Definitely, repainting your walls can help them give a refreshing look. But how can you remove the soot – if it’s there – before painting? Here are the right steps to follow…
The use of tobacco products, burning candles, and even having a fireplace in your home can result in a sticky, soot-covered surface on interior walls.
This can mean an unsightly dinge to the surfaces of your home, along with unpleasant odors that emanate for many years to come.
Unfortunately, just covering the soot-stained area with latex paint will not do the job, as the odors will still leak out.
3 Steps To Clean Soot Off Walls
Getting rid of the deposited smoke or soot is not easy. But with the right steps and tools, you can make the process simpler.
Typically, you will need to remove the soot from walls before painting by using a process of cleaning, covering, and applying a type of paint that prevents the soot from building up again.
This is especially true if you continue to burn candles or light your fireplace during chilling winters. Or if it’s a bbq smoke stain that deposited over time.
What follows is a simple guide that will help you remove the soot from the walls (including brick, stone, and ceiling) as much as possible to allow the paint to cover the surface.
1- Clean The Soot
To clean black soot off your walls before painting, start with a dry soot remover sponge.
Try to wipe away as much soot on the walls as possible without scrubbing the surface too hard.
Next use some water and mild detergent. Or you can use TSP, but only if it is well-diluted.
Dampen another clean sponge and wipe the entire surfaces that are still covered in visible soot.
Keep in mind that your best efforts will probably not get rid of all the soot that has been building up over the years. This is because the soot has become embedded in the paint itself, and unless you want to replace the drywall, there will still be a stain.
However, your efforts with the sponge will remove soot that has been newly placed and will clean the wall sufficiently to start the covering process.
2- Primer The Wall
Once the black smoke from the walls has been thoroughly cleaned, and the wall has dried, you are now ready to apply the alkyd primer to the surface.
It’s crucial that you choose a primer (like KILZ MAX or Zinsser BIN) that offers some smoke stain-covering abilities, as noted on the can itself.
Such primers for smoke damage are designed to not only cover the stains but lock in any odors that they generate.
Use a disposable paintbrush to apply the primer to the areas with soot stains.
After it dries, apply a single coat of primer to the entire surface you want to repaint. Allow it to dry for a couple of hours, then apply a new coat over it.
You’ll want to apply enough coats so that the primer you used to specifically cover the stains – is now fully covered itself.
Wait until it all dries before covering it with the proper paint.
3- Paint The Wall
The paint you choose to remove soot from walls should be acrylic latex paint that can be scrubbed in the future by using a damp sponge.
Especially for a smoker’s house, pick the stain and smoke-resistant paint with a high gloss finish that can be easily washed and cleaned. It will not let any new soot stick and embed itself into the painted surface.
For paint colors, I would definitely not recommend white for smokers. You can pick shades like gray, blue, red, brown, or anything else of your liking.
Use a good quality roller or brush to apply the paint and avoid any lap marks. You’ll want to apply at least two coats of paint to ensure the surface is properly sealed.
Once the paint is dry, check to see if the coats are even and if the paint looks right.
Can You Paint Over Soot Stains?
The soot and smoke (from fireplaces, cigarettes, candles, etc.) on sheetrock walls or interior plaster is many times not noticeable.
So it may be tempting for you to paint over soot-covered walls.
While painting over ghost marks may not be a problem, you will not be going to get good long-lasting results, especially if you are using low-priced latex paint.
Also, remember that smells (like nicotine and secondhand smoke) can penetrate deep into the painted walls and ceilings.
So if you do not wash the soot stains—and smell—it can cause problems later.
Degreasers and homemade cleaners (such as sugar soap, degreasing dish detergent, ammonia-based cleaners, or a citrus cleaner) can be effective washers in case you do not want to use toxic chemicals for removing the soot.
How Can You Remove Soot from Painted Walls?
No matter how much you care, smoke and soot stains are inevitable. With the increasing usage of different fuel sources over the year, it will build up on your interiors, and you will need to get it cleaned.
If you have soot or ghosting stains on painted walls and ceilings, I am sure you will not love to get them removed in a way that can damage the paint.
Since chemical-based removers can be damaging, the best way to remove the soot stains and ghost marks from the painted walls is to use a special soot sponge, rubbing alcohol, and mild soapy water.
Here are the exact steps you need to follow…
Step 1. Vacuum
First and foremost, if you see some dried powder-like carbon pieces of soot, try to remove them by using a vacuum.
It’s good to use the proper upholstery attachment to prevent any scuff marks or dents in the wall.
Step 2. Wipe the stain
Now wipe down the soot stains with a reusable dry-cleaning sponge.
While cleaning smoke off walls, make sure that you work on smaller sections at a time to prevent any soot from spreading.
Step 3. Use alcohol and soapy water
If there are some ghosting stains left, take a clean cotton cloth, get it damped in rubbing alcohol, and gently rub the cloth to clean them.
Finally, if there are still some light marks of soot seen, apply the soap-water solution with a sponge to clean them off.
Alternatively, you can consider treating the remaining stains with a degreaser, such as sugar soap or ammonia-based cleaners, degreasing dish detergent, or a citrus cleaner.
Tips to Reduce or Prevent Soot Buildup On Walls and Ceilings
Now that you have gone through the trouble of cleaning and repainting the surfaces of your home, the next step is identifying the sources of the soot buildup and staining.
These sources primarily include;
- Scented candles
- Wood burners and fireplaces
- Smoking tobacco products and ciggerrets
Most of the time, you will find your house walls and ceilings turning black due to the ghosting caused over time.
These ghost marks in the form of black sooty stains can be built by air-borne dust that settles with air condensation, dampness, and moisture on the surface.
If the source of the ghosting is one or more of these items, there are simple methods you can use to help prevent the buildup in the future.
1- Smoke Outside the Home:
The soot cannot build up on interior brick walls if you are not smoking inside the home.
Keep all smoking activities outside your home, or quit smoking altogether whenever you are at home.
Also, do not allow any friends or visitors to smoke inside, and that will solve the problem to a great extent.
2- Use Electric or Artificial Candles:
One of the major causes of black soot found in homes is scented candles – because the oils in these candles don’t burn completely.
LED candles are getting more popular because they give off a realistic glow without generating any soot.
Plus, they last a very long time and can be combined with other decorations without fear of setting them on fire.
3- Use A Gas Fireplace Instead of Burning Wood:
A gas fireplace or one that is artificial will generate far less soot.
But if you have a fireplace or a wood stove, good ventilation will help minimize the expanse of soot inside the home.
While nothing beats having a wood-burning fireplace, you should balance it with how many times you use it during the year.
What will also help is the acrylic latex paint that is not only soot resistant but stain-resistant as well.
This makes the soot on interior walls near the fireplace and the ceiling far easier to clean and maintain.
The bottom line
Tiny carbon soot particles and cigarette smoke can be highly dangerous when inhaled deep into the lungs.
If not correctly cleaned before painting or left untreated, these may go toxic and cause respiratory problems for family members.
So, take some time and try to completely clean them off, especially when you are planning to repaint your home.
Combine this with eliminating or at least greatly reducing the sources of soot, and you can maintain the beauty of your home.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.