How to Paint Over Smoke Damage

Updated Apr 3, 2024 | Posted Oct 16, 2023 | Professional insight, Product Advice | 0 comments

Smoke damage, be it from a house fire or the result of a blocked chimney, can be a nightmare. You’re left with a dirty smelly mess that you can’t just paint over in the usual way.  It takes certain steps to get rid of some of the soot, and only certain products will block stains and odour.


Preparing Smoke Damaged walls and ceilings for Painting


I’ll talk through how to paint over smoke damage in the next section, but first, we need to look at the prep. Smoke often leaves back soot or other contaminants on your walls and ceilings. If you don’t clean this off, then your paint will just mix with it as you’re working, and you’ll be left with a horrible grey mess.

Worse still, the contaminants will act as a dusty barrier between paint and the surface you’re trying to apply it to, causing adhesion issues, and resulting in your paint peeling further down the line.

So, you need to get rid of as much of the contaminant as you can. The best way is to use a product called sugar soap (available from Amazon by clicking here). Dilute the sugar soap with warm water in a bucket and use this with a sponge to clean all the smoke damage.

You will not get every surface clean, particularly if you’ve used matt paint in the past. However, you will get rid of enough so you can safely paint over without encountering any defects. At this stage, you will already start to notice the odour from the smoke start to subside.


Painting Over Smoke Damaged Walls and Ceilings


Next you need to apply a paint that will trap the remaining smoke damage into your surfaces. I recommend a good oil-based primer and stain block. This will do two things: it will block the remaining odour, and it will stop contaminants from bleeding through your topcoats.

I recommend Zinsser Cover Stain when painting over smoke damage. It is oil-based, so make sure rooms are well ventilated while you’re painting. Dilute your Cover Stain slightly to make application easier, stick to the recommended 4-hour recoat time, but apply two coats.

Ensure every surface affected by smoke damage is sealed before moving onto the next stage. You need the room clean and odour free. This gives you a blank canvas on which to work.

You’re then ready to paint over with your chosen emulsion. Avoid using cheap retail or contract matt or adhesion between emulsion and stain block may be an issue.


Using Water-Based Paints to Tackle Smoke Damage


I stand by what I said in the previous section; Oil-based primer is the best paint to block smoke damage. However, there are benefits to using water-based alternatives. They’re better for the environment, easier to clean up, and probably better for your health.

Johnstone’s StainAway is a fully water-based stain block and emulsion in one. You can use this product to effectively paint over smoke damage. Theoretically you only need to apply two coats, but realistically, you may need a third.

Make sure if you’re using Johnstone’s StainAway to paint over smoke damage that you stick with the recommended recoat time as a minimum. This paint is good at this type of task, but it will fail if you rush it.

Final Thoughts


I hope this has helped. Painting over smoke damage is smelly, dirty work, but it isn’t complicated. Just follow the steps outlined in this blog, use the products recommended, and you can’t go wrong.




What is the Best Way to Cover up Cigarette Smoke?

Cigarette smoke, or nicotine and tar can be treated in a similar way to smoke damage. You need to wash as much of the contaminant from your walls and ceilings as possible using sugar soap and water. Then use a good quality stain block like Zinsser Cover Stain, thus creating the perfect base. Once at this stage, you can paint over with normal emulsion.


Does Smoke Smell Stay in Walls if you Don’t Paint Over?

In most cases, yes. Unless you block odour, you will never get rid of the smell of smoke. You do this by applying a good quality stain block.


What’s the best paint to cover smoke damage?

Just use a good quality stain block like Zinsser Cover Stain to block and cover the stain. Once you’d done that, you can then apply any emulsion you like. The alternative is to use an all-in-one stain block and finish product like Johnstone’s StainAway.


What do professionals use to clean cigarette smoke off walls?

Sugar soap and water is most used by Professional Decorators to clean cigarette smoke from surfaces before painting. However, if you need something stronger, try Zinsser Universal Degreaser.


Can you clean fire smoke damaged walls?

You can to a point, but unless the walls were painted in a durable emulsion, it will still stain. You will need to repaint.

How to paint over smoke damage – by Mike Gregory



A brief summery on how to paint over smoke damage in your home.

Clean area

Clean every surface you wish to paint to get rid of soot and other toxins.

Block the stain

Apply a good quality stain block to seal any remaining nasties, thus creating the perfect base on which to paint.


Apply two coats of emulsion to the walls or ceiling to finish.

Estimated Cost: 100 BPS

Updated Apr 3, 2024 | Posted Oct 16, 2023 | 0 comments


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