Nicotine is a major ingredient found in all types of tobacco products. Carried in the smoke from cigarettes or pipes, it leaves a yellow, oily residue on anything it comes in contact with. Over time, this residue can build up on windows, walls, furniture, flooring–in fact, everything in a room where a person smokes regularly.
Removing the stains and odor left by years of smoking can be a challenge. If you’ve just bought or rented a house or apartment, you have the advantage of empty rooms to deal with. If you are cleaning a furnished room, remember that everything, from ceiling to floor, will have to be cleaned if you hope to truly remove all odors and stains.
Cleaning cigarette smoke residue from walls and windows involves a lot of elbow grease but is certainly possible with a number of cleaning methods and cleaners. Here are some of the most highly recommended.
TSP, or trisodium phosphate, is a strong cleaner that can easily handle tough jobs such as removing cigarette stains and odors. TSP should not be used on metal, glass, or wood. Open windows to supply plenty of good ventilation, and wear goggles, a mask, and gloves to minimize contact with skin.
TSP should be mixed with water for cleaning walls. All other areas should be taped off to prevent damage. After cleaning, the walls should be rinsed with water. If you’re planning to paint, allow the walls to dry completely before you start.
The advantage of using a chemical cleaner such as TSP is that it’s strong enough to completely remove nicotine residue and smell with a single cleaning.
However, there are some disadvantages. If you’re hoping to simply remove stains by cleaning, you should know that TSP is strong enough to remove paint. It can also eat away grout and etch ceramic tiles or glass surfaces. A spray foam glass cleaner would be a better choice for removing smoke residue from windows.
Read all directions carefully before you begin to use TSP, including proper clean-up and disposal of any sponges or rags you use to clean with.
2. White vinegar
White distilled vinegar is one of the most useful cleaning products in existence. It’s great for absorbing odors and cleaning just about any surface. You might be tempted to wrinkle your nose in anticipation of vinegar’s pungent smell, but that odor quickly dissipates, leaving the air clean in more ways than one.
For cleaning windows, mix vinegar with water in a 2 to 1 solution and apply to windows either with a spray bottle, sponge, or cloth. It may take more than one application to completely remove built-up smoking stains.
Diluted distilled vinegar is also effective for removing stains from walls. If the stains are particularly bad, use undiluted vinegar for cleaning, then wipe-rinse with clean water.
Vinegar has the advantage of being a natural, organic solution. Not only does vinegar clean, but it also disinfects and absorbs odors. If the strong smell of white vinegar is too much for you, you can use apple cider vinegar, which has a less offensive, slightly sweet odor.
3. Magic Eraser
Magic erasers are truly amazing stain removers. Although you can use the sponges dry, I’ve found it more effective to activate the sponge’s scrubbers by slightly dampening with cold water. Then lightly scrub until stains are removed.
Don’t scrub too hard, though, as that will quickly destroy the sponge and possibly rub all the paint off your wall. You may want to wipe the walls with clean water after cleaning to remove any sponge residue.
Magic erasers are wonderful, but personally, I have found it takes quite a few to cover a larger sized area. This can quickly become hard on your budget. So using magic erasers may be a better idea for smaller rooms, such as a bathroom or enclosed kitchen area.
These sponges also work great on enameled appliances. And they can remove stains from switch and outlet covers. But in some ways, the sponges are not as magic as they may seem.
You do need to remember that magic erasers are abrasive enough to dull stainless steel. For this reason, it’s not a good idea to use magic sponges to clean windows. And the sponges can potentially dull the finish of glossy paint, making them less recommended if you’re seeking to clean without painting afterward.
The sponges can also remove the finish from wood trim, so you’ll want to cover it before cleaning your walls. If you’re cleaning an area of wood paneling, test a small area first to make sure the sponge won’t cause damage. In fact, it may be a good idea to spot check any wall before using a magic eraser to clean it.
Dish soap is a more gentle cleaner, especially for removing tobacco smoke stains from wood paneling. Dish soap can be used alone or with other ingredients for removing both stains and odors.
Baking soda can be added to either dish soap or vinegar to increase cleaning power and absorb odors. You may have noticed this common household ingredient added to clothes detergents for this reason. For cleaning smoking stains from walls, start with one gallon of hot water, then add three tablespoons of dish soap, and a half cup of baking soda.
Clean the wall in sections with the solution, drying each one with a clean cloth. It may be necessary to follow this washing with an undiluted vinegar wash on areas of tougher stains. The process may be repeated several times. Let the wall dry completely between cleanings.
An advantage of using dish soap is that it’s gentler than most commercial cleaners and has a more pleasant smell. But gentler may not easily get the job done on heavy nicotine stains.
5. Simple Green
Simple Green is touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to more toxic chemical cleaners. Oddly enough, I’ve seen it combined with TSP to clean smoke-stained walls.
On its own, Simple Green is safe for any painted wall. It is effective on all kinds of smoke stains and odors. Simply apply Simple Green directly to a soft-bristled cleaning brush and work in small circles. Then rinse with warm water and dry with a towel.
Just as an FYI, it is extremely difficult to remove smoke stains from wallpaper. Almost any cleaner can potentially cause the paper to either disintegrate or peel from the wall. If you’re determined to try to save the wallpaper, you will want to use a gentle cleaner and avoid getting the wall overly wet.
Removing cigarette smoke from walls and windows can demand a lot of elbow grease no matter what product you choose to use. For tough stains, the quickest, most effective means is TSP. If you hire a professional, this is the cleaner they are most likely to use.
Even with all the hard work, removing built-up nicotine stains is highly recommended. Sometimes called “third-hand smoke,” this sticky film can affect the health of anyone spending time in the room. After the initial cleaning, if there will be ongoing smoking, you should plan to clean the walls regularly in order to keep stains and odors to a minimum. Of course, the best game plan is to allow no further smoking indoors.