Truth be told, it's a hotly debated, controversial topic, as “officially”, smoking is frowned upon these days. We all know why, and the health risks connected to smoking are no secret. Nevertheless, not all wallpaper fans are non-smokers, and we all have the choice to do whatever we please within our own for walls - and that includes smoking. However, wallpapers will bear the consequences of this habit, as smoke settles on them and eventually doesn't just damage the design - the odour of nicotine also sticks to the walls, and just opening the windows is simply not sufficient to get rid of these smelly substances.
Smoke residues settle on the wallpaper surface, creating a yellowish-brown patina which binds dust and dirt, leading to permanent yellowing. White (or predominantly white) walls and wallpapers can show this kind of discolouration even after a few months - depending on the intensity and frequency of smoking.
So what can smokers do to preserve their wallpapers in terms of aesthetics and hygiene and prevent having to re-decorate every other year or so? And are there any wallpaper types that are resistant to nicotine stains and unpleasant smells?
First the bad news: Special wallpapers for smokers are not commercially available (yet). And now for the good news: Wallpapers with specific characteristics can help prevent rapid discolouration and yellowing, unpleasant odours can be limited, and fire safety requirements can be met.
Why wallpapers “yellow” through smoke residue
Most smokers don't even know why their lovely wallpapers are taking on an unsightly yellow hue. In order to explain this phenomenon it is important to find out more about the main ingredient of cigarettes - nicotine. Pure nicotine is colourless and liquid (at a temperature of minus 10 degrees Celsius). In smoking products, nicotine is contained as a volatile substance, which dissolves when reacting to humidity (e.g. in the air of the room). Sunlight then turns it into a brownish, viscous, resinous liquid which sticks to all types of surfaces and - due to its gooey consistency - attracts dust and environmental pollutants.
Important characteristics for wallpapers in smoking rooms
So which wallpapers are most suitable for rooms in which smoking occurs? These are the three decisive characteristics:
1. Light resistance
A wallpaper's light resistance is a significant factor when it comes to nicotine residue, and consumers are advised to pay special attention to this when choosing wallpapers. The higher the light resistance factor, the less able are the sun's high-energy UV rays to react with the colour pigments of the wallpaper, thus preventing light-related yellowing. In terms of light resistance, wallpapers are categorised as follows: moderate resistance to light, satisfactory resistance to light, good resistance to light, very good resistance to light, excellent resistance to light.
Smokers should choose a wallpaper in the category “excellent resistance to light”. Another important aspect, however, is that the ideal humidity of around 40% to 70% (depending on the room specifics and the temperature) should not be exceeded, as the interplay between sunlight and nicotine causes the nicotine coating on surfaces/wallpapers.
Water- and scrub-resistant wallpapers can be cleaned with a damp cloth or, depending on the surface quality, can also undergo more intense treatments. Amongst those are vinyl and PVC wallpapers which are pre-treated with a synthetic coating. In addition, some non-woven types also come with a wash- or scrub-resistant surface, making them a good choice for rooms in which smoking occurs. When cleaning wallpapers, please make sure you read the recommendations on the information label which comes with your wallpaper rolls. You can also find a detailed explanation regarding wallpaper cleaning classifications in our guide blog Washable Wallpaper - a clean solution.
Light nicotine stains can be removed with a mild lye solution made from warm water and washing-up liquid. Use a soft and lint-free cloth and move it gently over the affected area. Always avoid chemical cleaning agents containing bleach, or special nicotine cleaning products, as they can cause unwanted reactions on the surface and damage your lovely wallpaper.
Wiping walls down with a damp cloth is labour-intensive, but can be made easier by using a floor wiper with exchangeable cloths (available in any household or hardware shop). This way, you can reach all the nooks and crannies without having to climb a ladder.
Wallpapers with delicate surfaces, e.g. glass beads, natural fibre, flock, textile, or crush wallpapers, are not suitable for rooms where smoking occurs. Depending on the material, nicotine residue settles in fine fibre structures and over time causes visible discolouration in some areas. Furthermore, “damp cleaning” is problematic or even impossible.
If the room layout and desired colour effect allow it, we recommend choosing a darker, richer colour instead of light or pastel hues. Using darker or multi-coloured wallpapers with a small proportion of white means that discolourations are not as visible - but they are still present, i.e. regular cleaning is still important in terms of hygiene and odours.
Lesson: Sealing wallpaper surfaces with transparent latex paint and protective films
If nothing but a paper-based wallpaper or one with a similarly delicate surface will do, there is always the potential option to add a washable protective layer or coating. The emphasis is on “potential”, as there is no 100% guarantee.
Latex paint is commercially available and seals the wallpaper surface, making it washable. It can be applied with a paint roller or sprayed on. The basis of these wallpaper coatings is usually a polyvinyl acetate dispersion. However, the exact composition can vary from one manufacturer to another. This means that wallpaper made from very delicate materials can react unfavourably to the protective coating. Depending on the type of wallpaper you would like to use for a room where smoking occurs, protective coating is not always suitable, as it might damage the surface. You should therefore consult the experts in a DIY shop explicitly before deciding to go through with the process.
Another increasingly popular option is the use of protective foils, which can be applied to large surface areas. These are similar to transparent self-adhesive films or foils, but require special care, patience, additional helping hands, and experience, which is why you should leave their application to the experts (i.e. your painter/decorator). Protective foils can be bought by the meter in a variety of widths and will make your wallpaper washable.
3. Fire resistance, flame protection
Contrary to wallpaper for areas with public access, those in private living quarters do not carry any specific fire protection requirements. But this doesn't mean that the potential fire risk through smoking should be neglected. Choose wallpapers categorised as “flame-resistant” in order to limit the risk of a fire spreading.
How to protect your wallpaper from nicotine and tobacco residues and keep it fresh and hygienic for as long as possible
Due to its consistency, smoke is akin to a snake which winds its way through anything and finds places to rest everywhere. No surface is spared. If you want to introduce high-quality, stylish patterned wallpapers into your home, the best way to protect them is to simply avoid smoking in the rooms in question - easier said than done, though! Here are some tips on how to keep the smoke at bay:
- Smoke at an open window so the smoke can escape straight away.
- Immediately after smoking, remove the ashtray from the room.
- Close the doors to neighbouring rooms, as smoke can spread very easily.
- Clean your wallpaper regularly with a damp cloth. The cleaning intervals depend on the intensity and regularity of smoking.
- Keep air humidity at an ideal level. You can check this with a hygrometer, which is often integrated in a wall clock. If the humidity is too high, it can be remedied by frequent quick burst of airing with the windows wide open. Please remember that this process is subject to specific parameters which depend on internal and external temperature. In the warm summer months, you should always air your home during the cooler morning and evening hours. Otherwise, warm air comes in from the outside, which can lead to condensation on interior walls and increased air humidity. During the winter months, the warm air in heated rooms absorbs humidity like a sponge. Opening the windows wide for 10 to 15 minutes allows the humidity to escape to the outside. A dehumidifier can be used for extreme air humidity which cannot be remedied just by airing.