In a home renovation, you’ll likely need to strip away layers of paint which have built up over the years. Over time, interior trends change dramatically, as do personal preferences.
The quickest and easiest way to update an interior is the power of paint. But the more layers of paint that are applied, the thicker and more caked-on the finish becomes.
The end result of these built-up layers can look messy. Details are lost and crisp edges become softened.
If the paint hasn't been applied well, you may have chips or drips adding to the mess.
If you want to bring an old painted item back to its former self, you’ll need to follow this guide.
There isn’t just one method for stripping paint, there are 8! Which method you choose will depend on the type of paint and object to be stripped, along with your budget.
This guide will explain each of the eight paint stripping methods, so you will have a better understanding of which one is best for you.
Paint that predates the 1970s may contain lead. Dust from lead paint causes serious health problems if ingested, so wear safety gear, remove children and pets from the area and take precautions to control the amount of dust created.
Test the paint for lead content prior to starting work and ensure the stripping method you choose is suitable for lead paint.
For more advice regarding lead paint, download a leaflet from the UK Government.
A chemical paint stripper is sold in either gel, paste or liquid form. It’s applied to the area you wish to strip paint from and works by either breaking down the paint or weakening the adhesion of the paint, depending on the type of chemical used. It can be applied on wood, metal and masonry.
Pro Tip: Always do a test patch first to ensure it doesn’t damage/mark the surface.
Chemical strippers are ideal for using with lead-based paint, as no dust is created.
It’s one of the more expensive methods of paint stripping.
It’s relatively simple to use and doesn’t require much DIY skill.
Proper protection and safety precautions must be used and you may not want to use this around children or animals.
Doesn’t take a lot of time to use.
Not the most environmentally friendly method.
Can be used to remove multiple layers of paint at once.
Chemical strippers only work on certain types of paint and they can mark/stain the surface.
Make sure to protect any floor or furniture that may be damaged by spillages with a covering sheet. Open windows to properly ventilate the space. Wear a ventilation mask if necessary. Ensure there are no children or pets around.
Wearing gloves, and according to packet instructions, apply a small test patch. Once this is complete, apply an even, liberal amount of chemical paint stripper over the area you wish to strip.
Some paint strippers (like Peel Away) require to be covered with a specialist paper whilst it works it’s magic, others don’t. Make sure to read the instructions on the box.
Leave the chemical stripper on for the manufacturer’s amount of time. The stripper may bubble or change colour, which means it’s working its magic.
Once the time is up, remove the stripper with a stripping knife whilst wearing protective gloves and place straight into a bin bag. It may be fairly thick and quite ‘gunky’ and if it’s worked correctly, the paint should lift off along with this gunk. If any paint still remains, you may need to apply a second course of chemical stripper.
Pro Tip: Leaving stripper on for longer than the recommended amount of time can damage the surface.
Once the gunk has been removed, clean away excess residue with water, then neutralise the area. Some strippers come with their own neutraliser, others may recommend white spirit.
This step ensures the item is ready for paint and there won’t be any adhesion issues with new paint from any chemical residue left behind.
Watch this video, where Sian Astley shows you how to use Peel Away.
Mechanical sanding is ideal for all types of wood in all areas, including flooring, skirting boards, doors and furniture. However, this method doesn’t really suit metal or masonry.
Mechanical sanding creates a lot of dust so is unsuitable for lead paint removal. There are 5 types of sander:Floor Drum Sander - A floor drum sander is an powerful sander, and as its name suggests, is most suited to hard-wearing floors. It’s great at removing old tar-like floor paint and it will speed up the process whilst saving your knees.
Pro Tip: Floor drum sanders cost over £1000 to buy, so most people rent them.
Belt Sander - These are powerful handheld sanders that work by spinning a belt of sandpaper whilst vibrating at the same time. They are ideal for large flat areas, like flooring, and are particularly good at removing tough paint and varnish.
Sheet Sander - Sheet sanders usually have a large flat rectangular sanding pad, that vibrates in a small circular motion. They’re more lightweight than a belt sander and ideal for flat areas such as skirting, furniture or vertical situations. They do not provide quite as harsh sanding as a belt sander, however, they are good for getting into edges and corners.
Random Orbital Sander - A random orbital sander has a rounded sanding pad which spins whilst vibrating at the same time. These are also suitable for skirting, furniture and vertical areas, however, they provide a slightly more vigorous sand than a sheet sander, so are best for tougher paint.Detail or Palm Sander - These are incredibly lightweight and are really only suitable for detailed sanding areas, such as staircase spindles, architrave and details on furniture. They provide a much more gentle sanding, so as not to harm the surface beneath it, which means more work when stripping multiple layers.
Pro Tip: Consider the voltage. A higher voltage power tool means a more powerful and faster sand. This is particularly important on tougher paint or if you have lots to do!
Will leave a perfect finish for painting straight onto.
Not suitable for lead-based paint, due to the dust created.
Ideal for tough paint, like varnish or old floor paint.
May damage surface if over-sanded or wrong grit is used.
You’ll be able to see instant results.
Sanding can be time-consuming and costly.
Only suitable for wood.
Prepare the surface you are working on, making sure there are no nails or screw heads which the sandpaper might catch on.
Pro Tip: It’s important to sand along with the grain of the wood (as opposed to against it) otherwise you may end up damaging the surface.
Once you’ve got the bulk of the paint off with the coarse sandpaper, change to a higher grit (less coarse, 120 grit is ideal) to smooth over what you’ve already sanded. This will also take away any smaller bits of paint left behind.
It’s important to take out any scratch marks that may have been left behind by the coarse sandpaper as well, or these will be visible when paint or oil is applied.
Pro Tip: If you have a Heavy Duty or DIY Vacuum, you can usually attach the hose to the sander for considerably reducing the amount of dust.
Apply white spirit on a lint-free cloth to clean the area from dust.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning on sanding paint or varnish from floorboards and have multiple rooms to do, it may be worth hiring out a Large Professional Drum Floor Sanding Machine, which will halve your time and save your knees!
Check out this video where Charis Williams sands back a varnished table.
Sometimes, mechanical sanding isn’t suitable for paint stripping. Often, it can just be too rough for the surface you want to work on, or it might be because the area you want to strip paint from is too small for a mechanical sander to fit.
It might be that the area wouldn’t be practical to use a power tool with (up on a ladder doing a window sill, perhaps). In these cases, hand sanding might be the better way to go.
Hand sanding has a very similar process to mechanical sanding, but it’s far more gentle and is particularly favoured for detailed areas.
Less powerful than mechanical sanding means a lot less dust.
Will require more effort and elbow grease than mechanical sanding.
Hand sanding is ideal for delicate areas of detail which you don’t want to over-sand.
May be painfully slow and you may not see as instant results.
Can be used in awkward areas where you wouldn’t otherwise be able to use a power tool.
Not ideal for multiple layers of paint or tough paint.
Wearing a dust mask and gloves, start with a low-grit sandpaper and apply pressure to the paper with your hand, moving it back and forth. For flat areas, we recommend using a sanding block tool, but you can also buy specialist sanding blocks with curved or rounded edges for getting into more awkward spaces.
Once you’ve removed most of the paint, switch to a higher-grit sandpaper (something like 120) to smooth over any sanding marks remove any fine paint left behind.
Using a lint-free cloth, wipe over the area with white spirit to remove any dust. You’re now ready for finishing off with paint or oil, if you wish.
Pro Tip: To reduce the amount of dust created by hand sanding, try using wet and dry sandpaper.
Here are some top tips from the Family Handyman for using hand sandpaper.
Hand Scrapers are useful in areas where the paint is already peeling and flaking away from its surface. They’re also useful on harder materials like brickwork and masonry where you can get a bit more rough with the tool without worrying about damaging the surface.
Hand scrapers come in all shapes and sizes and you can buy large flat ones for bigger surface areas, pointy triangular ones, called shave hooks, for corners and crevices, and you can even buy specialist window scrapers for removing paint around glass too.
Best suited for already peeling or cracked paint.
Won’t be beneficial on tougher paints.
Ideal for removing paint from glass.
May gouge the surface beneath it, if not careful.
Can be used on masonry and brickwork too.
May not remove every single ounce of paint.
Make sure your hand scraper is sharp enough to work with. If it isn’t, you can sharpen it up with a file or sharpening stone. You may need to sharpen it a few times whilst stripping paint depending on the surface you’re working on and how aggressive you need to be with the tool. We also recommend using safety gloves when working with blades.
When using a scraping tool or shave hook on wood, be sure to work with the grain moving the scraper in one direction only. Unlike sanding where you would go back and forth, you should only either go up or down, not both ways. Depending on how many layers of paint there are, you may need to do this a few times before you reach the surface.
For removing paint in crevices, try using a shave hook or a contour tool. The finer detailed areas are the most tricky and most prone to damage, so it’s important to take your time and handle the scraper with great care!
Pro Tip: For hard surfaces, you may be able to use a scraping attachment with a multi-tool for a more vigorous scrape.
Check out this video on paint scraping from Video Paint Guide.
Heat guns are a well-known tool for stripping paint and have been used for years. They produce a high temperature which enables paint to melt off the surface. They are an inexpensive tool which works particularly well with glossy paints.
This paint stripping method can be used for lead paint, but you should be careful not to burn the paint as this will release toxic lead fumes.
Very easy to use.
Easy to burn the wood beneath.
Doesn’t work on all paints.
Works well on gloss paint.
Can be messy.
Can be used on both large and more intricate areas.
Ventilate the room and protect the floor with a covering. We recommend wearing gloves to avoid burning skin.
Hold the gun 5-10cm above the surface you want to strip and turn it on. It’ll take a while to heat up, but you’ll soon notice the paint beginning to bubble and this indicates it’s beginning to come away from the surface.
If it’s not working that well, try a higher heat setting, but it’s important not to burn the wood beneath the paint. It’s a bit of a trial and error to begin with to see how well the paint responds!
As the paint bubbles, remove the heat from the area and use a scraper or shave hook to lift the paint away from the surface. Put the melted paint directly into a bin bag, so it doesn’t re-stick to your surfaces.
Repeat above steps until all paint is removed, then clean the area ready for your chosen finish.Watch this excellent example of stripping with a heat gun from CharlieShooters KnowHow.
Dipping and stripping is a service you pay for where you send items off, they’re submerged into a tank of caustic peel, jet washed and returned to you, paint free!
The cost of dipping and stripping pays off when you have lots of things that need stripping. Most commonly, this is used for doors and radiators where you would usually have several to deal with. If you were to buy your own chemical stripper for this amount of items, it would cost a small fortune.
Dipping can cost as little as £15 per door (depending on the local services available to you) and the hard work is done for you, freeing up your time for other areas in your home.
It’s worth noting that this option isn’t always successful and it’s a very harsh method of stripping which means there is some risk to the item you send off.
Collection and delivery usually available.
Water based paint cannot be stripped via this method.
Cost-effective when large amounts need stripping.
It can be quite risky, as you cannot do a test patch beforehand.
Frees up your time.
Dipping is only available for items that can be removed from the home.
Not suitable for glazed doors.
There is none. Sit back and relax!
Infrared paint stripping technology is new to the UK. It is considered the most gentle kind of paint stripping method.
It works similar to a heat gun, however, it uses an infrared bulb and lower temperatures. This is what makes it gentle, you can even use it on glass. It’s also safe for lead-based paint.
Unfortunately, an infrared paint stripper will set you back a few hundred pounds!
Considered a gentle method of paint removal.
Very expensive tool to buy.
Low temperatures mean there’s no need to worry about burning wood.
Large size means it may not get into small spaces.
Safe for use with lead-based paint.
Can be used on glass.
Cover the floor and any furniture. You may wish to use protective gloves as you’ll be working with high temperatures.
Switch on the Infrared heating tool and hold it directly over the paint, around 5-10cm above. You’ll only need to hold it there for a few seconds before the paint will begin to bubble. This shows the paint stripper is working and it’s melting away from the surface.
As soon as the paint begins to bubble, move the infrared heater away and use a scraper or shave hook to pull the paint off the surface, taking care not to gouge it. Put the melted paint into a bin bag.
If any paint is left behind, you can go back over with the infrared stripper and repeat the above steps, otherwise a quick clean of the surface will have it ready for finishing.
Check out this video from The Craftsman’s Blog to see an infrared paint stripper in action.
Smaller hardware such as door hinges or handles can have the paint boiled off them by submerging in a pan of hot water.
Very easy to do.
Only suitable for items small enough to be put into a pan.
Hardware must be removed from the door first.
Will not work with wood or porous materials.
Unable to do a sample test first.
Fill an old saucepan with water (ideally one you never want to use again) and place in the objects you wish to remove paint from.
Turn the hob on and allow the water to boil, leaving it for 15-20 minutes.
Carefully remove the objects from the pan with some tongs and, using a paint scraper or shave hook, pull the paint away from the metal hardware.
For any small areas, like screw holes, use some wire wool. If there’s still paint left on it, pop it back into the pan for another 15-20 minutes.
Clean up your hardware with some WD40 and a cloth and they should now be ready for use.
Pretty Handy Girl shows you how to boil paint away in this video.
Pro Tip: For extra tough paint, try adding some TSP Cleaner (Trisodium Phosphate) to the boiling water and let soak for 30 minutes.
So there you have it - that’s how the professionals deal with paint stripping from all kinds of different surfaces. I hope this article has helped you determine which is the best method for you and if it has, we’d love to know which one you chose.
Please share our guide and let us know in the comments below if you have any pro tips of your own you’d like to recommend too!
Kezzabeth is a blogger and DIY renovator. She bought her first house at 20, realising the only way she would be able to get onto the property ladder was to buy a fixer-upper and learn how to renovate, DIY-style