How to Remove Nicotine Stains from Walls and Ceilings

I recently had a call from a customer asking me if I knew “how to remove nicotine stains from walls”? The truth is I wasn’t really sure exactly what advice to give her. We decided that I would get back to her in a few days.

I began scouring the internet. I was able find a few products but wasn’t really satisfied with what I had discovered. So I decided to make my own cleaning solution using some of the research I had done , with my own twist. From what I was able to determine, removing nicotine stains was going to be a chore.


First Things First

The customer wanted to hire me to repaint her mothers house, who had recently had a stroke. She was unsure that her mother would be able to stay in the home due to her condition. The end goal was for me to freshen up the house in the event that it would have to be put up for sale.

So I set to work to find the best solution to remove the nicotine stains and prep the walls for painting . Ridding the home of the nicotine odor was also at the top of my clients list.

My first step was to visit the home and see what I was up against.

The house was a 1800 sq ft rancher and upon arrival I was not surprised to find heavy staining on the walls and ceiling.

I had been told that the owner of the home had smoked for 20 plus years in the home. This was fairly evident !! The staining from nicotine was particularly heavy on the walls in the eating area, living room and hallway but it was noticeable throughout the entire home.

How to Remove Nicotine Stains from WallsThe home also had popcorn ceilings

throughout the house excluding the

bathrooms. They were also nicotine

stained and were going to pose and bigger problem.

How to clean the  ceilings ?

I knew that removing the stains from the ceilings was going to be impossible by scrubbing and removing the texture was not an option. I left the home and headed straight to my local paint store, I was looking for a stain blocker paint.

Firstly I was leaning towards using Zinsser Bulls eye 1-2-3 as I had used it in the past with some success. I talked with the owner of the paint store and he advised me that yes it will block the nicotine stains, but would not totally block the smell.

He explained that this was because it was latex based and is porous and the odor would bleed through.

The recommendation was to use Zinsser BIN Primer/Sealer because it was shellac based and would not only block the stain but cover the nicotine odor. He explained that the nicotine would actually be melted and absorbed because of the shellac base.

Next step clean the walls…

My next step was to find a cleaner to remove the nicotine stains from the drywall and other items that had been stained because of years of smoking in the home. I came across a site that recommended using a mixture of baking soda, ammonia and vinegar diluted with water.

I was set to start the job and the out line is below and was amazed at the results. My customer was blown away and could not believe the transformation, nor could her sister who had previously owned a house cleaning business.

Here is the nicotine stain remover recipe I came up with :

  • 1/2 cup of baking soda
  • 1/4 cup of ammonia
  • 1/ 3 cup of vinegar
  • 7 cups of warm water
  • Next combine the ingredients in a 1 gallon plastic bucket and stir with a wooden spoon.
  • Then pour the solution into a spray bottle for easier application.
  • Start at the bottom of the wall working toward the ceiling.

I thought this made sense because the liquefied nicotine was running off the walls after applying the solution. It may choose not to spray it on , I did because it made sense to me.

  • Next spray the homemade nicotine stain remover solution on liberally and use a slightly damp cloth to wipe nicotine residue off.
  • Then rinse your cloth and repeat. I went through a lot of clothes in this process.

The walls in this home were very heavily stained with nicotine. After completing all the walls in the room I was working on, I wiped the walls with a damp cloth a second time. You could easily see nicotine was still left behind after the first go because I could see it on my cloth.

Time to Lose the Nicotine Stains and Smell

After I was satisfied with the results, I continued on to sealing the walls  and ceilings with the Zinsser BIN primer sealer .

ceiling with nicotine stainsThe first mistake I made was not totally following the directions on the BIN sealer can. Use breathing protection !! This stuff is potent. I quickly drove to the building supply store and bought a 1/2 face mask and Organic Vapor Cartridges. This helped immensely and I also used a fan opened all the widows and ventilated the room in which I was working.

The popcorn ceilings that I had not washed needed 2 coats of the primer sealer because one coat did not totally block the nicotine stains.

I then applied I good coat of good quality ceiling paint using a 12 mm roller intended for semi rough surfaces.

remove nicotine stains from ceiling and walls

The walls were coated with the primer sealer once and were then painted with 2 coats of finish . I always use a good quality 10mm roller intended for semi smooth surfaces .

Things You Will Need to clean

  • a lot of rags
  • 1 -gallon bucket
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Ammonia

What you will need to paint

  • Drop cloth or plastic sheet
  • step ladder
  • bristle brush to cut in edges near ceiling and wall
  • 12 mm roller for textured ceiling
  • 10 mm roller for walls
  • masking tape to mask baseboards ect.
  • clean up rag for spills


The Zinsser BIN primer sealer is very thin , it can be applied by using a paint sprayer . If you choose to spray I recommend you would use a full face respirator and suit for protection. I used a roller and applied the sealer primer using very slight pressure. It takes a bit of getting used to be the application can be achieved with great results doing it this way.


  • Wear rubber gloves when working with vinegar and ammonia and baking soda mixture. Use a 1/2 mask respirator and ventilate the room you are working in. If other people are in the house warn them that the smell of the Zinners primer sealer is over whelming.

Read my house maintenance list to save you money post

How to Remove Nicotine Stains from Walls and Ceilings pinterest

If you have any questions or comments on my post How to Remove Nicotine Stains from Walls please leave them below . Give this post a Pin or a share  to your friends or family that may get some use out of this information . Thank you Rick

18 thoughts on “How to Remove Nicotine Stains from Walls and Ceilings”

  1. It really is amazing how nicotine can stain walls like that. I wonder if this cleaning solution also works with the smell of smoke that is in the walls. The people who lived in this apartment previously must have been smokers. The walls aren’t stained, so I don’t need to paint, but I can smell the cigarettes.

    • Thanks for your comment Wendy , cigarette smoke like many unpleasant smells will get into places that you would never imagine , the post was focused on removing nicotine from walls but I went way beyond that , the nicotine was every where , I removed all the switch and plug plates, any windows that were removable and the sliding glass door and more . The nicotine had settled and stained every where!! I aso through away all the window coverings washed all the removable pillow cases and added the same solution . I have an ozone generator as well and blasted the entire house for hours. I also deep cleaned the carpets and would doubt that if the were smokers in your home this will probably be the source of the nicotine smell ? Best of luck 

  2. Great tips!  Fortunately people today are not smoking nearly as much as they were when I was growing up. It used to be that a lot of hotel rooms were stained and smelly of cigarette smoke.  People tolerated it in those days, but I was always sickened.  I always thought, “How can a hotel get away with it?”  It wouldn’t happen today, though.

    But the remnant smokers are still around, as from your example, and you show the way to take care of it.  I wasn’t aware that the smell could bleed through the paint.

    My parents were both 3 pack a day smokers and everything was yellow:  the walls, the furniture, the curtains.  And my siblings and I breathed the second hand smoke, as well.  It makes me sick to think of it today. Both parents had developed lung disease by the age of 55 – father dead at 58 and mother finally at age 80 after 25 years of emphysema.  So this smoky smell and appearance is a personal thing for me.

    Thanks a lot for your post.

    Best regards,


    • Thanks for your comment .I hear you . I remember my Grandmother smoking at the kitchen table well the rest of us finished eating …LOL …  How times have changed 

  3. Great tips. and Thanks for the video too. Sounds like a lot of work to clean up after nicotine stains off your walls, ceilings etc. I will definitely not allow anyone to smoke in my house after learning that lol. Seriously I hate the smell of any amount of nicotine let alone allow someone to smoke inside my house. Thanks for sharing this good info.

    • Thank you for your comment , back in the day smoking used to be widely excepted. Honestly between removing the nicotine stains from everything including the metal window blinds , throwing away curtains and deep cleaning the carpets and repainting the entire house was way more than I should have taken on by myself. Anyone reading this should realize that it is a huge task to take on . 

  4. I can relate with this article I have removed nicotine stains from an apartment once and man that was a tough job scrubbing and removing the stains it was on the walls, ceilings and the kitchen cabinets. I couldn’t believe how hard that was. I wish I would have had your nicotine stain remover recipe then. It would have made things so much easier!

  5. After 28 years of smoking I was able to quit with the help of my wife, who also was a long time smoker who quit with me. We have been without smoking for over 3 years now, but I never forget when you finally quit, your senses go crazy. The ability to smell comes back, not just back, but like teen-wolf back. I was smelling my neighbors dinner. Don’t worry that only lasted about a month. The point is cleaning is something you have to keep in mind once you finally quit smoking. This is not just a thing that needs to be done when someone moves but when someone quits. I appreciate the post on how to clean it. Sadly there is no way to completely clean it, and I agree with you that painting becomes a must to get the walls completely clean. 

  6. Hi Rick. I wish I had come across your recipe for cleaning away the nicotine stains years ago. I had a rental property that was turned from a nice environment into a stinking house within 6 months by some tenants who smoked. At the time I had to use an oil based primer sealer as you have suggested. But the smell in the carpet, windows, and furniture never went away.
    I am amazed that the people smoking do not see the effect the nicotine has on their house and wonder what effect it is having on their body? Surely, this would be enough to make any sane person quit the habit!

    • Thank you for your comments Andrew , yes, smoking in your house will not only leave it nicotine stained and smelling but will devalue the property as well . I was a Realtor for 5 years or so and more often than not if I was showing a home that people smoked in my clients would pretty much turn around before barely getting in the door.

  7. Thank you for sharing with us this review on how to remove nicotine stains from walls and ceilings.I hate the smell of nicotine that’s why I was not ok with my husband when he was smoking inside our house.

    I am happy that I found this review because I will apply your nicotine stain remover recipe to my house.

  8. Hi, this is wonderful and great information about removing Nicotine Stains from Walls and Ceilings. Unfortunately, people are in a habit of smoking which is also legal commercially. When I was growing up, I observed that many people and young generation were taking cigarettes everywhere.  I really appreciate your article and going to share it with my friends and family.

  9. Hi,

    Thank you for the great educational article on “How to Remove Nicotine Stains from Walls!”  Thankfully, I have never lived in a home where family smoked, but the looks of those walls in your pictures is atrocious. Just imagine what the nicotine is doing to the persons lungs that is smoking and the 2nd hand smoke damage to those around the smoker.

    The results from your cleaning solution was fabulous and the video was great.  After seeing the stains that Nicotine does to the walls of a home, I will never allow anyone to smoke in my house and really in this day and age I don’t think that’s a problem, smokers are more aware and normally will smoke outside.

    Great article, thanks for sharing.


  10. Nice tips to remove nicotine stains from any walls that could be immersed by it. The picture that you have shown is stunning. I never saw that in my life. I had a smoke free house all my life but this is great if I buy a house in the near future. Your recipe is a true miracle if you were able to make the ceilings return into a normal state. I will keep this in mind. 

    I think that houses penetrated with smoke/nicotine is the worst. I can’t stand it. I’m glad that there is affordable solutions. 

    Thanks. Alvaro

  11. How to Remove Nicotine Stains from Walls and Ceilings? 

    I probably never taken a close look at what really happened inside the house after i have blown out a few stock of cigarettes. But one thing for sure, i never knew that walls stain was an actual effect of nicotine. 

    How could i not taken knowledge from this given expertise toward riding Nicotine Stains from walls and ceiling surfaces. 

    I am aware of the use of Zinsser BIN Primer/Sealer  but have very little knowledge of the combinations of these ingredients and the results gained: baking soda, ammonia, vinegar, warm water. 

    This is very technical and is one that should be highly recommended to all professionals across the board who does home repairs and decors. 

    Who could tell that all it takes to refresh and renew any badly stained walls appearance are some very simple items that are already there hanging on your home. This is knowledge at its finest and i am happy to say that this will blow so many minds. and as for the precautionary measures, it in nothing to be weary of but to acknowledge and put into practice safety. 

    Thank you so much for this wealth of knowledge.

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