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 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.
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.
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 right paint to cover the surface.
1- Clean The Soot
Removing black soot on walls can be quite challenging particularly if it’s a bbq smoke stain or fireplace soot.
To clean soot off your walls, you will need to have a good soot remover sponge along with water and mild detergent or you can use TSP, but only if it is well-diluted.
Remember that drywall is susceptible to water, so you only want to dampen the sponge. Start wiping the walls and surfaces that are covered in 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 fully cleaned and dried, you are now ready to apply the alkyd primer to the surface.
It is important 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 that have soot stains.
After it dries, apply a single coat of primer to the entire surface that you want to repaint.
Allow it to dry for a couple of hours, then apply a new coat.
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.
Especially for a smoker’s house, pick the paint with a high gloss finish that can be easily washed and cleaned.
For paint colors, I would definitely not consider white for smokers. You can pick shades like gray, blue, red, brown, or anything else of your liking.
Be sure to purchase such a smoke resistant paint (on Amazon) because this will not let any new soot stick and embed itself to the surface.
When applying, use a good quality roller or brush to apply the paint to avoid any lap marks.
You’ll want to apply at least two coats of paint to ensure that the surface is properly sealed.
Once the paint is dry, check it over to see if the coats are even and the paint looks right. You can clean the painted surface in the future by using a damp sponge.
This is because the acrylic latex paint is stain-resistant which means that the soot does not stick or embed itself into the paint itself.
How Can You Remove Soot from Painted Walls?
Remember, if you have soot or ghosting stains on painted walls and ceilings you will not love to get them removed in a way that can damage the paint.
With that said, using chemical-based removers can be damaging when you want to clean smoke damage.
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 of all, if you see powder-like carbon pieces of soot remove them by using a vacuum.
It’s essential that you use proper upholstery attachment so that you can 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
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 the dark soot.
Step 4. Use soapy water
Finally, if there are still some light marks seen you can apply the soap water solution with a sponge to clean them off.
Well, that’s all to have a completely cleaned wall and a soot-free home!
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 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 use toxic chemicals for removing the soot.
Tips to Reduce or Prevent Soot Buildup On Walls and Ceilings
Now that you have gone to the trouble of cleaning and repainting the surfaces of your home, the next step is identifying the sources of the soot buildup and staining.
This will help to reduce or prevent cigarette smoke as well as candle soot on walls in the future.
There are three main sources of soot;
- Smoking tobacco products
Most of the time you will find your house walls and ceilings turning black due to the ghosting that has been caused over time.
These ghost marks in the form of black sooty stains can be built by the air-borne dust that settles with air condensation, dampness, and moisture on the surface.
If the source of the ghosting and soot is one or more of these items, there are some simple methods you can use to help prevent the buildup of soot 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 outside or quit smoking altogether and that will solve the problem.
2- Use Electric or Artificial Candles:
LED candles are quite popular because they give off a realistic glow without generating any soot.
Plus, they last for 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:
If you have a fireplace, good ventilation will help minimize the expanse of soot inside the home.
However, a gas fireplace or one that is artificial will generate far less, if any soot at all.
While nothing beats having a wood-burning fireplace, you should balance it with how many times you use it during the year.
What will help is the acrylic latex paint that is not only soot resistant but stain-resistant as well.
This makes the interior walls and soot on the ceiling far easier to clean and maintain.
Combine this with eliminating or at least greatly reducing the sources of soot and you can maintain the beauty of your home.
The bottom line
Tiny particles of carbon soot and cigarette smoke can be highly dangerous when inhaled deep into the lungs.
When not properly cleaned before painting or left untreated these may go toxic and can cause various respiratory troubles for family members.
So, take some time and try to completely clean them off, especially when you are planning to repaint your home.
Of course, this can be a time-consuming step but it’s worth considering for the overall health of your family!
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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