An Argument for Making Smoking Illegal

It is happening less frequently, but it is an unmistakable smell when you walk into an old house or apartment that has been inhabited by a chain smoker. The question for a potential buyer is always “can we get rid of the smell?” and hopefully without taking the walls down to studs.

Tar and nicotine are invasive. They will get saturate into every porous surface they can and it is not an easy task to remove it, but by following the proper steps, it can be done.

The more thorough the prep and cleaning before you paint, the better results you will yield.

TSP cleaner is a very effective cleaner and if the job is really bad, I would use this to begin. The problem with using a cleaner or detergent though is that it can leave a residue behind and that can interfere with paint adhesion, so you will need to rinse the walls very well, without creating water damage. A good alternative is to start with a bucket of warm water mixed with ammonia or vinegar. ½ cup of ammonia or vinegar to 4 litres of water is a good mix. You might need to increase the strength of your solution, depending on how tough the job is. You can actually go as high as a 50/50 mix.

Use a sponge and start cleaning the walls and trim. You will likely need to go over areas several times. Elbow grease is your friend here. If the ceilings are flat and low and you are really industrious, do the same thing here. Don’t forget to take an Advil for your aching neck and shoulders when working on ceilings.

Let the surfaces completely dry. The warmer the room and the more air circulation you have, the better, but be sure to give your walls a minimum of 24 hours to dry out.

The next part is to prime the walls with a sealer. It is important that you use a good quality primer that is a stain blocker. Warren recommends using Kilz Original because of its heavy-duty abilities. He also recommends Cloverdale Paint’s Speed Primer. But beware, this stuff is nasty and you need to take proper precautions to protect yourself from breathing it in. You can apply this with a roller to flat and textured ceilings as well.

If the ceilings are textured, make sure you use a roller with a 15 ml sleeve. Consider applying two coats on the ceiling, especially if you skipped the cleaning part. The last thing you want is the nicotine staining to bleed through after you have finished painting.

Before you begin painting, pole sand your walls, fill your holes and spot sand. This is when you want to complete your standard prep for painting. You will need two coats of a good latex paint for the walls. This is probably not the time to use a low quality paint. After all, your time alone invested in this project should warrant using a good quality paint that will provide lasting coverage.

In the end, you can remove the smell of nicotine from the walls and even the ceiling but depending on the degree of damage by nicotine, you will also need to deal with floors, carpets, grout, outlets, air vents, light fixtures and every other surface that has been exposed to cigarette smoke if you are going to completely get rid of the smell. And if the house came with curtains – just burn them.



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