nicotine stains on fabric

How to Remove Nicotine Stains from Fabric

Long-term smoking can cause stains on a range of surfaces, from walls to textiles and clothing.

Whether you’re a smoker or you’ve bought something second-hand from a smoker, knowing how to remove nicotine stains from fabric is a useful skill.

And that’s what we’ll cover in this article. Read on to find out how to remove nicotine stains from a range of different textiles.


Understanding Nicotine Stains

nicotine chewing gum and cigarettes

A good place to start with any stain removal process is to understand the composition of the stain. Usually, knowing this allows you to understand what products will shift it. So, what makes up a nicotine stain?

Technically, not just nicotine. The stain can also consist of tar and other chemicals found within tobacco. Nicotine itself is colourless but turns brown or yellow when exposed to oxygen.

But how does this help us approach removing nicotine stains from fabric? It means that we can try and tackle the stain with a range of products, but also that we don’t have to use any special water temperatures (other than the most suitable for the specific fabric).


How to Remove Nicotine Stains from Fabric

Let’s look at the options we have for removing nicotine stains from fabric. Depending on the fabric you’re dealing with, you might need some slightly unusual products.

As usual, do a patch test if you can before working on the stain.

Removing nicotine from cotton or linen

remove nicotine stain with rubbing alcohol

To tackle nicotine stains on natural fibres, you’ll want to use rubbing alcohol. It helps break down the oily components of the stain, which can drastically lift the colour.

Start by soaking your fabric in some heavy-duty laundry detergent. Ideally, you’ll want a bio formula with decent stain removal properties.

Something like Persil or Ariel laundry detergent should do the job, but any specific stain-removing detergent will work.

  1. Fill a basin with warm water and a teaspoon of detergent.
  2. Soak the fabric in this mixture for an hour or so. Wring out the excess water.
  3. Locate the stain and sponge it with rubbing alcohol. Be sure to blot the stain rather than rub it.
  4. Wash the item on a 30-degree Celsius wash with more laundry detergent.
  5. Before drying, check the stain. If it’s still there, repeat the blotting steps before allowing the stain to set.

If you can’t get it out using this method, you might need to speak to a dry cleaner. Their chemical products are pretty heavy-duty and should be able to remove a dried-on stain.


Removing nicotine from white natural fabrics

If your fabric is white and made from natural fibres, you can try using oxygen bleach instead.

You might need to repeat the soaking a few times with fresh water and bleach (replaced every 8 hours or so), but it should work eventually.


Removing nicotine from polyester, acrylic or nylon

glycerine and polyester fabric

When working with synthetic fibres, we need to be a bit more careful about the products we use.

Although rubbing alcohol should be safe to use on synthetic fabrics, you’ll want to be careful using anything that could be considered a solvent.

Instead, we’ll use glycerine. It’s quite good for removing greasy or oily stains, which can include nicotine.

You can pick up vegetable glycerine online or in a lot of hardware or cleaning stores.

  1. First, mix 1 part glycerine, 1 part laundry detergent, and 8 parts water.
  2. Dampen the stain with a small amount of water.
  3. Dab on some of your mixture using a sponge or cloth, then add a few drops of white vinegar.
  4. Cover the stain with a cloth or cotton wool pad, pressing it down slightly. The aim is to get this to pick up the stain as the mixture works on it.
  5. Keep reapplying small amounts of your mixture to keep the stain wet.
  6. Rinse it with clean water and then wash as normal.

Again, you’ll want to check the stain before drying the item. If it’s still there, repeat the process above while the item is still wet.


Removing nicotine stains from upholstery

laundry detergent and sofa

Removing nicotine stains from upholstery can be more challenging, if only because we might not be able to use a washing machine.

Instead, we’ll need to focus on spot-cleaning the stain. To do this, we can use the methods and products listed above.

 Mix a teaspoon of heavy-duty laundry detergent with 2 litres of water. Start by wetting and blotting the stain with a clean cloth.

Try to avoid scrubbing it, as this can spread the stain and damage the fibres.

Instead, if you’re struggling to shift the stain, try soaking a cloth and laying it over the stain. Leave it for an hour or so and then blot it with a clean cloth.

If that hasn’t worked, try blotting on some rubbing alcohol. As mentioned, it should be fine to use on synthetic fibres, but do a patch test somewhere hidden just to be safe.

This method should work on anything from sofas and cushions to curtains and other upholstery. Of course, if you can machine wash the stained item, that’ll help.


Does Dry Cleaning Get Rid of Nicotine?

dry cleaning

Dry cleaning should be pretty effective at getting rid of nicotine stains. Unlike household cleaning products, dry cleaning doesn’t use water (it instead uses solvents).

Considering dry cleaning can get rid of some pretty stubborn stains, it’s worth trying on nicotine.

Of course, this might only be worth trying on something that’s expensive or difficult to clean at home.

Bear in mind, too, that a nicotine stain that’s been washed and tumble dried will be fairly set in the fabric.

Make sure you mention this to your dry cleaner, as it might mean they can’t lift the stain.


Final Thoughts 

Removing nicotine stains can take a bit of work but it should be possible with household cleaning products.

As with any stain removal, make sure you test your cleaning products first and don’t scrub the stain. If you’re not having any luck removing it yourself, see what a dry cleaner can do!