Removing Nicotine Cigarette Stains and Odor

How to Remove Nicotine and Cigarette Stains From Clothing

The Spruce / Hilary Allison 

Smoking can leave lingering yellow stains and strong odors in clothes, carpet, and upholstery. Unfortunately, removing nicotine stains is difficult. Before you think about removing the stains, wash or dry clean any garments that you don’t wear on a regular basis. Then store them in cloth (not plastic) hanging bags. That will help protect them from the nicotine that settles on the fabric and causes yellow streaks and stains.

If you have no nicotine stains but still need to remove the odor of cigarettes or cigars, follow these steps to leave your clothes smelling fresh.

Cotton or Linen Clothes

Combine one quart of warm water and 1/2 teaspoon of heavy-duty liquid laundry detergent (Tide or Persil). Soak the nicotine-stained clothing in the mixture for 15 minutes before ringing out the excess water. Sponge the stained area with rubbing alcohol until the stain is removed, and wash as usual.

laundering cotton garments with nicotine stain or odor
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Polyester, Rayon, Acrylic, or Nylon Clothes

Make a wet spot cleaner by combining one part glycerin, one part liquid dishwashing detergent, and eight parts water in a large jar. Label and keep tightly closed to prevent evaporation.

Dampen the stained area with a sponge, applying gentle strokes beginning at the center of the stain and working outward. Apply a few drops of wet spot cleaner and a few drops of distilled white vinegar directly on top of the stain. Cover the stain with a cotton pad or white cloth and allow the pad to set, picking up the stain. Keep the stain moist until it disappears, then flush the area with water and wash as normal.

However, if you have already tried to remove the stains but they remained and then you dried the clothing in a dryer, the stains may be permanently set. You can still give these tips a try before tossing the clothes.

Whiten Nicotine-Stained Clothes

For any washable fabric that you need to whiten after treating for the stains, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach are brand names) and cool water. Follow the package directions as to how much product per gallon of water. Completely submerge the garment and allow it to soak for at least eight hours. Check the color. If it is white enough, wash as usual. If it remains yellow, mix a fresh solution, and repeat. It may take several soakings to brighten it completely.

submerging a white nicotine stained garment
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

Dry Clean Only Clothes

If the garment is dry clean only, point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner. If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag. You will have much better luck with a professional cleaner in removing the stains.

Carpet and Upholstery

If you have a regular smoker in the house, a film of nicotine and tar will settle over your carpet and upholstery. Regular cleaning of the entire surface of the carpet or furniture is the only way to lift the stains. Use a professional cleaning service or rent a carpet/upholstery cleaning machine at least twice per year.

For an occasional tobacco stain from a guest, make the same spot cleaner used for polyester clothes by combining one part glycerin, one part white dishwashing detergent, and eight parts water in a large jar. Add 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar to help control odor and mix well before using to spot treat the stain. Use a clean white cloth or paper towel to work from the outside edges of the stain toward the center. Keep blotting until no stain is transferred to the cloth. Allow to air dry away from direct heat. Repeat if necessary.

If cleaning a tobacco stain on upholstery, do not over-saturate the fabric. If the upholstery is silk or vintage, hire a professional.

For burn marks on the carpet, use some very small scissors to trim away burned fibers. Then dab the area with distilled white vinegar or remove scorch marks and odor. For burn marks on upholstery, try rubbing the area gently with an emery board. If the burn is deep, it is permanent.

spot cleaning a rug stained with nicotine
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska