Painting Over Nicotine Stained Walls and Ceilings – A Complete Guide

If you’ve recently purchased or inherited a home from an occupant who smoked indoors, you might’ve noticed that the property is covered in nicotine stains. Instead of replacing the stained plasterboard, the best and cheapest course of action to remedy this is to clean and then paint over those nicotine stains.

But perhaps you’ve already tried that and have noticed that the nicotine is bleeding through your new paint job. In today’s article, we’re going to be talking about painting over nicotine stains and the most important step you need to take to ensure you cover those stains for good.

Will Nicotine Stains Bleed Through Paint?

Nicotine stains will almost always bleed through retail paint and even trade paint if it’s not cleaned and treated prior to coating. Johnstone’s Stainaway Matt is arguably the only paint currently on the market that nicotine stains won’t bleed through but this does depend on how many coats you apply and how bad the initial nicotine stains are.

Will Sugar Soap Remove Nicotine Stains?

Sugar soap will go some way to removing nicotine stains but won’t completely remove them, especially if a heavy smoker previously resided in the property. With that being said, using sugar soap is an essential step in dealing with and removing nicotine stains.

Painting Over Nicotine Stained Walls and Ceilings Guide

When it comes to painting over nicotine-stained walls and ceilings there are three tried and tested methods which cut the mustard. But before we get to these three methods, here are some safety tips to consider before undertaking this work:

  • Use goggles, a dust mask and gloves
  • Ensure that the area is is ventilated before, during and after the work is undertaken
  • Rubber gauntlet gloves will come in handy (pardon the pun) when washing down walls and ceilings

Method One: Using a solvent-based undercoat followed by 2 coats of emulsion

If you were to ask 100 decorators what their preferred method to cover stained walls and ceilings, it’s likely that the vast majority of them would go with the old-school method of using an oil-based undercoat first. This method is all but guaranteed to work every time but it does come with the pitfalls of using an oil-based paint which predominantly is the fumes the undercoat gives off.

If you are going to use this method, you’ll need to make sure your home is thoroughly ventilated and you use appropriate PPE. Check out what you need to do below:

Step 1: As mentioned above, make sure the room is well ventilated before starting work.

Step 2: Apply sugar soap to the surface and give it a thorough scrub down and wash away any remnants of the sugar soap.

Step 3: Apply an oil-based undercoat to the surface. It’s imperative that you go for a trade-standard undercoat otherwise you might find that the nicotine eventually bleeds through to your top coat.

Step 4: Give the undercoat plenty of time to dry and fully cure. Most solvent-based undercoats will take around 2 – 6 hours to become touch dry and roughly 16 hours before you can apply your finishing coats.

Step 5: Apply your chosen emulsion top coats.

Advantages of this method:

  • It is all but guaranteed to work on even the most stained substrates
  • The undercoat will give you an opaque base on which you can apply your chosen emulsion

Disadvantages of this method:

  • The undercoat is solvent-based and will therefore take some time to fully cure
  • You’ll need to take into mind safety considerations as oil-based undercoats give off lots of VOCs

Method Two: Using 2 coats of Johnstone’s Stainaway

Whilst there are many interior stain blockers available on the market, the general concensus of professional decorators is that Johnstone’s Stainaway is the only one that is consistent enough to be considered as a viable option. With that being said, don’t be surprised if 6 months down the line the nicotine stains bleed through, especially if they were heavy to begin with.

Step 1: Apply sugar soap to the surface and give it a thorough scrub down and wash away any remnants of the sugar soap.

Step 2: Once the surface is dry, apply the first coat of Johnstone’s Stainaway. This coat will act as an absorber for the stains and will essentially lock the stain in.

Step 3: Apply the second coat of Johnstone’s Stainaway. If you’re not happy with the final finish, a third coat might be necessary.

Advantages of this method:

  • Stainaway is a water-based paint and therefore dries quickly, ensuring you can finish the job quickly
  • You don’t need to worry about VOCs being released into your work or living environment
  • If you purchase from a merchant, you can get the paint tinted to your desired colour

Disadvantages of this method:

  • Simply put, it doesn’t always work

Method Three: Using Pliolite-Based Masonry Finish As A Primer

Step 1: Ensure the area is well ventilated

Step 2: Apply a coat of the paint directly onto the stained walls or ceiling

Step 3: Allow the first coat to fully dry – this will take at least 24 hours

Step 4: Apply a coat or two of your chosen emulsion

Advantages of this method:

  • Is certain to cover even the most badly stained walls and ceilings
  • Is formulated for use on exteriors so is incredibly hard-wearing
  • There’s no need to wash the surface with sugar soap, saving you time and energy

Disadvantages of this method:

  • Has a high VOC content as it’s made for use on exteriors. You will need to ensure the area is well ventilated for days.

Best Primer for Nicotine-Stained Walls

The best primer for nicotine-stained walls really depends on your situation. If you have time to ventilate the property and don’t have any health conditions then using an oil-based undercoat as a primer is the way to go.

If you’re eco-conscious, live in a poorly ventilated space or have a condition that impacts you or another resident’s breathing (take asthma for example) then using a coat of Johnstone’s Stainaway as a primer is your best option.

Best Paint to Cover Cigarette Smoke

After completing the relevant prep work, the best paint to cover cigarette smoke will simply be whatever emulsion you choose! If you want our advice, we’d go with a durable, flat matt such as Johnstone’s Perfect Matt. This option is rather expensive so if you’re strapped for cash then Good Home Durable would be a solid budget choice.