It’s easy to get carried away, thinking how quickly you’ll refinish your home when you buy your first paint sprayer. Hold up! Before you get to play with your paint sprayer, you have to strip off whatever paint someone put there before. Leaving old paint on is going to compromise the integrity of your fresh coat, and it’ll mean messy results. That’s true of pretty much any project, aside from interior walls.
In this guide, we’ll introduce you to a few different ways you can remove paints and other finish coatings.
Best Paint Stripper Reviews 2018
- Excel Blades K11 Razor Blade Scraper
- Ford FPWEF2.1-1800 1800PSI Electric Pressure Washer
- DEWALT DWE6401DS 5-Inch VS Disc Sander
- PORTER-CABLE PC1500HG 1500-Watt Heat Gun
- Citri-Strip QCG731 Paint and Varnish Stripping Gel
- Smart Strip by Peel Away® Paint Remover
- Rust-Oleum Automotive Remover
The good old hand scraper is your first and most important tool for removing paint. Even if you use a more elaborate method, you’ll need a manual paint scraper tool to finish the job. If you don’t want to invest in a special tool or use chemicals, it’s also the best approach–period.
This is the best scraper tool we’ve found:
We like it because it uses replaceable blades. With scrapers that have blades you can’t replace, you constantly have to file them to keep your usable edge. With this thing, you just go until your blade wears down, then swap it for a new one.
It’s also much less bulky than your average paint scraper. You might find it less practical than a big, long handled one for exterior walls, but it’s more versatile and maneuverable for furniture and interior projects.
Using a hand scraper can involve a lot of elbow grease, so be aware of that before you commit to your project! When possible, we prefer to use them in tandem with something like a pressure washer, heat gun, or chemical stripper. That takes a lot of the manual labor out of the equation. Plus, there’s only so far you can go with a scraper alone before you start to damage wood surfaces. That’s why it’s good to loosen with another method, then use the scraper to take off the loose bits.
Exterior projects are much easier to deal with if you have a pressure washer! That’s the best way to loosen any kind of paint from siding, especially if you have a synthetic material to deal with. The pressure washer may not take everything off by itself, but it’ll do 90% of the grunt work for you by loosening and moistening. Follow after with a scraper, and you’ll have a much faster pace. Pressure washers are also great for fences, picnic tables, and that sort of thing.
Once you’ve loosened things with the pressure washer, you’ll just have to follow up with a scraper. Often a plastic tool will be better, so you avoid digging into the wet wood!
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a decent pressure washer these days, either. Aside from the fact that you’ll find lots of other uses for one around the house and garage, you’ll find that there are a fair number of excellent models available for well under $500.
Ford makes some great ones for the homeowner:
These are the cheapest you can get without ending up in the cheap-o range. They have enough power to strip paint effectively, but are still small enough and priced accordingly for the average homeowner. There are both gas and electric models listed at the link above, so check them out!
Sanding remains a tried-and-true method of paint removal, if messy. You can sand off absolutely every type of coating, including stains and penetrating coatings which are very difficult to remove with a scraper. And since you’re going to need to sand before you apply new coatings, you can kill two birds with one stone.
You’ll need an electric sander to remove paint, though. Doing this by hand is awfully painstaking. We suggest using this DeWalt:
It has simplified attachment options for sandpaper, so you can quickly change your sheets. The dual handles also make it easy to navigate at different angles.
The big flaw of working with a sander is dust. Just like sanding bare wood, sanding paint will create a lot of dust. Sawdust isn’t something you want to be breathing either, but paint dust is downright toxic. So, you’re going to need a ventilator to work this way. You should ideally do it outside or in a well-ventilated garage, too.
One reason we suggest the DeWalt sander over others is that it has an effective vacuum port, so you can easily connect it to a HEPA shop vac. Make sure you’re using something with HEPA filtration! Otherwise, you’re just going to be blowing dust particles around more.
Don’t try and do a whole exterior wall this way, though. Sanding is also not a good approach for anything with moulding. It’s as likely to damage the moulding as it is to get all the paint off. You should definitely consider it for stained pieces, though! And if you already have a good HEPA shop vac, it’s a no-brainer to do this instead of scraping by hand.
Heat guns are a fairly recent addition to the home painter’s toolbox. These tools are a lot like high-powered hairdryers. You can use them to lift of years and years of paint, several layers down! They work quickly, and don’t produce the kind of dust that you get with sanding. There aren’t any chemicals involved, either.
Heat guns are an excellent way to go about stripping furniture pieces, delicate moulding, and metal surfaces. Overall, we think they’re the best method for most projects.
We suggest this inexpensive Porter Cable gun to DIYers who want to try working with heat:
It’s the most reliable on the market, at least that we’ve come across. There are two fan speeds, plus an adjustable temperature dial that makes it relatively easy to find a workable setting that strips without scorching. Best of all, it’s cheaper than any paint sprayer!
There are certainly flaws to working with a heat gun, though. Any hand tool like this isn’t going to be nearly as practical for big exterior walls as working with a pressure washer. It’s also easy to scorch wood surfaces if you’re not careful to keep moving at a steady pace. Still, using a heat gun successfully is very doable with practice. You should wear a ventilator, though, equipped with a chemical cartridge. Heated paints off-gas fumes that aren’t healthy. Open windows or bring your workpiece outside if you can.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that steam is an astonishingly good paint stripper! After all, it’s basically a combination of a heat gun and a pressure washer. You harness the combined power of water and heat to lift coatings off surfaces.
We don’t recommend any specific steam cleaners, because you’ll need a fairly expensive canister system to get the kind of temperatures required for stripping paint. However, if you already use one of those for home cleaning projects, try using it for your next stripping job! Steam paint on as high a temperature as you can get (be careful not to warp boards!), then follow up with a hand scraper.
Chemical stripping solutions
Of course, what most people think of when they hear the term “paint stripper” is a chemical solution. These chemical compounds will dissolve paints and stains, and they go right down to whatever surface is underneath.
Chemical paint strippers are noxious, often toxic, and messy to work with. That’s why we prefer to work with a heat gun whenever we can. However, for some molding and detail areas that are hard to reach, they’re still the best way to go.
Citristrip is the best all-purpose chemical stripping product we’ve found:
It’s relatively harmless, since it doesn’t contain caustic chemicals like methylene chloride. It’ll work on practically anything. Be aware that it’s pretty messy, though. You’ll also need to follow up with a plastic putty knife to remove the gunk and paint remnants.
You can also use strip-type chemical solutions. These are less messy than something like Citristrip, which is painted on. With a strip solution, you just apply strips over the paint, then peel away the dissolved coating after a period of time.
Smart Strip is the best on the market, as far as we’re concerned:
This stuff works relatively quickly, compared to the competition. It’s also less toxic.
Always wear a mask and gloves, even with the less toxic options. Anything capable of dissolving paint isn’t going to be healthy to work with. Don’t be fooled by green labelling!
Metal surfaces generally require a more potent chemical stripper, in order to get right down to the surface. If you’re stripping a car or something else where you can’t use a heat gun, try this:
It’s highly toxic and requires a ventilator to use safely, but it works crazy well. Just don’t use it on anything non-metal. It’ll eat through other materials.
Always test for lead, and never work on lead paint yourself. Hire an EPA-certified professional instead.
Don’t sand indoors without using a HEPA-grade shop vac. Paint particles are toxic when ingested, and should not be dealt with casually. Wear a proper ventilator, and clean up thoroughly.
Figured out how you want to go about stripping your work surface? Great! Now, head over to our homepage to find your ideal tools for refinishing! It’s the perfect place to find reviews of the best paint sprayers on the market.