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Can You Paint Over Smoke Stained Walls? (Complete Guide Plus Tips)

Can You Paint Over Smoke Stained Walls?

Yes, it is possible to paint smoke-stained walls. But the walls will need a good cleaning first. After years of build-up, both the smell and stain will eventually come through any primer and paint you may decide to use. Once your walls have been cleaned and deodorized as much as possible, you may begin to prepare them for painting.

Tip: Observe proper ventilation and always wear an appropriate dust mask or other protective gear, especially if you have any sensitivity to dust or other debris floating in the air.

can you paint over nicotine and smoke stained walls

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1. Minor Repairs and Preps

Always remove all electrical outlet covers, light switch covers, and shelf or curtain rod brackets before painting a room. You will need to soak and clean these covers and hardware to remove stains before replacing them. You’ll also need to carefully clean switches and the fronts of electrical outlets if possible.

If cleaning is not possible, speak to an electrician about replacing them if you don’t know how to do the work yourself. Then cover dry outlets and switches with tape to prevent any primer or paint from getting on them.

It’s easy to fill small nail holes or scratches with a spackling compound and a putty knife. A fine-grit sanding pad will smooth any imperfections once the compound is dry. Remove any residual dust with a clean, damp cloth.

For other holes between golf-ball and baseball size, you may want to use a self-adhesive drywall patch. These thin aluminum patches will both cover and add stability, preventing such a hole from reappearing with just a slight touch.

Cover the patch with a thin coating of joint compound. This compound can be bought as a powder. Mix just enough for your project. You’ll want a thin peanut butter consistency. The mix is quick-drying. Apply with a broad drywall knife for up to 6-10 inches past the patch to help it blend in. Using thin coats will help reduce sanding time. It’s generally easier to apply and sand several thin coats than to try to sand all the bulk from a thick coat. And your results will be more even and pleasing to the eye.

A damp sanding sponge is also a great way to smooth each coat. Use a bucket of water to remove any compound that cakes on the sponge, but squeeze out as much extra water as possible. Damp, not wet, is important for this step.

If you have any larger holes in your wall or ceiling, DIY instructions and videos are available online. It’s really not as hard as you may think to make these types of repairs, so don’t let a large hole intimidate you into putting off the whole job.

You may also need to apply a bead of painter’s caulk around any molding or seams. Smooth the bead into the corners and crevasses with your finger and wipe off any excess with a damp cloth.

It’s possible you may have some spots where the stain could not be removed during the cleaning process. It is your choice about whether or not to replace a major section of wall or proceed to the priming phase.

Tip: Always clean up all your tools and containers immediately after completing a repair job so they’ll be pristine and ready to go next time.

2. Primer

No matter how much you clean, there could still be some residual odor from years of nicotine exposure. An odor sealing primer is highly recommended. Both odors and stains can eventually permeate cheaper products. A high-quality, solvent-based, stain-blocking primer can save you from having to deal with any future issues.

Some professionals recommend an oil-based primer. Though these may be effective, they may also produce potentially hazardous fumes. You’ll need a more advanced breathing apparatus along with taking more stringent measures to ensure plenty of fresh-air ventilation. This may not be a good project to undertake in the cold of winter.

A good primer will also help paint to adhere to the prepared surfaces better. This is a big job. You don’t want to see it start self-destructing in a year or two. It would be worth your while to invest in quality products now. Zinsser is a great product with both oil and latex options. Kilz is also a well-known and trusted stain cover. Make sure you get the odor-blocking one.

When you are ready to begin priming, apply protective tape anywhere you don’t want paint to be, and cover floors and furniture. Begin by cutting in around the ceiling and floor, including any molding and window trim, with a brush. I find an angle brush is a great asset for this work. Dip just the end of the brush in the paint. Don’t wipe off one side of the brush on the side of your paint container. Use the whole end of the brush for long, precise strokes along narrow edges and window or door trim.

Apply primer to walls with a roller, overlapping where you have cut in the edges. Apply a generous coat evenly to the entire surface. Allow the primer to dry thoroughly before applying paint–4-6 hours for latex, 24 hours for an oil-based product.

Clean up any overpainting or spills immediately. If you’re using an oil-based product, read the label carefully before application so you can have the proper solvents for quick clean-up on hand. Choose an appropriate area for cleaning brushes and pans with these types of chemicals. Wear gloves as needed.

Tip: If the smoke stains were particularly bad, you may apply two coats of primer for an extra durable shield against stain and odor leakage. If stains are leaking through the primer, they’ll also leak through the paint.

3. Paint

You’re finally ready to paint. Once again, choosing quality paint means a more beautiful result that will look great for years to come. Follow the same procedure as you did with the primer. If you are using contrasting colors, you may need to apply additional tape.

I have not covered natural wood trim here. You may need to research a bit. Removing finishes by sanding or solvents is possible. You’ll have to decide if you need to restain a natural wood surface or simply seal it with your preferred finish.

Use brushes and rollers that have been completely cleaned of primer. Paint will be dry to the touch in a couple of hours, but allow four hours drying time between coats if you decide to apply more than one.

Wait for 24 hours before replacing the outlet and switch covers, hanging pictures or curtains, or placing furniture against a newly-painted surface.

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