How to paint over heavily nicotene stained walls?


We recently began renovating a room that the previous owner used as a heavy smoking room. Ideally we want to have white walls but after each coat, yellow nicotine stains penetrate the white paint. Any ideas for a type white paint that could cover these stains are is it a case of either stripping back all the plaster, or perhaps using a darker color? Thanks for your ideas

  17 answers
  • Vimarhonor Vimarhonor on May 23, 2021

    A stain blocking primer might be suggested. It’s amazing I had some inherited oil paintings coated with such residue I used tilex to remove the unpleasant coating.

  • Redcatcec Redcatcec on May 23, 2021


    It is not just the nicotine, there are tars and chemicals too, they both seep into the walls and cause stains that can seep through layers of paint. You need to clean the walls and then prime.

    Here is a link on what to prime with:

    We went through this same process when we bought our house from a former smoker, it was vacant for 5 years and when the humidity was high, it bled through from the ceiling and came down the walls, this was most noticeable in the bathroom and kitchen.

    • See 1 previous
    • Redcatcec Redcatcec on May 23, 2021

      Since it was coming from the bathroom ceiling and down the walls, we opted for a drop ceiling and that was a good choice. We had to clean, let dry, prime and paint in 2 layers. That did the trick.

  • Mogie Mogie on May 23, 2021

    Depending on how bad the nicotine staining is you might even need two coats of a good primer but first those walls need a good cleaning using TSP.

  • Dee Dee on May 23, 2021

    Stain-killing primers are available in latex, oil-based and shellac formulas. To cover smoke stains, the primer must not only cover, but also seal, the nicotine stain. Unless the stain is relatively light, most latex primers show some bleed-through after a single coat, while primers that are specially formulated to hide stains do slightly better. The best choice for covering nicotine stains in a single coat is a white-pigmented shellac primer. Two coats, then paint with a good paint such as Sherwin Williams, or Benjamin Moore.

  • Cheryl A Cheryl A on May 23, 2021

    you need to clean them first use TSP follow directions then once that is done you may have to use Kilz or some other primer or a paint with a primer...

  • Betsy Betsy on May 23, 2021

    Hi Fixitrick: You need a good stain killer primer coat like Kilz, Valspar, Zinsser or Behr. With smoke like that, maybe a couple of coats is needed. I had to do that with my friends house. She didn't think her smoking was bad, and when I washed her curtains and had them laid out on the table she said "Did you buy new white curtains?" I said "No, these were your yellowed smoke stained curtains." She was horrified. You should be o.k. with the primer. One site states "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.", so maybe that will help in your decision.

    Good luck

  • Em Em on May 23, 2021

    Wash the walls with a mop and CLR.

  • Lauren of Mom Home Guide Lauren of Mom Home Guide on May 23, 2021

    This video shows how to cover the stains:

  • William William on May 23, 2021

    You need to clean the walls with a degreaser. Nicotine is oily. TSP, Simple Green, Awesome cleaner, etc. Then you need a stain blocking primer. Kilz or Zinseer primer. Then you can paint.

  • Fixitrick Fixitrick on May 24, 2021

    Thanks for the tips everyone. TSP and a stain-killer primer seems to be the consensus.Looking forward to giving it a go. Those smoke stains are ugly!

  • Kathy Gunter Law Kathy Gunter Law on May 24, 2021

    Clean first. Prime with a stain blocking primer like Bullseye 1-2-3. Then you can paint them.

  • Kilz primer. It's nasty and you should wear a mask and ventilate well, but it works.

  • Simple Nature Decor Simple Nature Decor on May 27, 2021

    You can use a paint that great for stain, this is a great one

  • Lindsay Aratari Lindsay Aratari on May 29, 2021

    I love Behr Marquee

  • Janice Janice on May 29, 2021

    Wipe down the areas to be painted with TSP, then rinse and paint with a stain-blocking primer. Then paint in the color of your choice.

  • Sharon Sharon on May 30, 2021

    When I was an apartment manager, the painters would use 1-2 coats of primer before painting to also hold the odor in. I have also washed the walls of clients apartments who have a semi-gloss paint using hot water with Dollar Tree Awesome Orange in the half gallon using a large car sponge and wearing kitchen rubber gloves. I get the Awesome Degreaser for kitchen greasy areas also.

  • You need to do a good cleaning though since you've already started to try and paint over it, you should get a good primer then paint.

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