Cleaning nicotine from walls and ceilings

Removing Smoke Odors and Stains from Your Home

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Still Smokin'

I've just purchased a new home. I had a home inspection done and the previous owners were smokers. My inspector said that there was evidence of nicotine on the walls and ceilings. I also have very high ceilings (cathedral ceilings). Does anyone know how to get the nicotine smell and dust out of the house and off the walls.

Our Game Plan

I am living with an ex-smoker: he quit 1 year ago and is the landlord, my other roommate smokes, here's what we have been doing in the course of a year:

  1. The carpets hold most of the odors: Sprinkle lots of Baking Soda all over the carpets monthly. Allow it to sit on the carpet all day or over the weekend for two days if possible, it's harmless to pets and children. Then vacuum it with a rented or borrowed Kirby vacuum cleaner or similar industrial type(regular vacuums merely beat the carpet and have little effect-I know because I sold them over two years ago and saw what came out of carpet, I will not own a home with carpet, only wood floors because carpet is extremely unsanitary-ask any allergist or MD!)
  2. If they left fabric furniture you'll need to dust it with the baking soda and vacuum it with the Kirby type vacuum weekly for about 3 months.
  3. The walls and cathedral ceilings, rent or borrow a Kirby type vacuum and borrow a ladder to first vacuum the surfaces.
  4. Removing Smoke Odors and Stains from Your Home
  5. Take a bucket, fill it with water and a small amount of Clorox, put gloves on, use a large sponge and squeeze it out until damp to wipe the surfaces, you'll be shocked at the brown soot that comes off!.
  6. If you're dealing with stained wood, you might want to consider sanding it and then restaining.
  7. Aerate the home daily or after work by leaving the sliding glass doors, windows, front door, and bedroom/bathroom doors open and run some fans throughout the house. For a nice fragrance, you can rub natural scented oils of Patchouli, Lavender, Sandalwood etc. on the fan grating so the fans distribute the favorable odor.
  8. Did you know that Clorox, baking soda, ammonia, white vinegar, and ordinary soap flakes will do the same thing as commercial brands of cleaners at a fraction of the cost if used in varying needed strengths?
  9. That's all! It's worked for us, we do the baking soda on the carpets now about 2 times per month!


After a House Fire

Our house partially burnt down several years ago, but was declared a total loss. We saved portions of the old house in rebuilding. The contractor used a white pigmented paint called KILZ that has completely blocked out the smoke smell. Never once has there been a hint of the odor. Unfortunately for Stephanie, this can be a lot of work with high ceilings and it would need to be painted over with the color of their choice. We also used a liquid cleaning additive called Odo-Ban, which we got at Sam's Club-mostly to get the smoke smell out of clothes, blankets, etc. We have since used this product to get smells out of the carpet-pet accidents, etc-and it has worked very well; add it to your water when cleaning.
Amy G.

Thermal Fogging

When we were building our home we had a small fire, but lots of smoke damage. This was fortunately before we moved in. Through my job I knew some people at a cleaning and restoration company. I contacted them and they came to the rescue. I thought the smoke smell would never go away. They used a process called thermal fogging. It smelled like bubblegum for a few days and then there was no smell it all. Perhaps hiring a cleaning and restoration company to come and do this for you would help. I don't know the cost, but I don't think it's too expensive, and it may be well worth it.

Just Vinegar and Water for Smells

I used to be a smoker and when I quit I would get sick when I came into my house from the smell. I put vinegar and water in bowls around the house and soon the smell was gone. I also know some landlords who do that when a renter moves out.

Old Fashioned Recipe

I have a solution that works well for me, considering many years of built up smoke. Note that you cannot entirely get all clean with one cleaning. Over a period of time (ex. month), you could try this recipe several times.

Household and floor cleaner:

1/2 cup of 20 Mule Team Borax
2 gallons hot water
1/2 tsp. liquid dish detergent
1 tblp. ammonia

This works great for lots of things. I would suggest using gloves because of the dirty water plus the ammonia. You will be amazed at the filth you clean from the walls. If nothing else works, you may have to paint with Kilz and then repaint original color. Do not use regular paint (as I did) until you use a Kilz type product or smoke and stains will come back through after time. Hope this helps.

Hides Odors

My father is a smoker, and my mother is a reformed smoker. He only smokes in one room of their house and that room began to really smell. My mom really began to notice it when she stopped. She uses Febreeze and says it really does work as advertised. She uses it often and it works wonderful. She uses it on drapes, clothes, carpets, furniture, etc.
Leanne in Levittown

Seal the Walls

We own a little four-plex apartment building and my worst nightmare is when I have to go in and clean up after smokers. Washing the walls does not get rid of the nicotine stain but repainting them does. I use a product called BIN or another called KILZ. Both of these sealers are wonderful as a base and then I paint over with regular wall paint. Follow the instructions on the cans. These sealers also cover up ugly paneling. It sounds like a lot of work, but in my opinion, it is the only way to get rid of the stench.
Carol M

Related: 13 Ways to Remove Odors Naturally

Check Custodial Supply Stores

There is a product called 9D9 that we purchased from a local custodial supply store. We had purchased a mobile home to remodel for a family member and it had previously had a fire in the kitchen and all the ceilings had smoke damage. We were able to get all of the smoke odor out of the mobile and out of its ductwork as well by spraying the product into the furnace air supply and running it through. I'm sure if it worked on this tough problem it would also work on yours. If you do not plan to repaint ceilings that have been yellowed by cigerette smoke, we found a great solution for this as well.

Mix equal parts of chlorine bleach and water and put into a spray bottle. Cover the floors with plastic tarps (unless you plan to recarpet), put on goggles, a head covering (hood) and old clothes. Then spray the bleach water solution directly on the ceiling, it will lighten it right up. You might try this first on a closet ceiling to see if you like the effect.

We used this method to whiten "popcorn" celings in a 1970's house that had heavy smokers living in it for 10 years. This method, instead of trying to repaint the ceilings was unbelievalbly effective. They came out beautiful!! Cigerette smoke leaves a greasy residue, and products like 409 or Fantastic work great to clean paneled walls that have smoke build up.

From a Professional Cleaner

As a professional house cleaner I would suggest TSP diluted heavily as this is a strong cleaner. You can find it at your local hardware store (Eagle, Home Depot, etc.). It works very well for cleaning tobacco off of walls and especially kitchen cabinets. As for the smell, TSP doesn't do that good of job. I use Simple Green (which I buy by the gallon at Costco) and dilute it 50/50 with water. This is a de-greaser so works great in the kitchen too! I clean with it all the time and the gallon will last me about 2 years for $6.00. Remember not to just paint the walls...tobacco will seep through paint. It is essential to wash it off before painting!

Reviewed February 2018

Take the Next Step

  • Try these additional tips for removing smoke smell and these for cleaning nicotine stains.
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