Did you buy a house that has a faint, lingering cigarette odor? Or maybe you had longtime renters move out that were smokers, and the smell is unbearable and walls covered with nicotine stains?

Customers ask us often if they can paint over cigarette smells, or if there are special paints that might help. Whether you have a faint odor or strong smell, we will help you clear the air!

cleaning nicotine from the walls
Scrub the walls with a cleaning solution to remove any residual smoke and nicotine buildup

Clean The Walls

Cigarette smoke has a lot of chemicals in it. These can stick to the walls and even stain them, especially the nicotine and tar. In houses with heavy smokers, you can even see the yellowing and spotting on the walls.

The first thing you need to do is clean all the painted surfaces, including trim and doors. Take the time to scrub everything down. You can use an ordinary household cleaner such as simple green. For the eco-conscious, a solution with white vinegar will also get the job done.

We prefer to use a product called TSP (Tri-sodium phosphate). TSP is a powerful cleaner that has quite a few applications. It is VERY effective, though a little caution is recommended when using it. It is NOT a good choice however if you want to only clean without repainting.

Use The Right Primer

Most people know that they need to use primer when trying to paint over cigarette smells. It is important however to use the correct primer, otherwise the effort will be wasted.

A shellac-based primer is the best product to use in this situation. Our favorite is Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Based primer. An oil-based primer will also get the job done. These stain-blocking primers are excellent at sealing the surfaces and locking in the odors.

The most common primers that you see at the local hardware store will NOT WORK in this application. These primers are water-based. This means that water vapor can pass through them. It also means that cigarette odors can pass through them.

Another common mistake is to only use a paint and primer in one without priming first. These are great products that can still be used for the final coats, but will not do the job of covering the smells on their own.

Use a high-quality paint for the topcoat. We always recommend two coats on top of a primer coat.

Best Paints For Odors

With the prep work done, you are most of the way there. The cleaning and primer will do the majority of the hard work in covering the cigarette smells. But your paint choice for the final coats can still make a difference.

The most important decision is to use a high-quality paint with good coverage. Cheap paints tend to be thinner and require more coats. This also means they don’t do as good a job at covering what is underneath them.

Self-priming paints are a solid choice, as they add an extra layer of primer. While these built-in primers don’t really cover the cigarette smells that well on their own, they go on a little thicker and give you a better finish.

The best choice is an odor-reducing paint. Many paint companies now manufacture paints that have formulas that actually absorb odors. A great example is Harmony by Sherwin Williams. This zero-VOC paint will absorb other VOC’s, formaldehyde, and other odor-causing compounds.

More Than Just The Paint

So you cleaned the walls, primed with the correct primer, and painted the walls… and you can STILL smell the cigarette smoke? Since smoke odors are so pervasive, there are other things you need to check.

Anything that was in the house with the smoker will likely have absorbed the smells. Other surfaces like floors and kitchen cabinets should be scrubbed clean. Carpet is a sponge for odors and should be replaced, along with any furniture that is still in the house.

Also, don’t forget to check the AC. Make sure it has a new air filter at the very least. If the smell is still strong, the indoor coils might need to be cleaned as well as the air ducts.

Need Help Painting Over Cigarette Smells?

Trying to eliminate a strong cigarette smell is a tough job, but we are here to help! Setup a free estimate today, and get ready for a breath of fresh air!