Q: Do you have any suggestions for removing nicotine stains from walls before painting?
—Jack Rhoda, via e-mail
A: Because nicotine stains will bleed right through new paint, it is necessary to remove the stains before painting. Undiluted lemon juice and vinegar are both effective grease cutters, which can be applied to the wall with a cotton cloth. If the stain doesn’t come right off, try scrubbing with a good stiff brush.
There are also eco-friendly commercial products available. For example, SafeChoice Super Clean is a biodegradable industrial strength degreaser that is completely odorless. Oxygen bleach products are now sold in many supermarkets. These chlorine bleach alternatives usually mix the actual whitener (sodium perborate) with fillers.
As an alternative to stain removal, you could apply a sealer that will prevent the stain from bleeding through the paint, though this may not be the least toxic choice. If you do choose this method, look for low-VOC sealers.