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What primer should be used before painting over nicotine stained walls?

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Regular primer should do. But you might want to give the walls a scrub first. – Chris Cudmore Apr 25 '12 at 17:28
You could also hit it with a DA sander and 100 grit sandpaper, just to make sure all the residue is gone and to promote adhesion. – kavisiegel Apr 25 '12 at 17:32
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I've also had good luck with Zinsser B-I-N, which is shellac based. This might be overkill for your situation, but I've used it with great success on hard to cover stains.

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I would just use a good stain covering primer like Kilz. I have used both KILZ 2® Latex Primer and KILZ® Premium Primer, the Premium version is noticeable better than the Kilz 2.

But it looks like they have an even better version called KILZ MAX™ Primer. I have never used this one but it does mention covering nicotine:

KILZ MAX™ is a water-based primer, sealer and stainblocker developed with new technology that’s formulated to perform like an oil-based product. It tackles tough stains including medium to heavy water damage, rust, smoke, nicotine, grease, tannin, ink, pencil, felt marker, pet stains and more. KILZ MAX also seals pet and smoke odors. Topcoat with latex or oil-based paint.

Kilz does recommend cleaning the surface; see the "Surface Preparation" section for all of their recommendations. The most relevant section is this:

The surface must be clean, free of dust, grease, wax, peeling paint, mold, mildew and wallpaper paste. If washing is necessary, use a non-soapy detergent or a TSP substitute. Rinse well and allow to dry.

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Thank you for this info. RET – RET Apr 25 '12 at 18:29
Clean the walls first though. – Steven Apr 25 '12 at 18:47
I miss the old Kilz. that I think got it's name because of what it does if you don't use it in a well ventilated area. – Tester101 Apr 25 '12 at 19:54
I've used KILZ MAX and give it a huge thumbs up. – ahsteele May 3 '12 at 3:58

Agreed with all the "clean first" comments, but you might try tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) as your detergent, as it also etches the surface, providing a "nap" on the paint to make coats stick.

My favourite primer for difficult situations is white pigmented shellac, like the B-I-N product mentioned, but there are generic off-brand versions that are cheaper. It is generally titanium dioxide and shellac powder, in an alcohol base. It is suitable for both water- and oil-based paint, and is indeed ideal for covering an oil-based stain with water-based paint for that reason. Because it is alcohol-based, it dries quickly and cleans up easily.

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