How To Clean Cigarette Smoke and Nicotine from Walls

Cigarette smoke isn’t just bad for your health; it can cause tar and nicotine stains on walls and just about anything else it comes into prolonged contact with. Tar and nicotine stains hold the stale odor of cigarettes, so cleaning them is the most effective way to eliminate cigarette smoke smell in a room. We’ll show you the steps to clean cigarette smoke and nicotine off walls.

Ashtray with burning cigarettes next to person working on computer. Smoking indoors could lead to a need for cleaning smoke stains off walls.

How to Clean Smoke Stains Off of Walls

Removing nicotine stains can be challenging, especially if the room has been smoked in for a long time. You may need to repeat these steps over a few days. Are the walls still stained? Hang in there. Even if you’re not seeing much progress, these cleaning steps will still be required if you want to paint over the stains.

Vacuuming

Begin by lightly cleaning the walls with a vacuum and an upholstery brush attachment. This will help remove any loose debris. 

Cleaning

Make a cleaning solution with one gallon of hot water, three tablespoons of dish soap, and a half cup of baking soda. Use a rag to scrub the walls with this solution. Work in small sections, and dry each area of the wall with a cloth right afterward to prevent the drywall from becoming saturated.

Another option is to pour a cup of undiluted vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar), lemon juice, or ammonia into a spray bottle. Put on gloves and protective eyewear, open your windows, and/or use a fan to encourage ventilation. Important: These safety measures are critical when using ammonia, which is dangerous to inhale and causes skin and eye irritation.

Spray your chosen solution on the wall, and use a sponge to scrub the stains. Once finished with your initial cleanse, rinse the sponge in fresh water, wring it out and wipe the walls down with clean water. Dry the walls as you go to prevent water damage to the drywall.

If the nicotine stains are nasty, you may need to repeat this process. Removing deep-set cigarette tar and nicotine stains can take time, but perseverance will pay off. Start by removing any removable fixtures from the wall. This includes switch plates, light switches, outlet covers, vent screens, and radiator covers. Use a paint scraper to remove as much of the nicotine and tar stains as possible from behind these pieces.

For adamant stains, try using a mixture of 1/4 cup salt and about one-quart warm water. After covering the area with this solution, use a clean rag to gently scrub and remove the stain and buildup. If scrubbing doesn’t altogether remove the residue from the wall, put some baking soda on another piece of clean cloth or on a cotton swab to wipe away any remaining grime. Once all stains are removed, your walls should be as good as new.

If you are really having a tough time removing the smell attached to these stains, try spraying the area with a mix of 1/4 cup vodka and 2 cups of warm water immediately after cleaning the area. Allow this mixture to dry completely before allowing any people or pets in the room. Once dried, you may still notice a faint odor of cigarettes in the air, but it should dissipate over time, if caught early enough. 

Smoke in home. It's hard to clean smoke off walls.

Sanding

Removing cigarette smoke and tar stains from textured walls like those commonly found in popcorn ceilings can be tricky. Using a drywall sander with fine-grit paper will make your work more manageable; however, this process may damage or discolor the ceiling’s surface. If you don’t want to take that risk, try using an adhesive remover to dissolve the tar and nicotine stains first before scrubbing them with your cleaning solution and rinsing it away.

Repainting

If the smell remains after attempting these two methods, you may need to repaint the affected areas and consider replacing carpeting or drapes. Although it still may not remove the odor altogether, paint can sometimes help cover up severe cigarette smoke odor and nicotine stains.

Walls painted with latex paint usually come out looking just fine after removing nicotine and tar stains, but if you’ve got a wall painted with oil-based paint, it may turn a darker color when you remove the tar and nicotine stains. In this case, try painting over the stain with an exterior latex primer before repainting your walls in a lighter shade of your choosing.

When it’s time to paint, you can use a primer specifically designed for this purpose. It will help create a neutral base coat covering most stains and repelling nicotine from future cigarette smoke. 
If none of the methods described above work for your particular situation, you can always consult a professional drywall contractor for help. Many local hardware stores offer free consultations from contractors to show you how they would restore your walls to their former glory. 

Prevent Future Smoke Stains

Replacing carpets or drapes is a good idea if the damage is just too much, due to their cigarette exposure. If you’re looking for new carpeting or drapery, consider purchasing those that have been treated with special fire-resistant chemicals, which will help prevent your walls from being damaged again in future smoking incidents.

Lastly, to avoid staining your walls again, make sure to prevent cigarette smoke from entering the room. This can be done by closing windows and doors when smoking indoors or considering alternative smoking methods such as using an e-cigarette. Also, remember to regularly dispose of ashtrays full of cigarette butts after smoking indoors.

Contact PuroClean For Professional Solutions For Soot and Smoke Removal

As with the walls themselves, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution that works for all types of surfaces or finishes in your home. However, with a little bit of elbow grease and some patience, you can get your walls back to their natural state in no time!

Suppose the smoke damage is too much, or you are not successfully cleaning smoke off walls on your own. In that case, you can turn to more professional alternatives, such as contacting your local PuroClean office for smoke and fire damage restoration services.

Last edited on 12th of January 2022

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