Can You Paint Over Cigarette Smoke on Walls?

Smoking indoors can leave walls looking – and smelling – a little less than pleasant.

Nicotine penetrates through the paint and soaks into the pores of drywall, which can leave the walls stained and can cause strong odors.

Repainting your walls is the only option when it comes to heavy cigarette smoke stains.

However, before doing this you’ll need to clean and prepare the walls properly, otherwise, you risk smoke and nicotine bleeding through the new layer of paint.

  • You’ll need to wash the walls with an aggressive cleaner, such as a solution of trisodium phosphate, or TSP, and warm water (don’t forget to wear rubber gloves). You’ll also need a second bucket of clean, warm rinse water.
  • Soak a large sponge in the TSP solution and use this to clean the walls.
  • Rinse the sponge in the clean bucket of water as needed, and when the water becomes brown, prepare a new bucket. Rinse the walls with clean water and leave them to dry completely.
  • After you’ve washed the walls and they’re dry, you can then coat them with a stain-blocking primer (scroll down for our best pick) to ensure that any stubborn cigarette stains don’t creep through later.
  • Once the primer is dry, and you’ve applied the specified amount of coats as per the manufacturer’s instructions, then you can paint your walls. We recommend two coats of top-quality latex paint to get the walls looking, and smelling, their best.

Can you paint without washing walls with nicotine on them?

Essentially you can just paint over the stains, but this isn’t recommended, as without removing the nicotine there’s a high chance that it’ll just bleed through the new layer of paint.

This will leave you with more work to do later on, so why not just save yourself the hassle and thoroughly clean the walls before you apply a primer and new coat of paint?

This will ensure that any stains are removed, and will also eliminate the smell of the nicotine.

What is the best primer for cigarette smoke?

By this point, you’ll be well aware that you need to apply a primer to block out the sight – and smell – of nicotine stains, however, it’s essential to use a specific kind of primer, and not just a standard one from the hardware store. These are usually water-based, meaning water vapor and cigarette odors will pass through them.

For cigarette stains, you need something stronger that will act as a barrier.

A shellac-based primer is your best bet, such as the Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Based primer.

This is a high hiding, bright white primer sealer which has ultimate stain blocking power for water stains, rust stains, graffiti, crayon, and grease, as well as superior odor-blocking for smoke, cigar and cigarettes, pets, and food.

An oil-based primer will also get the job done, but as we said, avoid the water-based ones. You should also avoid using products that claim to offer a paint and primer in one, meaning you don’t need to prime first. These will be great for your final coat, but they won’t do a good job of masking stains and smells on their own.

What is the best paint to cover nicotine?

Once you’ve cleaned and primed your walls and they’re fully dry, you can finally get around to painting them. By this point, most of the stains and odors will have been eliminated by the prep work, but your paint choice will be the final step to fresh-smelling and clean-looking walls.

It’s important to use a high-quality paint with good coverage, as cheap paints tend to be thinner and require more coats, which also means they’re less likely to mask any stains effectively. You should also look out for stain-blocking or odor-reducing paints.

Kilz does a stain-blocking ceiling paint, which offers excellent coverage for minor to moderate stains.

Sherwin-Williams’ enhanced Harmony Interior Acrylic Latex Paint features industry-leading innovations that help promote better indoor air quality and reduce common indoor odors. The zero VOC formula reduces VOC levels from potential sources like carpet, cabinets, and fabrics and breaks down unwanted household odors.

Other things to bear in mind

If you can still smell cigarette smoke after you’ve thoroughly cleaned the walls, primed them with a stain-blocking primer, and repainted with high-quality, odor-blocking paint, there are a few other things you can check.

Think about anything else in the home that can absorb smells: the couch, any rugs and blankets, and even cabinets and furniture – all these will need to be thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned. Carpet is also a big one, and may even need to be replaced, as it’s a sponge for odors and even a thorough steam cleaning may not remove the smell.

You should also check the AC, and ensure it has a new air filter installed. The indoor coils may also need to be cleaned as well as the air ducts if you can still smell the cigarette smoke after replacing the filter.

Cigarette smoke is extremely pervasive, so there could be more than one source harboring the smell.

In summary

The stains and odor of cigarette smoke can be extremely unpleasant, particularly if you weren’t the one who caused them. Whether you’ve moved into a new home, or you’re a landlord trying to clean up your rental property, it is possible to remove these stains and odors, but it’s a pretty big job, particularly if they’re strong.

Here’s a summary of what you need to do:

  • Clean the walls thoroughly with an aggressive cleaning solution
  • Once the walls are dry, apply a stain-blocking primer
  • After priming you can apply an odor-blocking, high-quality latex paint
  • If you can still smell nicotine, check other sources – such as the AC vents, carpets, and furniture. These can all absorb cigarette smoke.

Whatever you do, don’t simply paint over the stains. This isn’t a long-term solution and could cause you more work in the long run. Plus, it’s likely that the cigarette stains will simply bleed through the new paint.

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