How to Clean Smoke Stains Off a Ceiling

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Woman cleaning a ceiling (Photo: @AZ.BLT via Twenty20)
Smoke stained ceilings can be unsightly, unattractive, and omit an unpleasant odor. But whether the stain is from a small house fire, fumes from your fireplace or candles, or heavy cigarette smoking, the damage can be fixed. Here’s how to do it properly.

Removing smoke stains from a ceiling

Before starting, here is a list of materials you may need:
  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Face mask
  • Drop cloths
  • Sponge
  • Paint roller
  • Paint brush
  • Paint tray
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP) cleaning solution
  • Bucket
  • Primer
  • Vacuum
  • Cleaning brush

Primer paint

Primer is designed to cover stains and create a smooth surface. For application to be effective, you need to clean any loose residue off the ceiling. If you do not want to use a wet cleaning technique, you can use a dry brush to wipe away debris and dust. You can also choose to use a vacuum cleaner with an extension hose. Make sure to cover the floor and any nearby furniture with a drop cloth, so it can catch the falling fragments.
Once you clean the surface, follow the primer’s directions to make sure you apply it correctly. You will want to wear gloves, a face mask, and safety glasses. As with most painting projects, you will want to cut in the corners of the ceiling where it meets the walls. You can also apply painter’s tape to prevent overpainting.
Depending on the severity of the smoke stains, you may have to apply more than one coat. Often, it will take two or three coats to successfully cover damage. You may decide you want to paint the whole room (or at least the whole ceiling) after you’re done so that you have an evenly matched paint job.

Trisodium phosphate (TSP)

Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is a general purpose cleaner designed to clean heavy stains. It is safe to use on floors and walls. TSP can be effective in removing smoke stains, as well as the odor that accompanies such stains. As with primer, you want to remove any loose residue before you begin.
When the surface is ready, you can prepare the TSP cleaning solution according to the directions. It’s important to wear gloves, a face mask, and safety glasses, as the solution and smell can be irritating to your hands and eyes. Before mixing, make sure the room is properly ventilated and the floor and nearby furniture are covered by a drop cloth.
Once the mixture is ready, you can begin cleaning the ceiling. Saturate a sponge in the cleaning solution, making sure to squeeze any excess liquid out before applying to the surface. Use gentle pressure to wipe and scrub off the stain.
You don’t want to rub too hard or you may remove the paint. You also want to take care that you do not oversaturate the ceiling as this can cause damage. After you’re done, make sure the surface dries completely.

Combination technique

Using a combination of TSP and primer is the best solution to clean smoke stains off a ceiling. By cleaning the surface first with TSP, you will remove the odor and a large portion of the residue. Whatever is left over of the blemish will be covered by the primer, leaving a cleaner and smoother finish.
Cleaning smoke stains off a ceiling can seem like a tedious task, but it will make your home more pleasant and remove any irritating odors. Whether you decide to use primer, TSP cleaning solution, or a combination of both, the result will be worth the time and effort.