room).

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  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Central IL & Fox Valley, IL


    I had a stinky ukulele, tobacco, once. It as so foul that I had to either throw the uke away or take up smoking myself, one or the other.

    What did I do? After all else failed, same things OP tried, I squirted ladies' perfume inside the sound hole.

    After that it smelled like last call at the Regal Beagle, but at least I could put on my beer goggles and play the thing. A year later, all smells are gone.

    Next time, I'll try the Kingsford.

  7. #7
    RyanMFT Guest


    Quote Originally Posted by coolkayaker1 View Post
    the Regal Beagle
    Nice 80's TV reference there!

    To clarify "The Rice Trick", I have done it, several times. The first being to a vintage ukulele which had been in the home of a smoker for at least 25 years. This ukulele sat on it's back, likely on a shelf, not in a case. The soundboard and fretboard were covered with smoke, dust, black tar, and other cigarette horrors. I cleaned the outside but so much nastiness had settled inside with the sound hole facing up, that when I played and it vibrated, the stench came shooting out of the uke.

    I used plain, uncooked rice. Dumped a bunch inside, taped up the sound hole with blue painters tape, and then shook the ukulele around like crazy. It scoured the inside of that uke, and the white rice came out a disgustingly grey color. I did it twice more until the rice no longer was dirty. Smell is gone forever.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Tampa Bay, FL


    Wow, this is good to know! i'm really glad you got it clean. I'm allergic to cigarette smoke. It took time and effort, but hospice no longer makes me work around it. It almost took the hearing out of my left ear! My GF smokes, but never in front of me, or in our home. I think tobacco should be illegal, I've cared for so many people who died horrible lingering deaths from least meds and ukulele have helped them go peacefully....enjoy that great uke!
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  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Southern California


    My tuba case had a horrible smell (not tobacco) in it, and I packed it with newspapers which absorbed the smell. I suppose one could shred some newspaper and stuff it into the sound hole and leave it for a while. A lot of trouble, but it might work. I keep lots of little silica gell packets in it now, and the smell is gone.
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  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Minneapolis, MN, USA


    My case has taken on the mild scent of cat pee. There are four cats in the house and none have confessed. Strangely none of the other instrument cases in the house smell like this so it is some sort of vendetta between me and the cat population. I have put coffee beans and cedar chips in the case. None have exactly obliterated the odor, but have lessened it a bit.
    Last edited by Doug W; 06-22-2014 at 06:43 AM.
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