How to Paint Over Smoke and Tobacco Damaged Walls

Written by john buhr
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How to Paint Over Smoke and Tobacco Damaged Walls
Tobacco stains and smells are more difficult to remove from walls than most other stains. (ashtray image by Barcabloo from

Tobacco and smoke leave behind strong odours and residue, making walls look dingy and yellowed. The stains and odours are pervasive, and bleed through most paints and primers. Repainting with traditional latex paint requires multiple coats and does not guarantee elimination of stains and smells. Proper prep work and the right primer are required.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Shellac based primer
  • Tri Sodium Phosphate (TSP)
  • Sponge
  • Painter's rags
  • Painter's tape
  • Dust sheet
  • Paint roller and tray
  • Topcoat paint
  • Trim brush or edger
  • Empty bucket

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  1. 1

    Clean the walls thoroughly with trisodium phosphate. Mix the TSP with water in an empty bucket per the instructions on the package. Scrub the walls with the mixture, and wipe clean with painter's rags. The stains might not come off during the initial cleaning process. Continue until the residue has been removed from the wall.

  2. 2

    Tape off all baseboards and trim around windows and doors with painters tape. Spread dust sheets against the wall in your work area. Remove all switch plates, outlet plates and other obstacles to painting. Open a window to ventilate paint fumes.

  3. 3

    Fill your paint tray with a shellac-based primer. Use the trim brush or edger to paint corners and edges against ceilings and trim. Paint the wall area using the roller. Avoid overfilling the roller, and apply paint in a "W" pattern to avoid leaving lines or streaks. Keep a watchful eye for any drips, runs or streaks. Brush-in as you go to avoid an unsightly texture in the finish coat. Allow primer to dry per instructions on the paint can. Apply a second coat if tobacco or smoke stains bleed through.

  4. 4

    Apply the topcoat in the same method used with the primer. Use a latex-based paint for easy cleanup and lower odours. Latex adheres to a shellac primer, and can be purchased in a variety of finishes. Apply a second coat if the desired finish was not achieved with the first coat. Clean up brushes with soap and water. Remove the painters tape as soon as the paint is dry to the touch.

Tips and warnings

  • Wear a respirator to avoid overexposure to paint fumes.

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