The Best Way to Clean Nicotine off Walls

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How do you clean nicotine off the walls easily? Learn the basics in this step-by-step guide, and you could get clean clean walls with less effort.

Cigarette smoke is the last thing you want to inhale, and you probably already know why. Not only is this smoke detrimental to your long-term health in many ways, but tar and nicotine buildup can be bad for just about everything else including your walls, floors, panels, and doors.

The sticky residue on your walls doesn’t just look bad, but according to a study by Berkeley Lab, it poses a serious health risk due to the reemission of gasses into the air which then could recombine to form harmful substances long after the smoking has stopped (source). This is also described as third-hand smoke by Mayo Clinic, and research is still being conducted to learn more about all the possible dangers (source).

Whether it’s your own walls that are plagued with nicotine stains or you’re buying or moving into a home that reeks of cigarette smoke, we’ve got the lowdown on some of the most effective ways to get rid of nicotine off walls for good.

Things you may need

  • A vacuum cleaner with an upholstery attachment to clean all the loose dirt and debris.
  • A ladder to reach the ceiling.
  • Large bucket, preferably three to four gallons to hold the cleaning solution.
  • Baking soda—serves as a mild abrasive to break up the tough grease.
  • Dish soap to clean your walls.
  • Microfiber cleaning rags (leaves fewer marks) or a damp chamois cloth to wipe down the dust.
  • Microfiber mops to clean larger areas.
  • Soft, dry cloths to wipe the walls after cleaning.
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP – available on Amazon) – optional, but helps to get rid of tough stains.
  • Protective eyewear and gloves – you should wear both because you’ll be dealing with harsh cleaning agents.
  • Primer – optional – if you have to repaint the walls, then applying a primer first can help seal the nicotine smell, and prevent it from leaking through the fresh paint.
  • Paint – options – if traces of nicotine stains are still present after cleaning, you may want to apply a coat of dark color paint.

It’s worth noting that simply painting your walls may camouflage some or all of the stains and residue, but won’t get rid of the odor. You may also need special paint to seal the surface properly, in order to prevent residue from leaking through the paint. Ask a professional for advice if you’re in doubt.

Step-by step: The best way to clean nicotine off your walls

There are a myriad of effective ways to clean nicotine stains off walls including a mixture of 3 tablespoons of dish soap, half a cup of baking soda, and one gallon of hot water.  You can also use white vinegar or trisodium phosphate to get rid of stubborn smoke residue and stains from your walls and ceilings. 

Washing dishes isn’t a chore that brings a smile to most faces in a household, and the same applies to washing walls. But it’s a job that must be done, and if you follow the directions below on the best ways to clean nicotine off your walls, you can look forward to finally discovering the actual color of the wall paper underneath.

Step 1 – Prepare the area for cleaning

The area where you’ll be removing the nicotine off the walls should be prepared before cleaning. This is an important, first step, as it will save you a lot of trouble in the future.

The cleaning agent used in this method can easily stain your furniture, so it’s a good idea to protect your furniture with large size cloths.

While doing this, you should ideally also remove any portable items from the room such as lamps, chairs, etc.—things that you can put back easily.

Since you will probably spend a while washing the walls, you should aerate the area by opening the windows, so that it’s more pleasant to breathe.

Before you start cleaning, lay down a cloth on the floor, and be sure to cover your baseboards, and any rugs you may have.

If you’re going to use liquid around electrical outlets, it may be wise to shut off the power in the room.

Step 2 – Make your cleaning solution

It’s now time to make the magical solution to clean the stains off the walls, so get started by adding three tablespoons of dish soap, and half a cup of baking soda to one gallon of hot water.

If you have tough stains to get rid of, you can mix ammonia with one cup of water or 1/2 cup of ammonia to a gallon of water.

To degrease the tars from cigarette smoke, trisodium phosphate works well at a ratio of one tablespoon per gallon of water.

Step 3 – Test a small, non-visible area first

Regardless of which of the aforementioned solutions you choose, you should perform a spot test to ensure that the cleaning agent/solution won’t damage your walls.

The spot test can be done on areas of the wall that aren’t in plain view, be it behind a closet, couch or dresser.

Wash or spray a small area on the wall, wait a minute or two, and then wipe it down with a dry cloth. If you don’t notice any damage such as paint peeling off, you can now tackle the big job.

Step 4 – Wash and dry your ceilings first

Remember it’s not just the walls in the room that you need to wash, but the ceiling as well, because smoke rises to the top, and the residue first affects the ceiling.

Start by washing the ceiling first, so that the water doesn’t run down your walls, but drops straight down to the floor.

Step 5 – Clean small sections of wall at a time

The process of washing both the walls and ceilings is the same, where you soak a towel or rag in the cleaning solution for a few seconds, and start scrubbing vigorously in small sections from the bottom of the wall, and work your way up as you scrub.

Now, grab another clean, damp cloth with fresh water and rinse each small section. Next, dry each section after you wash them down with a dry cloth, and repeat the process for the remaining sections of the wall.

Depending on the size of the area, you may need many wash cloths, and a few buckets of water to get all the gunk out of the wall.

Step 6 – Use a primer and repaint your walls

Even though you may have put in a fair amount of elbow grease into washing and scrubbing your wall with a cleaning agent and water, there will likely be some nicotine staining that remains, and even a lingering odor.

Applying paint directly over the stains won’t cover them up, because they will eventually bleed through the paint. You have to apply a good, solvent based, stain-blocking primer such as Zinsser’s Cover Stain before applying the paint.

You should wait a day or two for the walls to dry completely before applying a primer. After the primer has dried, apply your colored paint, and voila—your place will be free from nicotine odor and stains.

Does vinegar clean nicotine stains off walls?

Yes, you can use vinegar to clean nicotine stains off walls, and even remove the odor. Add warmed white vinegar to a spray bottle (dilute with water for lighter mixture) and apply directly to the walls.

If you don’t have a spray bottle, you can add half vinegar and half water, soak a dry cloth or sponge, and wash the affected walls and ceilings. After the stains are gone, rinse the walls with clean water, and dry with a cloth.

Since nicotine and tar can harden over time, the acetic acid in vinegar can help break this down. For a stronger vinegar cleaning solution, you can add some household detergent to the mix.

The downside of using vinegar to clean nicotine stains from your wall is that it will leave behind a pungent smell due to the 5 percent acetic acid concentration.

So, now that you’ve rid your wall of nicotine stains and odor, you will have to repeat the process for the vinegar odor. You can do this on several ways—first by simply opening the windows and doors to aerate the area.

Baking soda can also help neutralize the smell of vinegar by reacting with the acetic acid. But after sprinkling baking soda over the vinegar on the walls, you will have to rinse the walls yet again with water.

The smell of vinegar goes away after it dries, so turn on the fans in the room or open the doors and windows to speed up the drying process. It may linger on for a period of time afterwards though, but it’s probably better than the stench of smoke.

Does bleach remove nicotine stains?

Bleach is a harsh chemical that can cause damage to your walls including discoloration. Further, bleach is not effective against removing smoke stains and odor, therefore we do not recommend using it.

You can however use chlorine bleach to remove smoke stains and odors from white clothing, but should never be used on colored fabrics.