Cleaning cigarette smoke damage in a house?

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Our daughter just gained possession of an inherited house that was occupied for the last 12 years by a heavy smoker. In addition the whole place, including the walls & mini blinds, is filthy. You can see every place something was hanging on the wall. We also think some of the paint is a satin or gloss finish. Any info on cleaning & painting the walls & cleaning the mini blinds would be so appreciated. In present condition the house cannot be lived in, rented, or sold.
  31 answers
  • Natasha J Natasha J on Oct 07, 2013
    Use a sponge mop on the walls, wash with Greased Lightning diluted in water. Mini blinds can be put in a bathtub and sprayed with the same stuff, rinse and then soak if the cords are not clean. I have cleaned MANY places with this stuff!

    • Linda Jowers Linda Jowers on Oct 07, 2013
      @Natasha J Going to look for this cleaner & first try it in some areas that have dirt on top of the smoke layer. The dirt is so bad! Thanks so much for your help.

  • Christine Christine on Oct 07, 2013
    I second that Greased Lightening. However, IMHO there are many things she should just trash, such as miniblinds. They're not expensive and the hours and disgusting stain on your hands and tub is enough to make you yak. If you're going to sell, window treatments don't have to go with a sale. Better to get rid of them than have stained cords. If she's living there, she's better off heading to HD or Lowe's and having them cut for the windows. I've tried cleaning these and it's a disgusting mess. I have rebuilt after a house fire using many kitchen cabinets from reuse centers. TSP doesn't take off nicotine, but it's many people's go-to. I have found if I am stripping paint or finishes, Citristrip takes the nicotine and grease off along with the finish. But that's a bigger project. When she does the walls, I strongly not only suggest a stain blocking primer, Kilz for drywall, but then one of these new odor blocking paints. That'll go a long, long way to help. On woodwork Zinzer or B.I.N. primers. If you don't use an oil based primer on woodwork, you'll end up with this God-awful bleed-thru turning white woodwork an odd yellow. If you're not familiar with oil-based primer, it's different than the regular paint. She can top that with an acrylic or latex paint, but the primer is the deal maker. Get rid of any carpet. No matter that it might look OK or fine. That will never, ever be clean. Ever. You could take it outside, set it on fire, and no one would ever need to buy cigarettes again, there's so much that builds up in that. Any drapes, too. Nicotine. Imagine this in someone's lungs, or kissing them. It's almost worse than cat pee, since it permeates every single thing in the home. Don't forget your closets and beware of the attic. I guess you can tell I'm a true never-smoked, nonsmoker. Good luck.

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    • Bernice H Bernice H on Oct 11, 2013
      @Christine I agree about ditching the mini blinds...a lotof work for such cheap items to replace. Even a sheet "curtain" is better than reviving icky blinds.

  • Cindy DeLong Cindy DeLong on Oct 07, 2013
    Nothing will not clean nicotine off walls....especially if they have not been cleaned for a long time. Make sure you use a good paint and use semigloss paint. This is easy to wash down when cleaning the walls afterwards.

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    • Bernice H Bernice H on Oct 11, 2013
      @Linda Jowers yes, you will need something like kilz..blocks stains and odors from coming through. it is well worth the time, effort and money; it will make your paint go farther too, than trying to cover nicotine and smell with just paint. The latex kilz works great!

  • As stated above, throw out the blinds they will never get clean again. Nicotine yellows everything. Washing the walls before you paint is important and get the good primer (Zinsser) and prime the walls/trim with at least 2 coats. then choose any paint you like~I use satin because it is in between flat and shiny. Use semi gloss on trim and in bathrooms or invest in good mildew resistant paint in bathrooms. I would have the duct work cleaned! I cannot imagine how filthy the vents are in the house after 12 years of a smoker and probably non cleaner. There are always deals on flooring and I would definitely call in a professional to see if you can "save" the flooring. Have the windows open to air the place out too. If no rain in sight I would leave them open all day and night if you can. Good luck!

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    • Bernice H Bernice H on Oct 11, 2013
      And Ps @Linda Jowers don't forget about the furnace filter.....ickkkkk hats off to you ..let us know how this all turns out!

  • Debbi reis Debbi reis on Oct 07, 2013
    greased lightening will work but won't get it all. painting is definitely needed and they are also right about the mini blinds - toss them. To get the smell out of the house set bowls of vinegar around for a few days - it absorbs the smoke smell. Good luck

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    • Sue C Sue C on Oct 09, 2013
      @Debbi reis You can also put paper bags with charcoal in them around the house and they will absorb the bad odors.

  • Patricia Brining Patricia Brining on Oct 07, 2013
    I used rubber gloves and lye and hot water with a squirt of dish detergent to get mine cleaned-it was white enamel! You can try bleach and dish detergent with warm water -wear a shower cap!

  • Linda Jowers Linda Jowers on Oct 07, 2013
    Thanks for the tip on the attic - never thought of checking that. Luckily all hardwood floors except in kitchen & eat-in area next to it. They will have to be refinished because of the wear. My mother had carpet for many years but this person took it all up & had a dog that left mostly scratches. She also had cats & the blades on all of the ceiling fans look like they are growing beards! Thanks for the feedback.

  • TSP will do the trick nicely. Be sure to remove all outlet covers and put tape on the sockets to prevent water from getting in them. Also start on the ceilings and work your way down. Wet good and scrubb changing water often. Ozone will remove the odors once you're done removing the yellow as even though you removed the visual, the smoke gets into the walls through the outlet and switch areas and during damp days the smoke odor will return. Then as Renee stated a good quality primer is suggested. I would however not use a water based product. The nicotine becomes liquefied easily when it becomes wet. And even when using a high end primer that is water based, the yellow will bleed through the surface if even the smallest of areas was not cleaned properly.. The oil based primer will not allow this to happen. Once that primer is done and dry, water based paints can be used successfully.

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    • Cassandra Tower Cassandra Tower on Jun 02, 2020

      You have to use the oil based kilz, not the latex

  • Linda Jowers Linda Jowers on Oct 07, 2013
    I've used TSP outside but never inside. The ceilings are popcorn texture & not sure we can afford to take that off & have the ceilings professionally redone. Most drywall people say they have to be redone with tape & coating & sanding. I know my daughter would want the smooth ceilings, but not sure we can do that. Plus we already know the wood floors will have to be redone. We are not sure yet what other work will be necessary. Thank you for your help & information - good details.

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    • Diane Suplick Diane Suplick on Aug 24, 2015
      @Christine That's what we did in our bedroom. After 17 yrs. of living with popcorn ceilings we learn they did that to hide leaks and thin plywood instead of drywall was used . My dinning room is next .

  • If you have popcorn ceilings, depending upon what type, you may need to remove them to rid the odors. Some brands of popcorn uses a Styrofoam bead mixed in titanium oxide. This material will absorb odors like a sponge. If that is the type you have, you will need to scrape it off and finish the ceilings as needed. Depending upon the reason for the popcorn will determine if there is a lot of refinish work to do once off or not. The other type of popcorn uses asbestos as the texture. Of course this is older type, but you never know what you have unless you test. So before you spend a lot of money trying to coat over etc. I would suggest that you have the material tested on the ceiling to know what your dealing with. In any case if there is a heavy coating of yellow on the ceilings and walls, removal is really your best option, followed by a good oil based primer to seal in what ever is left after cleaning.

    • Linda Jowers Linda Jowers on Oct 09, 2013
      @Woodbridge Environmental Tiptophouse.com This house was built in 1962. My parents & I moved in as soon as it was finished. Guess at that age it would be a good idea to test it. Thank you for that tip.

  • Christine Christine on Oct 08, 2013
    Linda, if you choose to take the baseboards back to woodwork (as in wood, not painted) I STRONGLY recommend the Citristrip I mentioned earlier. Citristrip is thick, so you could do a piece of woodwork without getting it on the other adjacent pieces. I think I (raved) mentioned how it doesn't stink, burn, or eat your clothing, so you can use this inside safely. Be aware, though, that they'll look so good with all the paint, grease and nicotine removed, it'll make the other pieces look worse. If you don't want to replace the switch plates, boil them for a few minutes and scrub off the paint with steel wool. Mulberry makes these fabulous, wider plates that are paintable, though, and look very, very nice. Not terribly expensive. Again, time and $$. Your daughter inherited this place? I kind of feel sorry for the previous owner. Sounds like they could have used some help, if not just good advice -- like from this place! [LOL] Good luck.

    • Linda Jowers Linda Jowers on Oct 08, 2013
      @Christine Forgot in my ranting to thank you for the information about the Citrastrip. I have a shopping list of cleaning items to get; so I will add that to the list. Since none of the woodwork has ever been painted I think it will be best to clean it & keep it that way. Thanks for the information.

  • Natasha J Natasha J on Oct 08, 2013
    @Linda Jowers YW! I use only a few cleaning products... Greased Lightning http://www.greased-lightning.com/ I clean my grill, use it in my carpet shampooer, my car tires, bathroom, and it cleans everything from mildly gross to everyday. You can get it at Dollar General $4 for almost 1 gal or Home Depo or even your grocery store.

  • Linda Jowers Linda Jowers on Oct 08, 2013
    Thanks for that tip. We noticed electrical & duct tape on one of the fans, but haven't been able to check it out further. My daughter has the electicity & gas being turned back on this week, so we will inspect those fans. We will probably keep the blinds up until our daughter can actually move in so it is harder for people to look in the windows while the house is empty. I probably need to go over when the electricty comes back on & be sure the fans are all turned off until they can be checked out & cleaned.

  • 173371 173371 on Oct 09, 2013
    My husband and I recently quit smoking and the house showed it. I washed the walls, ceilings, baseboards, floors, the mini-blinds, everything with Spic-N-Span. It works very well, usually requires no rinsing, and leaves behind almost no odor. I took the blinds down and did them outside, as we have no tub, just a shower stall, and even the cords came clean.

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    • Linda Jowers Linda Jowers on Oct 15, 2013
      @Elizabeth Bowen-droneburg Thank you, I'll add that to my shopping list. Still ahve to pick up some charcoal to help with odor. have already used cups of vinegar.

  • Janet Smith Janet Smith on Oct 09, 2013
    If the above do not get rid of the smell, I would contact a "fire restoration company" like Servepro. The may have products that are more effective. They also have an "ozone machine" that will remove many odors from a home. You do have vacate the premises and take plants and pets for several hours. I can't remember how expensive it is, but it might be a "last resort" solution.

  • Debbi reis Debbi reis on Oct 09, 2013
    your right Sue - forgot about that one! charcoal will also absorb to much moisture in a room/closet.

  • Margie Margie on Oct 11, 2013
    stinky doggie smell in house.....how to get rid of...

  • Sandy Sandy on Oct 11, 2013
    White vinegar and water work well against nicotine. 1 cup to 1 gallon water should be strong enough. Cheap and worth a try.

  • SEMitchell SEMitchell on Oct 11, 2013
    If you're going to paint, just wash the walls down in a general cleaner, then get Kilz. I had a similar situation and found that Kilz makes a water-based primer/sealer and it really took care of the smell that had penetrated the drywall. Nicotine is a tar, so you may want to soak the blinds. Vinegar helps get rid of doggie smell, as well as a good cleaning. Good luck!

  • Cyndi Cyndi on Oct 11, 2013
    We bought a house 20 months ago and it was also inhabited with a heavy smoker and animals. We took the popcorn off the ceiling with vinegar and water. We took a gallon sprayer and poured 2 c. of vinegar to the rest of sprayer filled with water. It took just a few minutes and then we scraped the popcorn off the ceiling. Sanded with a pole sander, primed and painted. All my ceilings are beautiful. It is messy, but worth it. The reason it wouldn't come off with vinegar/water is if it has been painted. Then you would probably need to sand well and then prime and paint. This job is a little time consuming, but in my opinion, worth the effort.

  • Patricia Wahl Patricia Wahl on Oct 13, 2013
    My house was the same way. After many washings, we used KILZ as a primer. It worked.

  • Askem Askem Askem Askem on Oct 13, 2013
    in Canada we have a product called T. S. P. comes in a blue box. i think it comes in liquid as well. i do know it works great on painted cupboards. left them sparkling white and i never smelled anything when the gentleman downstairs used it. you can get it from Walmart up here so i would imagine you can get it in the States as well

  • Jen Jen on Oct 14, 2013
    Going with Kilz and repainting on this one....We had the same issue....

  • Kelly S Kelly S on Oct 14, 2013
    I was a member of a veterans organization and twice a year we had a weekend long cleaning party. We used TSP to clean the walls. One person sprayed it on with a garden sprayer followed by someone with a sponge mop to scrub the walls, followed by another person with clean water and another sponge mop to rinse the walls. We couldn't find where to rehang all the stuff since the smoke shadows were gone! Definitely wear gloves and have the windows and doors open for ventilation.

  • Linda Jowers Linda Jowers on Dec 13, 2013
    Thanks to all who replied with suggestions for cleaning my daughter's house. We have only done some spot testing on the walls. The move & storage of their furniture, etc. had to come first. We are lucky to still have my husband's mother's house for them to stay in until her house is ready. We did take one weekend to do some cleanup of the junk left in the backyard, including some limb trimming. We have a lot of work to do, but we are so very appreciative of so many people taking time to send the many ideas to help with the cleaning. Hometalk users are the greatest. As we progress with the rehabilitation I'll post some updates. Again, thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  • Linda Jowers Linda Jowers on Dec 18, 2013
    The Greased Lightening that several people recommended is helping best on the walls, but we are going to try the TSP solution also. For everyday cleaning I try to use some of the home-made 'green' cleaners, but the condition of this house is scarier to me than the strong chemicals. I'll post the results of other cleaners we use as we continue cleaning - probably major work will start back after Christmas.

  • Cigarette smoke permeates porous surfaces, including carpet,drapes, furniture, walls and ceilings. If your house has been damaged by cigarette smoke, it is important to consider water- and smoke-damage restoration companies that specialize in cleaning homes after fires,floods and other major incidents. Kala Construction also offers fire &smoke damage repair services for your home, business or school in Orange County and surrounding areas. Thanks for nice capture.

  • Terry Terry on Aug 10, 2015
    Why would this be reported

  • Linda Jowers Linda Jowers on Aug 10, 2015
    I should have been back sooner to thank everyone who gave suggestions. We probably bought & used all of them at some point on something. We used a lot of Greased Lightening on the walls, but some of everything was used for the bathroom, kitchen, appliances. The worst smoked room was the living room that took some TSP. As the dark brown drips flowed down the walls the odor of tar & nicotine was unbelievable. At our house we had just finished a major AC leak repair with carpet replacement, plumbing changes & adding gas to be able to change to a gas kitchen stove, when this move came up. So at least 1/2 of our house was packed in boxes already. We started before Christmas of 2013 getting them settled temporarily in my husband's mother's house & making plans for what was coming, gathering supplies, drop cloths, etc. Early in 2014 my daughter became pregnant about a year before their planned schedule & I was diagnosed with left breast cancer. So her husband got stuck with most of the wall cleaning & Kilz painting. In between my daughter taking me to doctor's appointments & treatments, her appointments, and husband's jobs almost everything was cleaned & painted by fall 2014 including some yard work. A couple of setbacks slowed things down - tree limb on electrical wires, electric meter pulled from outside wall, new electrical box installed, gas leak, floor refinishing [came out so much better than could have hoped for!], new AC had to be installed [had it checked out earlier & had hoped to get at least one more year - no such luck], my first surgery after chemo, choosing colors, planning the baby's room decor.... Just about 2 weeks after my first surgery friends of mine held a baby shower on Oct 4, 2014 & on October 5, the baby came about 2 weeks before doctor's predicted date. God was so good to me. To hold that baby knowing my reports had come back as completely free of cancer has to be the best feeling anyone could ever hope for. We are still working on small things & two projects to finish in order to get homeowners insurance - a new door on the outside store room & painting 1/2 or all aluminum siding on the west end of the house that gets the worst of the weather & hottest sun. If we can finish these up then hopefully most of the hard work will be over. I hope later to add some before & after pictures to show what they have accomplished. Again, thank you all for the help! Hope I do not have too many typos or misspelled words. Sorry to be so long-winded [written].

  • Pete Sakes Pete Sakes on Aug 24, 2015
    Lysol Basin Tub and Tile cleaner! Spray it on all areas then rinse. There is absolutely no scrubbing but even though you'll need to let it sit for a few minutes don't let the spray dry otherwise you'll have to respray. You'll have to rinse or wipe until cloth comes away clean. You'll also need to do a spot test (especially on wood) but I've used it on blinds, nick nacks etc. with no problem.

  • Dfm Dfm on Jan 07, 2016
    if you ever need to do this type of clean up.....use a sponge mop cut down to a comfortable length to clean the walls. and defiantly use gloves... nicotine is a potent poison -treat the cleaning water as such.. kilz primer worked the best for us.