What is the Best Cleaner to Remove Nicotine From Walls before Painting

What are the best cleaners to remove nicotine from walls before painting?

Check out the many ways to properly remove nicotine from walls so your paint job is perfect the first time.

best cleaner to remove nicotine from walls before painting
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What is the Best Cleaners to Remove Nicotine From Walls

There are many cleaners to remove nicotine stains from walls before you paint and we will go over them below.

  1. TSP (Trisodium Phosphate Cleaner) 
  2. White Vinegar 
  3. Magic Eraser 
  4. Vinegar and Baking Soda
  5. Ammonia 
  6. Coffee to absorb odor 
  7. Cat litter to absorb odor 
  8. Homemade garlic and vinegar spray to absorb odor
  9. Steam Cleaner
  10. Professional Cleaning

Best Cleaners to Remove Nicotine From Walls

How to remove cigarette tar (nicotine) from walls can be done with one of the methods discussed below. If the nicotine stains are quite old and deep into the walls/ceilings, you may need to use 2 or more different types of cleaners to remove the most nicotine stains.

The best thing to remember is that using the HOTTEST water possible while cleaning will help a TON when removing stains of any kind, including nicotine stains.

Best Cleaners to Remove Nicotine From Walls: Cleaning Nicotine off Walls Before Painting

How do you remove smoke stains from walls before painting? How to clean cigarette smoke from walls and ceilings requires alot of elbow grease and to scrub your walls hard with some of the cleaners listed below.

TSP (Trisodium Phosphate Cleaner) 

TSP is the well known chemical cleaner that works super good at removing nicotine stains from walls.

Because its a strong chemical, you will need to use gloves and make sure you don’t get any on your skin. For very old or very thick nicotine stains, you may need to clean your walls twice.

White Vinegar

Does vinegar clean nicotine off walls? It’s a great way to not use chemicals. By itself, vinegar is a good cleaner and deodorizer. You can expect to wash and scrub your walls several times to remove the stains if you are just using vinegar.

If I was cleaning stains off walls, I would use a different product to strip the walls, and then deodorize/remove the odor at the end with a quick vinegar clean. Leaving a heater in the room after cleaning with vinegar will really bake the smoke smell right out of the room.

Magic Eraser

Magic eraser is made of melamine and is great for removing nicotine stains. Magic erasers strip the layer of nicotine right off the walls. You will need to use several boxes of magic erasers to get an entire room cleaned which can be more costly than the other methods we’ve listed.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

As you know, adding baking soda to vinegar creates a reaction. That reaction can be used to our advantage. Combining the 2 into a cleaning solution with some elbow grease can remove light nicotine stains off walls. Frankly, we recommend vinegar and baking soda combo be used more for removing smoke odors than nicotine stains. It’s not powerful enough to tackle medium to hard or long term nicotine stains on walls, vents and windows.


Ammonia is another chemical cleaner that can strip nicotine stains off walls. Don’t mix ammonia with other cleaners like bleach because you will create a bad chemical reaction that makes toxic gas. I feel that there are so many other choices for cleaners that I wouldn’t pick this one, but it’s up to you.

Coffee to Absorb Odor

Dry coffee grounds work great at absorbing odors and leaves the room smelling a bit like your favorite grounds. Buy the cheapest ground coffee you can find and place them in a bowl with a flattish bottom so that more of the grounds are exposed to the air.

Leave the bowl in the room or area you wish to remove odor for around a week and you will see a difference. Shake the bowl up once and awhile to expose more of the grounds to the smoke odor. You can even place smaller bowls or containers inside AC and furnace vents to suck up odor in those places.

Just remember to not turn on your air systems during this time or you will have coffee grounds blown all over the place.

Cat Litter to Absorb Odor

Cat litter usually has built in odor absorbers in the litter, like baking soda.

Place the litter in a container in the area that smells like cigarette smoke. Just like coffee grounds, you can place small bowls in vents, corners, or any area that may have absorbed smoke odor.

Homemade Vinegar and Garlic Spray for Odor Fighting

This is a formula I made when trying to remove smoke smell from a vehicle I purchased.

You mix the hottest water you can get from the tap in a spray bottle with 50% vinegar and about 2-3 tablespoons of very fine garlic powder (not salt, its too thick and will clog the nozzles on the spray bottle). Shake it until most of the garlic is dissolved.

Do some test sprays outside. I’m sorry to say it but this formula really, really stinks. But, because its made up of natural ingredients, the smell will actually go away after about a week. You can add some essentials oils to it, like lavender to help. It will still stink, but trust me, this formula works.

Now, spray this garlic spray into all your vents, and let it sit for a few minutes. Make sure its visibly wet. Then, spray your walls, windows and ceilings with it to eliminate the smoke smell once you’ve completed cleaning the areas with the other cleaners talked about above. Let the formula soak in for a few minutes, or longer if the stains/smells are really old or deep. Don’t forget to do your floors too.

I had best results from this when I turned on the heat in the area I sprayed and “cooked” the formula into the area.

This stinks to high heaven BUT, it is super effective and the smoke smell will not be detectible to anyone. Just know, it will stink like garlic and vinegar for a week or so afterwards. Air out the area to speed up the process of removing the formula’s stink.

Steam Clean Walls Removing Cigarette Smoke

A steam cleaner is not talked about as being one of the best cleaners to remove nicotine from walls before painting.

Check out this YouTube Video LINK on how to use a steam cleaner to clean walls, it works very well.

Professional Cleaning : Best Cleaners to Remove Nicotine From Walls

If you don’t want to clean it yourself, you can hire a professional cleaning company that specializes in removing nicotine. If there are curtains/drapes/blinds they will need to be cleaned to remove odors and stains. Even the curtains rods they hung on will need to be scrubbed.

You can also decide to just have a company come in and clean out all your AC and furnace vents and clean your carpets. Best to remove carpets all together, they collect dirt, dust and allergens anyways.

Removing Nicotine Stains from Ceilings

Follow the instructions above for removing nicotine stains from walls to clean up your ceilings. Same for painted doors, windows, and any other surface in the area.

Clean Nicotine Off Walls Before Painting: Is it Necessary? 

Do you have to clean smoke off walls before painting? Removing Nicotine stains and smells from old paintwork, flooring, vents, windows, and ceilings must be done before you paint a new coat of paint.

The problem with just painting over nicotine stains and smells is that, no matter what primer and paint you use, those stains and smells WILL bleed right through your new paint. You will ruin all of your work and have to strip the new paint off to clean off the old nicotine stains and start from scratch.

You have to remove as much nicotine/cigarette tar as you can so that your new paint stays looking beautiful for years to come.

What is Nicotine

Nicotine is a stimulant that is active in tobacco. This means cigarettes, cigars and even some vapes have nicotine in them. It is very addictive. When tobacco is burned, cigarette tar is created and THIS is what is staining your walls, not actually the nicotine itself.

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Why Smoke Residue Hangs Around

Nicotine, tar, and smoke stains seem impossible to remove. So why does smoke residue cling to walls and anything else in the room/house?

The chemical compounds stick to everything, including curtains, curtain rods, furniture, flooring etc. There doesn’t seem to be a tried and true explanation other than, nicotine and all the other chemicals are dangerous. Without proper airflow inside a home, the chemicals deposit on everything.

Please note that vaping will also eventually stain walls and they will require the same cleaning process that we talked about above.

Painting over Walls with Nicotine Stains

Can you paint over nicotine stained walls?

We recommend you don’t do this. You must clean as well as you can and remove odors. After you’ve thoroughly cleaned (and it may take a few cleanings with diff products) you should paint over the walls with a stain and odor blocking primer first.

Spend the money on a high end primer. It basically acts like a nicotine paint blocker. This is the best paint to cover cigarette smoke stains on walls AFTER you’ve cleaned them. This will ensure that the stains and odors are fully blocked for years to come.

Equipment Needed to Remove Nicotine Stains from Walls and Ceilings

Here is a quick list of the equipment you’ll need to clean nicotine and tar from your walls before painting.

Will Bleach Remove Nicotine Stains?

Bleach will help to remove the cigarette odor, but it isn’t great at removing the stains. I recommend using one of the tried and true ways talked about earlier in this post.

Will Sugar Soap Remove Nicotine Stains?

Sugar soap has been proven to work against light nicotine stains, but I’ve never personally tried it.

Best Cleaners to Remove Nicotine From Walls Conclusion

What is the best cleaner to remove nicotine from walls is whichever cleaner or even a combination of cleaners works. We know our advice above will help you to get a beautiful result from your paint job.

FAQs Best Cleaners to Remove Nicotine From Walls

What spray gun should I use to paint my walls?

Check out our indoor paint sprayer post with detailed discussion and reviews of the best indoor paint sprayers.