If you are a homeowner and especially if you own rental property chances are really good that sooner or later you will have to deal with smoke or smokers stains. Smoke damage comes in many forms. Smoke stains from candles, burnt food or smokers are the most common types. Even if you do smoke or allow others to do so inside your home you may still need to deal with smoke damage due to candles or burnt food.
Smoker stains obviously are caused by smokers who do the deed in the interior of the home. The residue of their addiction takes the form of a thin, yellow film on walls, ceilings and woodwork. Candles and burnt food may well leave a sooty deposit.
Smoke stains can come from a variety of sources and are not just restricted to fire damage. Some of the more common causes you are likely to encounter are small grease fires on the range, a really bad experience cooking in the oven or even careless toast making. The unexpected one is that most people never think about is the burning of cheap candles. The cheaper the candle and the longer the wick the more soot is produced. The soot from burning candles accumulates over a period of time. Suddenly you have a dark spot on your ceiling.
Whether from smoke or smokers the nastiness on walls and woodwork is not all that difficult to wash down and remove. Washing a flat ceiling is a bit more of a challenge and a lot more messy but it is still possible to accomplish with some degree of success. The soapy water and the ick will travel down your arm and tickle your armpit. Make that a textured ceiling, even if it is a light texture and you are whipped before you even start. They are almost impossible to wash with any degree of success.
When dealing with smoker stains, many people opt to just paint over the mess. If you like slightly yellow ceilings then that option that might be okay. I assure you the stain will travel though the paint as it dries. I recently had a helper who rolled two coats of high quality white paint onto a textured ceiling of a living room where 4 adults had previously smoked and watched TV for a little over a year. Wasted the paint he did cause it was still pale yellow when he was done.
Over the years I have learned not to waste my time or money with latex or most oil based sealer / stain killers. The only product that will seal that nastiness in an yield a paintable surface that give you a true color once the top coat is applied is a product called B-I-N, a pigmented shellac stain-killing primer-sealer. The Zinsser Corporation makes it and it can be found at many paint stores, Lowes and Home Depot. At forty bucks a gallon it is about twice the price of many of the lesser sealer primers. It is worth the price because it works and works well, usually with just one coat. It is what the pros use in fire restoration work.
Shellac based means alcohol based so it should be used with adequate ventilation after reading the warning labels. It is also much thinner than regular paint or primer so expect it to be a tad more difficult to apply. Tarp the area, wear old clothing and use eye protection.
It is so good that generally only one coat is required on normal stains. Two coats will abate the smell in a piece of charred wood. It is also most excellent for sealing those brown water stains on drywall.