Home>Discussions>PAINTING & FINISHING>covering smoke odor before painting
11 posts / 0 new
Last post
covering smoke odor before painting

My husband and I are purchasing a home in which the current owner is a chain smoker. We are concerned about the odor the years of smoking in this house might leave behind. All the floor surfaces throughout the home are hardwoord and all walls are plaster, & painted (no wallpaper). We will be painting all the walls and ceilings and re-finishing the hardwood before moving in. I am wondering if there are any recommendations you might have to "treat" the surfaces to be sure the smoke smell is gone before priming, painting & re-finishing occurs. We would sincerely appreciate any advice anyone can offer to be sure this horrible smoke odor doesn't seep through our fresh paint!

A. Spruce
Re: covering smoke odor before painting

Pigmented shellac will do the trick. It's easiest to spray it on, but it can be rolled and brushed as well.

You will want to do all the painting before you have the floors refinished so that you don't have to worry about protecting your beautiful new floor. Any dings or slop from refinishing the floor will be easy to touch up afterwards.

Re: covering smoke odor before painting

Use a shellac-based primer over everything you will be painting. This type of primer is used in houses with fire damage, and the odor is locked in.

Blue RidgeParkway
Re: covering smoke odor before painting

I would first wash all wall and ceiling surfaces, all trim and windows before you did a thing regarding priming or painting or refinishing the floors. Painting or priming over sticky cigarette residue won't do, especially at edges transitions to the yuck. Usually a solution of water, liquid dish detergent, laundry ammonia - sometimes with the addition of a bit of disolved laundry borax - does a sufficient job of cutting through the sticky tar and nicotine residue and removing it. caution - do NOT use on shellac surfaces. Commercial products such as Krud Kutter and similar products generally don't work as well as what you can whip up, varying the concerntrations from the formula I mentioned above. TSP solution followed with proper neutralization and rinsing works well also and can be used on woodwork that you are planning to refinish or repaint.

Another place that smoker's residue lingers is in light fixtures/ internals of paddle fan motors, and the insides of outlet boxes (switches and receptacles). If you're up to the task, cutting off power, cleaning them out, and swapping out new switches, receptacles and new face plates can be done at a minimal cost if you buy bulk.

After you have washed well (do NOT use bleach solutions!) and rinsed completely you seal and paint. BIN original formula is a well-pigmented shellac primer/sealer works well for surfaces you wish to paint, often needs to be surface sanded when cured in order for paints or another product coating to adhere, also needs to be done to knock down the high sheen it cures to. For woodwork not wishing to paint you can use clear dewaxed shellac.

If you have a forced air system (heat or A/C) would also advise having the duct system cleaned as well as the supplying appliances (before you start the other projects, then while painting, sanding, refinishing the floors, have this system isolated - well taped, plastic, etc.), and possibly a good preventive maintenance re-cleaning when the project is completed. If you have other ventillation items, such as bathroom or laundry or kitchen exaust fans, heat recovery ventillators, etc. have these systems and their ducts cleaned as well.

P.S.don't overlook things to clean such as door hinges and handles/knobs - depending on type and finish would determine what you'd use to clean these, closet poles, shelves (may need to remove these to get entirely clean and get the pockets where the smoker's residue tends to settle such as sides near walls/edges) doors (especially the tops of doors), and built-ins such as kitchen cabinets (depending on finish I've had some good luck with using an orange type cleaner, rinsing then a wash down with a light vinegar and water solution to remove any detergent citrus based residue so they shine), vanities, etc., the outsides of exposed (not sealed in walls but exposed in cabinets) plumbing lines, toilet stops (shut off valves) and heating and cooling registers and vent covers. As you're cleaning with the detergent and ammonia solution one of the smell clues you might notice is that when your cleaning off the smoker's residue you'll notice a smell sort of like "wet dog". Be sure to change your bucket solution regularly, not wait until it turns "orange" or brown, and rinse in between re-washing new areas (changing water frequently). When the area doesn't cause the "wet dog" smell when wet - you'll know you've gotten all the nicotine and tar off. Don't use bleach to clean the walls or ceiling - not only will it react with ammonia residue - but will react with the smoker's residue leaving behind potentially a dangerous carcinogen (when bleach reacts with natural plant materials a byproduct is dioxin). If you have installed carpet, plan on complete removal and replacement or using alternate (including padding and "carpet strips" or the tack board).

Blue RidgeParkway
Re: covering smoke odor before painting

Oh, and to clean the wood floors, depending on how they are finished and the condition of the finish - you might want to use odorless mineral spirits and a lot of wiping cloths to get some of the sticky settled residue off. A stiff natural bristle scrub brush and some 0000 finishing steel wool (no soap).

Re: covering smoke odor before painting

Before priming I would find someone to rent you a deionizer machine that you can put in the house and this will eliminate the smoke smell in the house before you prime. A deionizer changes the positive charge of the particles that are causing the smell and eliminates the odor. You can usually find one at a rental center or some places that do professional carpet cleaning have them to rent. They work great. I had a friend that put her dog in her car that got sprayed by a skunk and the smell was enough to make your eyes water. She had a guy that did carpet cleaning come and put a deionizer in her car for a few hours and the smell was completely gone.

Re: covering smoke odor before painting

Clean thoroughly with something like TSP per the directions. Prime with B-I-N as suggested... sealing in smoke stains (all stains!) is basically what it's made for.
Mark, a Painter in Maple Grove, MN

Re: covering smoke odor before painting

Please make sure if you are using ammonia that you wear a mask to protect your nose and lungs and thick rubber gloves to protect your hands and arms.

About 15 years ago my sister and I cleaned a house using this chemical and breathed in the fumes and really burned our lungs. Never used it since. We did wear gloves but no mask. Just a stupid mistake on our part.

Be safe not sorry.

Re: covering smoke odor before painting

I agree with the above posters you really need to clean your walls with a good cleaner and then paint. What to use is a matter of choice but I certainly agree with the person who said don't use ammonia as not only can it damage your lungs but can also damage your skin with prolonged use. I also agree about not using bleach as when you do that can cause problems as the above poster mentioned. Whatever you do don't mix two cleaners such as bleach and ammonia as that creates a deadly gas.
Tsp is a great cleaner as already mentioned but I have found that using Pine Sol or any store brand pine cleaner works really great to get rid of dirt and grime and smells great too:). I would also look to my linen closet if I were you and find the roughest towel or towels you can find. An old dish towel is great and just the right size but you could cut up some old bath towels. Much better than a sponge and ten times better than paper towels. When they get real dirty you can just put them in the washer and re-use them.
Don't expect this to be a one day affair either this is going to take at least a week maybe two weeks. I personally think too that when you clean one room you need to clean it again as once around the block usually doesn't do the job.
As for painting someone said something about Bin I have never heard of it but would think it is good though from what I have read so far. What I have heard of though and is also an excellent primer for walls like yours is Kilz and is excellent for covering up smoke filled walls and keeping it from bleeding through as even after you wash the walls and ceiling it can bleed through.
As for duct cleaning a very excellent idea and I would get that done first thing before cleaning or anything else is done. Appliances I would trash a dishwasher as to get rid of the smell you really need to take it apart and clean inside. When we had inherited my grandmothers house I had to take her old dishwasher apart and clean it out before I could get painters in. The dishwasher still worked but the knob kept falling off. As for other things like switches that also is a matter of choice but unless they are not working well I would leave them where they are. Decorative switch plates though I would replace as they are very hard to clean.
When cleaning don't forget the windows! As for what to use for them this is where you should use an ammonia based window cleaner like Windex or any other store brand and paper towels. Good luck:)
p.s. This is where a pizza party is great as it makes a great incentive for when you need extra helpers:)

Sponsored Stories

TV Listings

Find TV listings for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.