5 Steps to Painting Over Smoke Damaged Walls

This article is designed to help painters and homeowners understand the correct painting process to cover smoke damage. The type of smoke will determine the kinds of contaminants concentrated within the area and different cleaning techniques may be required.  

Although your interior walls or trim may have been exposed to smoke ranging from cigarettes to a wood-burning fireplace, the paint preparation steps to eliminate odor and obtain adequate paint adhesion are relatively the same. 

We cover the process, best materials, and practices, enabling a smooth and confident paint application. We also explain how to evaluate modest amounts of smoke residue buildup, such as nicotine and tar, and when to consider a mitigation team for further evaluation.

Proper Paint Preparations for Smoke Damage

Painting smoke-damaged walls and trim requires a bit of knowledge. You don’t want to mess up things by skipping the necessary steps or applying the wrong paint materials. 

If you ultimately decide to replace things, the decision should be based on the magnitude of damages. Additional damages due to skipping proper paint preparations should be avoided. 

Merely painting over soot or yellowed trim from smoke will cause more problems and potentially ruin painted surfaces. Whether you desire to freshen up the area by eliminating odor, removing smoke stains, or simply creating a new look, painting one coat of conventional household paint will not work. 

Additional steps are needed to eliminate odor, prevent stains from coming through, and ensure proper paint adhesion. 

Does Smoke Damage Require a Mitigation Company?

Smoke accumulation within a home can persist for several reasons. If you utilize a wood-burning fireplace, smoke buildup could be around your fireplace mantel. 

If you burn candles or smoke in a home for an extensive timeframe, smoke residue will be prominent on the ceilings and settle on walls and trim. It’s also important to understand there are different forms of smoke damage. 


Damage from excessive cigarette or cigar smoke, for example, is considered minor compared to a house fire. If the damages meet the criteria of being significant or natural, or if an insurance company is involved, you should contact your local dedicated smoke damage restoration company. 

These situations are considered severe, and we respect the real-world issues associated with the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and other areas. This article has no intention of addressing significant fires or natural disasters. Instead, we handle proper paint preparations containing light to subtle smoke contaminates that are manageable by professional painters or homeowners if certain basic principles are applied. 

Painting Over Cigarette Smoke & Smoke Residue

While painting over cigarette smoke adds additional steps, the process may not be as complex as you think. For painters with essential paint experience, the principles will be straightforward to grasp. 

For those with little expertise, the additional painting preparation steps may still be viable to execute on your own – if not, you will at least understand the general process. However, we may have overlooked several smoke accumulation scenarios and failed to address them. If your smoke damages are not an exact match to the topic of this article, it’s essential to get a professional opinion. 

From light contamination to heavy smoke damage, here are a few tips and critical steps to approaching the process.

How to Paint Smoked Damaged Walls & Trim

Step 1: Identify the amount of nicotine, tar, and soot. First, you must identify the issue and discern how far the problem expands and persists. How much settlement is on the surface? 

The general rule is, if you can see it, there is a fair amount of soot, nicotine, or tar on the surface. How far does it expand? Not all contamination is visible. So, testing areas further away from the source or visibly distinctive areas will determine how much additional paint preparation is needed.

Use a white cloth and acetone to test unidentified areas. Clean or wipe a surface approximately 4 sqft wide. If black, brown, or gray residue is on the rag, that area also has buildup and requires additional paint preparation. 

Step 2: The second step is to set up and contain all dust and contaminants. Using containment poles, set up a perimeter using lightweight plastic. Don’t forget to cover the floor with drop cloths. You may also want to wear a paint suit to keep yourself clean. 

Step 3: Next to step one, this is one of the most critical and frequently asked stages of the process. How to clean smoke damage? 

For extreme buildup, cleaning by wiping and sanding is necessary to remove the contamination. A knowledgeable and well-experienced interior house painter may be required to ensure this process is not skipped or exaggerated. 

Step 4: Priming the surface with quality primer is imperative – some contractors recommend an oil-based primer. In our experience, oil-based primers omit a strong odor and dry slowly. Slow dry times slow the process and could cause adverse effects on the undercoat. 


Shellac is the best primer for smoke damage. It will mitigate all of the issues that a traditional oil primer causes. Shellac dries fast, blocks odor, adheres to various surfaces, and odors dissipate quickly. We recommend applying two coats of Bin Shellac primer for all minor to mid-smoke damaged surfaces. 

Step 5:  After waiting for 24 hrs., check for any persisting bleed-through or leeching. If there are no visible signs of bleed-through, you can initiate standard interior paint preparations. These preparations include drywall repairs, caulking trim, wall interphases, and puttying nail holes. 

Smoke Damage Paint

After the smoke issue is resolved, your focus should be on indoor air quality. Several outstanding interior paints will look and stick fine once the surfaces are cleaned and primed. But with today’s technological advancements, some paints will increase air quality.  

Carpets and ceilings hold the most odor and are where most dust and contaminants settle; smoke is no exception. So, until these areas are addressed, the smell will remain. We recommend removing carpets and painting ceilings before applying topcoats to trim or walls.

We recommend Sherwin-Williams Super Paint with air purifying technology for the best interior air quality solutions and wall coverage. It removes unwanted VOCs and formaldehyde. It also continues to improve air quality months after the paint has dried.


It is necessary to convey the following messages explicitly. First, if your home is on fire, please evacuate and call your local authorities! Second, we are not a mitigation company. You should contact your insurance company or a fire restoration specialist if you have significant fire damage. 

We are an experienced, licensed, professional contractor that understands paint science and proper paint applications. Contact us for premium service in Raleigh, Cary, or other areas around the Triangle, and we will make your home look new again.

Similar Posts