Removing tobacco stains from tile

11 Replies

This is my first rental property purchase and we are fixing the place up. Prior tenant smoked so bad that there’s tobacco stains on the floors and light switches and walls. We got the walls covered and the light switches. The floor is proving more difficult as it’s a nonsmooth tile. Any suggestions on how to clean it? 

Here’s what I’m looking at (square is from rug we got rid of):

https://i.imgur.com/tWxRZKT.jpg

I hope there is a good amount of dirt/dust mixed in there.  If that is all staining from smoke, and it's managed to penetrate or alter the glazing, it's unlikely you will achieve matching tiles.

There's a good chance you will not be able to simply clean/seal/paint the walls and ceiling either ... oh, sure, for the short term it will work, but the resins will come back to the surface with time.

We are putting vinegar and water on the walls to start and then going to prime. 

Simple green seems to be working on the tile and baking soda and peroxide on the grout. 

Originally posted by @Roshan Taheri :

We are putting vinegar and water on the walls to start and then going to prime. 

Simple green seems to be working on the tile and baking soda and peroxide on the grout. 

 You will need to use a shellac or stain blocking primer (Zinnsser or Kilz) if plan to keep the resins at bay for any amount of time.  Even then, you may rest assured they will be back.   

When we acquire a home or apartment that has been inhabited by a heavy smoker for a long period, we plan on a full gut of the worst impacted areas/rooms and sometimes the entire premises (and budget for than in our offer to purchase).  When we gut, we usually seal (block / prime) the framing and subfloor before closing things back-up with new insulation and drywall.    We'll be starting just such a renovation later this month.

We got that primer already but I wasn’t aware the resin will seep through it after a while. How long does it keep the smoke at bay?  

The smoker only smoked in the living room by the looks of it, but are you saying we basically have to re dry wall and insulate or the odor will just come back? 

The tile was sealed and it doesn’t seem like the smoke has penetrated it but we will see. 

Remove the tile completely. Wash with warm soap water, diluted acetic acid, with baking soda, lemon flavor and scrub a few times. I think dry walls, ceiling are coated with it that will remit.

The same with carpeting soaked by a peeed animal.  It will penetrate through the subfloor no matter what. These days some pergo flooring come with a moisture proof padding that helps somewhat.

We bought a house this Spring that a smoker lived in for 16 years. Everything was coated with nicotine. Go to your local hardware store and get TSP. Put on gloves, mix in water and start wiping. You will be amazed at how it cleans the nicotine off. We used it on walls, ceilings, shower surround, wood cabinets, etc with great results. We then painted Kilz on the walls & ceilings. On the grout lines you are probably going to have to use a nylon scrubber. Might take 2 - 3 times to clean it. Lots of work - I hate smoke!

That’s a bit more encouraging. I’ll report back in a few and let you know how it goes. We aren’t prepared to rip up tile and walls yet. 

Originally posted by @Roshan Taheri :

We got that primer already but I wasn’t aware the resin will seep through it after a while. How long does it keep the smoke at bay?  

The smoker only smoked in the living room by the looks of it, but are you saying we basically have to re dry wall and insulate or the odor will just come back? 

The tile was sealed and it doesn’t seem like the smoke has penetrated it but we will see. 

Roshan:

First, wash your walls with TSP to remove most of the grime and staining ... always wash with TSP before you paint. Once washed, you need to rinse with clean water to remove and TSP residue ... paint adheres best to a clean surface.

You will then want to prime with Zinnsser (my preference) or Kilz.   The original Zinnser BIN is a shellac and drys very quickly sealing in the surface bellow ... but it is nasty (fume wise) and expensive (shellac is made from a resin secreted by the lac beetle/bug).  Zinnsser now makes a synthetic shellac called BIN2 which is not as nasty to use and far more affordable.

Even after all of that, there have been a few studies which show that the nicotine and other toxins deposited on / absorbed into the walls and trim will eventually re-emerge on the surface.

   

     

We did a house where the lady - a 3-pack/day smoker - sat in her favourite chair in the corner of the living room and smoked for the last 20-yrs of her life.  The walls and ceiling in that room were covered in rings of different shades of brown emanating from that chair - almost black at the epicentre and fading to nearly beige where you crossed the front entryway into the kitchen.   

We suited-up (hazmat) to remove the furniture and carpet (through which the hardwood floors were stained) in the living room.  We fully gutted the living room and front entrance; scrubbed the remainder; ozone treated the house for a week; aired it out for another two.   The "newer" vinyl windows which had replaced the original wooden living room windows never did come clean.

We then BIN'ed the entire main floor (including the exposed studs) and primed the remainder of the house (kitchen was taken back to the drywall for new cabinetry).   The living room was re-insualted (external walls) and drywalled anew and the hardwood floors refinished.

Lady who now lives in the house says that on really damp days when the air is still, she can still sometimes smell a faint hint of smoke around the hall closet and basement stairwell.

That sounds awful. Hopefully we get through this. It’s our first rental. 

As many other posters have stated. You will definitely need to get rid of carpets. I'm not sure about pergo. With real wood, I sand and seal with poly. Polyurethane is tough. You can't strip pergo might be easier to replace. In flipping or renting Kilz is your best friend. It covers up a lot of sins. A quality primer is a place I would not cheap out. Shellac is also great when sealing up wallpaper. Swap out your filters in the AC before you paint and turn it back on.

Just an update for the curious. We got the tile clean, I washed the walls twice and I scraped all the popcorn ceiling and removed it. The smoke smell had started to go away and we are really confident the shellac is gonna help get rid of it entirely. Thanks everyone for all the help. I think the popcorn ceiling removal helped the most...maybe we got lucky that it soaked up all the smoke. 

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