best way to paint a nicotine-stained ceiling

Updated May 19, 2024 | Posted Mar 10, 2022 | Professional insight, Product Advice | 1 comment

Leading tool manufacture ProDec asked professional decorators on a well-known forum, what is the best way to paint a nicotine-stained ceiling. This is an example of what they came back with….

The thing you need to remember when painting a stained ceiling is contaminants like nicotine will bleed through normal emulsion. The way I tackle it is by cleaning the ceiling the best I can with sugar soap and warm water, then applying a stain-block.

There are loads of good quality stain blocks around now-a-days. You could go for a shellac-based primer like PS1, or even a water-based primer such as Johnstone’s StainAway. I still prefer the good old-fashioned approach of applying a thick coat of oil-based undercoat. Just make sure you ventilate the room properly while you work.

Once dry, apply two coats of your preferred ceiling emulsion with an Ice Fusion brush and good quality roller. Job done!

Mike Gregory

Professional Painter and Decorator

Undercoat is the cheapest option, or Zinsser BIN.

I don’t get why people clean and wash a nicotine-stained ceiling? You get covered in it and it makes no difference to the job. I’ve always just painted over the ceiling and never had a problem with the nicotine bleeding through etc.

Harry Clarke

Professional Painter and Decorator

Well, I don’t use the common method.

White vinegar mixed with warm water and baking soda to wash the ceiling down.

Then I will use some stain block, followed by two coats of vinyl matt emulsion. The ceiling looks new!

(sugar soap is good but the white vinegar and baking soda chews through nicotine stains much quicker)

Snow Archie Nate

Professional Painter and Decorator


Wash & wipe off the affected area of the ceiling, then apply two coats of Zinsser Multi Surface Primer & Finish solvent-based AllCoat, job done ✅

It’s very quick drying, low odour (less than Cover Stain) sands down very easy, and is a dead flat white finish. It can be tinted to any pastel shades too. You can apply it any surface. It can also be used as an undercoat primer on internal stained / varnished woodwork.

It’s a brilliant product and so underused!

Bryan Dennett

Professional Painter and Decorator

Wash down with sugar soap then clean water.

Apply 2 coats of classidur to ceiling, walls and woodwork. A paint specifically designed to cover stained surfaces. This has been on the market for 40 years and not many decorators are aware of this. (Well before the time of Zinsser). 1st coat draws in and seals the nicotine, then 2nd coat provides the opacity & finish. Its great on smoke damaged surfaces too. 2 coats save labour time, as opposed to using other systems.

Pete Clark

Professional Painter and Decorator

Going off experience from my own house! We recently bought a Bungalow for ourselves to live in & the ceilings were poisoned with nicotine stains, especially the living room ceiling & walls. The smoke odour was quite strong!

Painted the ceilings with good old Crown trade undercoat, then next day two coats of Eclipse & bingo, lovely white ceilings!

Keith Gray

Professional Painter and Decorator

You can use StainAway now in Johnston’s, but back in the day I literally just undercoated the ceiling in white.

Daniel Shaun Critchley

Professional Painter and Decorator


A lot of decorators like to wash a nicotine stained ceiling before painting it, but I’ve never needed to. All I do is give it a coat of thinned oil-based undercoat. The undercoat holds back any staining, so you’re free to emulsion over it. Just remember you’ll need to leave the undercoat a full day to dry, then the drying time of your emulsion will also be extended.

James Fletcher

Professional Painter and Decorator

We used to use oil undercoat on nicotine stains to block them out, but we tend to try and avoid oil-based paints now due to environmental reasons. That said, most water-based stain blocks are a bit naff.

I think the best way to paint a nicotine-stained ceiling is to give it a good wipe down with clean water and sugar soap, the apply tow heavy coats of Johnstone’s StainAway. This paint acts as a stain block and finish coat in one. You just need to remember to give it plenty of time to dry in-between coats, otherwise it doesn’t work.

John Sanderson

Professional Painter and Decorator

Updated May 19, 2024 | Posted Mar 10, 2022 | 1 comment

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Cupit has been in the decorating industry since 2002 and has mostly worked as a Trade Decorator in the domestic sector (peoples’ homes). Self-proclaimed “product geek”, Mike has a passion for paint and decorating tools. Mike now spends most of his time testing paint products and tools, comparing them to similar products on the market, and blogging about the industry in general.

1 Comment

  1. Brian bonner

    I had a bad nicotine stained ceiling last week, sugar soap twice let it dry overnight the Zinsser stain block two coats then after fully cured two emulsion, next day nicotine was back, never again


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