Paint Solvents & Removers
To properly refinish a surface, you must first thoroughly remove old paint and stain.
This guide will teach you about the paint solvents and removers that can get the job done.
Safety: When using chemicals such as solvents and strippers, always read the manufacturer’s warnings and carefully follow the safety precautions on the label. These products have varying degrees of flammability and toxicity, so take extra care.
Removers, also called strippers, eliminate all types of paint and finishes to reveal an object’s original surface.
Tip: Removers are available in consistencies ranging from thin liquids to thick semi-pastes. Semi-paste removers cling to surfaces, making them ideal for vertical or overhead applications.
Once you've successfully stripped paint or finish, wait until the stripped paint or epoxy dries before disposing of it.
There are two classifications of removers: solvent-based and safer.
- Solvent-based strippers utilize potent methylene chloride (MC) to work in as little as 15 to 30 minutes. They can strip up to 15 layers of paint.
- Safer strippers usually do not have as strong an odor and they are not as harsh as solvent-based strippers. They can take as long as four to 24 hours to fully penetrate the surface, depending on the size of the project, and can strip as many as seven layers of paint.
Solvents are used to dissolve or thin paint, and as part of paint preparation or cleanup. 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 methyl ethyl ketone (MEK).
Products to be Thinned and Solvents to Use:
- Lacquer thinner (comprised of acetone, toluene & methanol)
- Mineral spirits
- Denatured alcohol
- Mineral spirits
You can use brushes, putty knives and other tools to apply paint solvent, but be very safety conscious when working with the harsh chemicals.
- Use brushes to apply removers, and once they've taken effect, use dull putty knives, synthetic scrub pads and scrapers to take off finishes.
- Place some wood shavings in your gloved 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 be useful for getting into cracks and turnings.
- If the remover creates a waxy buildup, make sure it’s thoroughly removed before refinishing.
- For a chemical-free option, heat guns can be used to remove paint. Once heated, simply use a scraper or putty knife to remove the finish.
Tip: Use inexpensive, disposable brushes to apply removers so you can throw them away after use.
When stripping paint, always use safety gear to protect yourself against the toxic chemicals and fumes. Use brushes, scrub pads and scrapers to remove the paint once it’s been stripped or dissolved.
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 well-ventilated area.
- Wear a full-face shield when working with caustic removers, such as lye, and chemical-resistant gloves rolled over your sleeves to prevent drips from running down your arm.