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Paint Solvents & Removers

Strip finishes and thin paint quickly and safely

In order to properly refinish a surface, it first needs to be stripped before you can apply new paint and a new finish. Removers, or strippers, eliminate all types of paint and finishes. They remove all the old paint or varnish to reveal an object's original surface. Solvents can be used to thin paint and are used in paint preparation and paint cleanup. When using solvents and strippers, it is advised that you read the manufacturer's warnings and follow the safety precautions on the label. The following questions will help guide you to a better understanding of which solvents and removers are best for your needs and how you can use them safely and effectively:

  • What types of solvents are available?
  • What paint or epoxy can solvents be used to thin?
  • What types of removers are available?
  • What steps should you take to ensure safe use?
  • What other techniques can be used to remove paint?

Removers, Solvents and Application

Removers are available in consistencies ranging from thin liquids to thick semi-pastes. They also have varying degrees of flammability and toxicity, so it's crucial to strictly adhere to the manufacturer's guidelines for proper use. Once you've successfully stripped paint or finish, wait until the stripped paint or epoxy dries before disposing of it. Different solvents have varying degrees of success thinning different substances, so make sure you choose the right one for your needs.

Removers: Removers are powerful substances that are designed to do the hard work of removing old paint and finish, saving you time and effort. In many cases, old finishes are ready to be stripped within 15 minutes of application. There are two classifications of strippers, solvent-based strippers and safer strippers. Solvent-based strippers use methylene chloride (MC), which is a very potent substance. They can work in as little as 15 minutes. Safer strippers usually do not have as strong an odor nor are they as harsh as solvent-based strippers. However, they can take as long as 24 hours to fully penetrate the surface. All strippers require that you take the proper safety precautions and follow the instructions on the manufacturer's label.  

  • Semi-paste removers cling to surfaces, making them ideal for vertical or overhead applications, and they can remove multiple coats simultaneously
  • Removers may take anywhere from 10 minutes to 24 hours to take effect
  • Solvent-based strippers take from 15-30 minutes to penetrate the surface and can strip up to as many as 15 layers of paint
  • Safer strippers take anywhere from 4-24 hours to fully penetrate the surface and can strip as many as 7 layers of paint

Solvents: Solvents are substances, usually a liquid, capable of dissolving another substance. Typically, they are used to thin paint products, but they can also be used to clean, treat, modify dry time and degrease wood and other materials. After a remover has been used, solvents are often needed to clean and prep the surface to receive a new finish. Commonly used solvents include mineral spirits, turpentine, denatured alcohol, linseed oil, xylene, lacquer thinner, acetone and MEK (methyl ethyl ketone). The chart below details which substances each of these solvents can be used to thin.

Product to Be Thinned Solvents to Use
Adhesives
  • Acetone
  • MEK
Epoxies
  • Xylene
  • MEK
Fiberglass resins
  • Acetone
  • MEK
Lacquer
  • Lacquer thinner (comprised of acetone, toluene and methanol)
Oil-based paint
  • Mineral spirits
  • Turpentine
Shellac
  • Denatured alcohol
Varnish
  • Mineral spirits
  • Turpentine


Application: Safety is of the utmost concern when working with solvents and removers, particularly when working with flammable materials or substances that emit toxic fumes. Protect your body by wearing pants, a long-sleeve shirt, gloves and an apron. Splash-proof goggles will keep your eyes safe while a respirator will help protect your respiratory system. Even if you're wearing a respirator, make sure you're working in a very well-ventilated area. Brushes can be used to apply removers and, once they've taken effect, dull putty knives, scrub pads and scrapers can be used to take off finishes. Place some wood shavings in your hand and then wrap your hand around table or chair legs and rub them down to remove finish from hard-to-reach nooks and crannies carved into them. String can also be useful for getting into cracks and turnings. If the remover creates a waxy buildup, make sure it's thoroughly removed before refinishing.

  • Wear a full-face shield when working with caustic removers, such as lye
  • Use chemical-resistant gloves when working with methylene chloride
  • Roll gloves back toward your hands to prevent drips from running down your arm
  • Make sure children and pets are out of range of harmful fumes before you begin
  • Use inexpensive, disposable brushes to apply removers
  • Never apply flammable solvents or removers near any potential source of sparks
  • When using slower removers, apply remover and then place object in a plastic bag overnight to allow the remover ample time to work

Features

Respirator: If you're using any type of solvent or remover that emits hazardous fumes, you'll need to use a respirator. While working in a well-ventilated environment is equally as important, a respirator will provide a last line of defense against noxious vapors that can leave you sick, dizzy or worse.

Heat: Removers aren't the only way to get rid of paint and finish. Heat guns can also be used to remove paint. Once heated, simply use a scraper or putty knife to remove the finish.

Synthetic Stripping Pads: Sometimes, steel wool pads can fall apart in the middle of removing a finish. Synthetic pads are more durable and can be rinsed out and reused on future projects.

 
Don’t Forget

Gloves and a respirator may be necessary to keep you safe when using a paint or stain remover to strip away old and worn surfaces.

Purchase the right brush for all your paint removing tasks by choosing from The Home Depot’s wide selection of application tools.