Years or even months of smoking in a house can cause walls, upholstery and ceilings to yellow. Lamp shades of all types can also become discolored and dirty. When cleaning tobacco stains from lamp shades, it is important to consider the type of lampshade first before cleaning. Different methods work for different materials, and some shades can be virtually impossible to clean.
Unfortunately, paper lampshades are a lost cause. Smoke cannot be removed from these shades because these shades cannot get wet or they will disintegrate. Consider spray painting them, dyeing them, or use fabric decoupage to renew discolored paper shades.
Remove glass shades from light fixtures and clean both the outside and inside with a soft microfiber cloth. Use mild dish washing detergent and water to clean, or apply 1/4 of a cup of white vinegar to a gallon of water and use as a solvent to break up tobacco stains. Allow shades to dry completely before placing them back on the lamp.
If the glass is hand painted, use a dab of water and a soft cloth on any unpainted areas. Rubbing the painted surface of a glass shade can remove the paint, so avoid rubbing or scrubbing these areas. If the paint on the shade is also dirty, use a brush to remove dust and gently dab with a wet cloth.
The outside of most plastic shades can be easily cleaned with a magic eraser-type pad and a bit of water. Remove shade from the lamp and check the inside to ensure that it is not covered with fabric. (If so, clean only the outside.) Dampen the sponge and gently rub the tobacco stain out. Plastic shades can also be cleaned with a mild vinegar and water solution; use 1/4 of a cup of white vinegar mixed with one gallon of water and a soft microfiber or cotton cloth to gently rub the shade clean.
Fabric shades are extremely difficult to clean because most surfaces must get wet to remove tobacco stains. To clean white fabric shades, try vacuuming them first to see if smoke and stains can be removed. Steam-type carpet or vacuum cleaners can work well to remove stains as long as they are worked quickly over the surface of the shade. If vacuum or steam cleaners do not work on white lamp shades, set them in a bright spot for a few days to see if the stain will bleach clean with sunshine. This works on blankets and linens, and it can be useful for some types of fabric.
If a white shade is not clean after a few days of sun bleaching, then use colored shade cleaning methods. One such method involves using dry cleaning solvent from a home dry cleaning kit. Follow package directions and use a clean white cloth to dab stains and dirt from the surface of the shade. As a final effort, shades can be washed in a large tub of lukewarm water mixed with a few drops of mild dish washing detergent (fully dissolved in water). Swirl the shade in the water several times to remove the dirt, and allow the shade to dry completely. Use a hair dryer to remove most of the water from the shade, as the wet surface can sometimes warp if it remains damp too long.