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We're in the process of buying an apartment that was previously occupied by a heavy smoker for 20+ years. This isn't the unit, but the damage is about as bad.

I've scoured the internet for examples of people who have had success removing the stains and, maybe more importantly, the odor, but they're aren't many that I've been able to find.

Has anyone on here been able to successfully remove nicotine stains and odor from the walls of a house or apartment?

I'm not really interested in hearing anyone's opinions of what should work, but rather a testimony of someone who has faced this issue and was able to remedy it successfully. Alternatively, if you've tried something and it hasn't work, I'd like to hear that as well.

This is my game plan:

  1. Wash the walls and ceilings extensively with TSP
  2. Apply two coats of stain blocker (maybe KILZ?)
  3. Apply one coat of plaster weld, plaster and skim coat the walls
  4. Apply two coats of primer-sealer and two coats of finish paint
  • Duplicate of diy.stackexchange.com/questions/13874/…? – Edwin Aug 24 '17 at 0:17
  • How? I'm not asking just what primer to use... that's just one part of one option. I'm trying to find out the best solution for getting rid of nicotine stains and odor. – measure_theory Aug 24 '17 at 0:39
  • The stains and the odor are not nicotine, but rather "tar" from the tobacco smoke. Just call it cigarette or tobacco smoke residue. – Jim Stewart Aug 24 '17 at 18:24
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For walls you definitely want to wash with HOT water and a hefty mix if tri-sodium phosphate (TSP). Make sure to wear good rubber work gloves that cover some of your arms as well. TSP exposure can be quite hard in the skin of your hands. It can also be helpful to rinse after the wash with a clear wash of warm water. This is necessary because the smoking deposits on the wall are not a good candidate for paint adhesion. TSP on the other hand actually will take some of the gloss on old paint layer making an improved surface to which to apply a primer.

I reclaimed a house from a very heavy smoker family and had to also remove all the popcorn textured ceiling material. It had to be scraped off to the bare ceiling drywall. Then the ceiling needed to be sealed with a clear sealer material to seal in stains and the odors that had worked their way up into the drywall.

In my case the smoking smell had even permeated up into the attic space and the insulation up there. I had to install a gable end attic fan that I let run continuously for months to reduce the smell of the insulation.

  • I'd also recommend a face shield or goggles at the very least along with heavy clothing when using the TSP in addition to the long rubber gloves. Make sure you wear long sleeves and pants. No short sleeves or shorts. – Mister Tea Aug 24 '17 at 14:35
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Run into this alot in rental maintenance. The worst one I ever covered took 2 coats of oil-based primer, then the top coats of paint.

The product you listed (if we were allowed product endorsement ;) ) works well, but I suggest using exterior grade house primer, oil based if you can hack the stink for awhile. That's a cheaper and better option.

EDITTED TO ADD: I've never prewashed the walls, due to my laziness. Not a bad way to start though, if you have the patience.

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    Product endorsements are definitely allowed. Thanks!! – measure_theory Aug 23 '17 at 23:16
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After my grandfather passed we had to do his bedroom it was awful. We did wash the walls with tsp. We ended up having to use a shellac based primer and it still took 2 coats. After that fresh paint and new carpet is what it took. Little things like the bifold door guides needed to be removed cleaned. Also the Windows the guides at the bottom had a cover on 1 side that had to be removed and cleaned. We even replaced the light switch and fixture because they were yellowed. This is all I remember but my grandmother lived in the house for many years after and I do not remember it smelling after this (he only smoked in his bedroom).

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Your plan sounds fine. Really it's a trade off... How much effort vs how rigorous you want or need to be. I moved into a house with an asthmatic and so I had to scrub a little harder, but it was worth it and we had no incidents. I used dish soap and hot water first, to break the surface. Then simple green cleaner, several times, and then dish soap and water again. I primed with zinsser stain blocking primer, two coats, and then finally regular paint. I kept very few of the interior doors...the effort to clean and restore them was not worth it and it was a chance to modernize too.

You will need tons of water for this, a good mask, gloves and more rags than you can imagine. But it can be done. On the plus side, it pretty much guarantees you will never ever smoke.

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Scrub with warm water with dishwashing detergent. This is very friendly to your skin and lungs and will dissolve tobacco residue which is a mixture of organic compounds that are not very water soluble but will come out with detergent.

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