How To Remove Paint From Nearly Any Surface

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Room Painted Blue

Removing paint from different surfaces can be one of the most frustrating things for the DIYer.

Whether you got paint on your floor when you were doing a painting project or if you are trying clean up someone else’s old mess, the task is difficult and there is a ton of different (often times useless) information out there.

Everything I am going to share with you here is from my own real-life experience of spending 15 years as a residential painter. I have removed every type of paint from every surface imaginable, old paint, new paint and everything in between.

Lead Paint

Before we get started on how to remove paint, I need to give one warning. Never start sanding old paint if do not know if it contains lead or not. If your home was built pre-1978, then please do a lead test and take the proper precautions! This post is not addressing lead from here on out, please look elsewhere for information on properly removing lead-based paint.

Respirators

Another important safety precaution is to make sure to always wear a charcoal based respirator whenever you are sanding, using strippers, oil paint, thinners or anything else that produces high VOCs or dust.

General Notes

Before you start the task of removing paint from any surface, you need to ask yourself “Why do I need to remove this paint?”.

I often times see people trying to remove paint that does not require removal. Such as repainting kitchen cabinets, siding, trim or fireplaces. Often times, sanding the existing surface smooth with a random orbital, belt or palm sander will prepare the surface to accept new paint and save you the hassle of trying to remove paint.

How To Remove Paint From Wood, Metal, Concrete, and Brick

Removing paint from wood is one of the most common painting tasks I’ve come across. From wood floors, concrete floors, metal, brick, wood siding, kitchen cabinets, trim and more.

How To Remove Paint From Concrete
Scraping Paint off of Concrete

How you remove paint depends on a lot of different factors such as the surface, is it porous, non-porous, rough or smooth? Will the surface be damaged using different strippers, scrapers or sanders? And how old is the paint, is it fully cured?

If the paint isn’t fully cured (most paints cure in 7-30 days), you should be able to easily remove any drips or paints spots from most dense hardwood surfaces with a hard plastic scraper. Sadly, cured paint is not nearly this easy.

Removing Paint From Smooth Wood, Metal, and Concrete

Often times before I move on to chemical-based paint removal, I like trying to remove it with scraping or sanding. I prefer dust to fumes.

A random orbital sander hooked up to a shop vac is great at keeping the dust to an absolute minimum while aggressively removing paint. If you are sanding on wood, be prepared to lose a little bit of the wood while sanding. Metals and even concrete should not have this problem.

How to Remove Paint From Wood
Scraping Paint off of Hardwood Floors

A trick that can help loosen latex paint for scraping is to douse it with hot water. The hotter the better. This can soften the latex and make it pliable. This can sometimes then allow the paint to be more easily removed.

If you are trying to remove paint from an exterior surface, power washing can work, but usually only removes already loose paint. Power washing can also risk damaging the surface that you are trying to remove the paint from if you get too aggressive.

Using Chemical Based Strippers on Wood, Metal, and Concrete

If sanding and scraping aren’t working or isn’t an option due to the substrate not being smooth or you cannot risk sanding on it, then you are going to have to move to a chemical based solution.

I like to start with milder solutions before moving onto harsher chemicals.

First, I like to try to scrub it off with paint thinner. If the paint you are trying to remove is relatively new oil based paint, then paint thinner can often times help remove it along with some elbow grease and a wire brush.

If the paint is dry and cured, I will move on to something will break down the paint like lacquer thinner. Laquer thinner will break down the old paint and you should be able to scrub it off with a rough scrubbing pad or plastic scraper. I use Klean Strip Green Laquer Thinner and find it works quite well. The only problem you may run into is that as the paint breaks down the color may still stain the wood after removal and require light sanding. Lacquer thinner may also break down and existing finish you have on the wood, concrete or metal that you may want to protect, so keep that in mind (typically only a problem for wood). Lacquer will not harm the actual wood its self or concrete or metal.

Finally, if all other options have failed. Paint can usually be removed from these surfaces the easiest with a paint stripper such as Klean Strip Stripper. I list this as a last resort for removing paint from wood because it is a methyl based solvent and is much harsher than even lacquer thinner, more flammable, harsher on the skin and worse fumes. It will usually get the job done, but you are going to need to protect your lungs, eyes and skin very thoroughly as well as clean up all residue as it is unsafe for kids and pets if left on the ground.  There are safer stripping gels such as Citri-Strip, but they are not nearly as good at paint removal in my opinion.

Removing Paint From Porous Brick, Wood and Concrete

When you are dealing with a really porous surface such as brick, rough concrete or a wood like oak, paint remove can become very tricky.

Typically removal from one of these surfaces requires a combination of other solutions.

Porous Wood

If you have ever tried stripping paint from porous wood, you probably have seen the leftover paint filled in all of the pours of the wood. I am going to highly recommend sanding if you can when dealing with a porous wood.

Soda Blasting

If you are looking to remove paint from exterior brick or concrete (often times this is done on old home restorations to uncover beautiful old brick), then soda blasting is your best option.

Sand Blasting Gun
This sandblasting gun can be used with either sand or soda.

Soda blasting literally blasts baking soda at an incredibly high rate and will easily remove paint from old brick, concrete or other surfaces. Soda blasting can even be done on interiors since baking soda is non-toxic (you will definitely have a mess to clean up though).

Soda is more expensive than sandblasting but is safer and friendly to your surfaces.

Soda and sandblasting will require the use of an air compressor. This gun above requires roughly a 90 psi at 12 cfm air compressor.

Sandblasting

Sandblasting is a lot like soda blasting only it blasts your surface with sand instead of baking soda. Sandblasting is very effective at removing paint, but it can also be quite damaging to the surface after the paint is removed. Sandblasting is typically used only on metal surfaces.

Power Washing

A cheaper, but less effective solution for removing paint from brick and concrete is power washing. Though this solution can really only be done outdoors but is great at removing loose paint. It will generally not be very effective at removing paint that is fully cured and has a good bond. 

Last Resorts

If soda blasting, sandblasting, power washing and sanding are not an option, such as on an interior brick fireplace, one last option before accepting defeat would be to saturate the brick with lacquer thinner, though only small areas at a time and with incredibly good ventilation. This can cause the paint to loosen and allow you to remove it with a wire brush. Honestly though, in this case, you are typically stuck with the paint and are better off coming up with a different solution.

How To Remove Paint From Glass

Glass is actually one of the easiest surfaces to remove paint from. This is because glass is a non-porous surface, thus making the bond between the paint and the glass less than porous surfaces.

The easiest way I have found to remove nearly all paints from glass is with a razor blade. But there is one point that people do not often think about and that is how to avoid scratching the glass.

Window Razor Blade Scrapper
Window Razor Blade Scraper

In order to avoid scratching the glass with your flat razor blade scraper, you will need to lubricate the glass as you scrape it with the blade. I typically use Windex. I spray the glass down with Windex, scrape it with the blade and then wipe it clean with a paper towel.

Sometimes you may run into paint on glass that has bonded too hard to scrape with just a razor blade. If this is the case, then you need to try to soften the paint. This can be done with hot water, mineral spirits, denatured alcohol, acetone, lacquer thinner or even Goof Off depending on the paint.  I typically go in this order and try the least harmful product first and work my way up to the harsher chemicals only if necessary. After loosening the paint, I will scrape it with a blade and Windex.

How To Remove Paint From Carpet

Carpet is obviously different to remove paint from than hard surfaces. Carpets are made up of fibers that will typically absorb liquid and not let go of paint very easily.

Razor Blade

If the paint is on the surface of the carpet and hasn’t sunk down to the base of the carpet (or been pressed into the carpet by feet), a simple solution can be to carefully take a razor blade right along the surface of the carpet and carefully cut out the paint.

Although this solution isn’t always possible, it is the best solution if the paint hasn’t absorbed into the fibers of the carpet.

Acetone

Acetone is a great choice for removing paint from carpet, clothing, furniture and even your body due to the fact that it is not a VOC compound. This means that it doesn’t produce the harmful vapors that mineral spirits, lacquer thinner, xylene and others produce. Acetone is one of the safer solutions for removing paint.

The only downside is that acetone is not very aggressive at removing paint and you may find that it works sometimes, but definitely not all the time.

Lacquer Thinner

Lacquer thinner can also be used to remove paint from Carpet.

The best way to do this is to use a respirator mask and dip a rag into the lacquer thinner and gently scrub the surface. Do not over saturate the area with lacquer thinner as it can easily deteriorate the glue backing of the carpet and cause the fibers to be released, thus causing a bald spot on your carpet.

Goof Off

Goof Off is a methyl based paint remover that can often times work great at removing paint from carpet.

How To Remove Paint From Your Hands and Body

Growing up, I remember my dad pouring a small bucket of gasoline for me and my brother to wash our hands in after we had finished painting the barn with an oil-based paint. It was cold, stunk and made my hands burn a bit.

I didn’t learn better until years later.

If you clean your hands with mineral spirits (paint thinner), lacquer thinner, gas or any other harsh chemical, you are allowing those chemicals to absorb straight through the skin and into your bloodstream. If you do this on a regular basis, the results just simply cannot be good.

There are a couple of much safer ways to remove paint from your hands and body than dousing yourself with harsh chemicals.

Dish Soap and Hot Water for Oil-Based Paints

This is simply the best and easiest method. Dish soap (such as Dawn) is made to break down oil and grease. So for oil-based paints, Dawn actually breaks down the paint wonderfully and removes it from your skin without drying out your hands.

If you have oil-based paint in your hair (which I have had many times), bring the Dawn soap into the bath with you. It may not be the best shampoo ever, but soaking in hot water and scrubbing with Dawn has always cleaned me up 100%.

Hot Water and Time for Latex Based Paints

I’ve come home from long days of painting with latex based paint in my hair, on my hands, arms and legs.

I’ve learned that the absolute best way to remove this paint is to not look for some trick to get it off my body but to run a hot bath, soak for 10-15 minutes and then simply to scrub it off with a bar of soap and a shower scrubber.

Sorry, no trick here.

Obviously, the easiest solution is to keep paint from getting on your skin in the first place.

For protection, I use the following:

A Full Face Respirator

Full Face Respirator

Keeping paint and fumes out of your eyes is just as important as keeping it out of your lungs. However, many people still only use a half mask.

According to 3M, a full face mask provides literally 5x times the protection of a half mask.

Latex or Vinyl Gloves

Vinyl Painting Gloves

Keeping paint off your hands is simple and requires no explanation. A box of 100 of these will last you many projects and save you from lots of scrubbing hassle.

Ear Plugs

Ear Plugs

Paint fumes have 4 main entry points to your body: your lungs, your skin, your eyes and through your ears.

If I am using an oil, laquer or alcohold based paint, I am putting in ear plugs to protect my brain!

Long Sleeve Painting Suit

These disposable suits are great to cover your entire body. They even have a hood to cover your hair. Great for general painting and especially great for spraying

How To Remove Paint From Clothes

If you are not going to wear a painting suit while painting, then you should definitely at least be wearing old clothes that you won’t mind getting paint on anytime you are dealing with paint.

But you wouldn’t be here if you had been wearing painting clothes, would you?;)

I have seen it over and over, someone doing something as simple as picking up a paint can and they end up with paint on their nice clothes because there was wet paint on the outside of the can.

The best way to remove paint from clothing is to attack it the second you get the paint on it.

If the paint is a water-based latex or acrylic, then immediately get the clothing wet, remove it and start washing with warm water. If you don’t give it a chance to dry at all, you can usually get it removed without any trouble.

If the paint was an oil base, then immediately get a rag with mineral spirits and start scrubbing the spot.

If you didn’t notice the paint right away or get a chance to remove it while it was still wet, don’t throw it away just yet, there may still be hope.

Here are a few tricks that may just get that paint removed.

Acetone

Like I said earlier, acetone is a non-VOC (it’s basically the next safest thing to use after water). So I like to start most of my paint removal expeditions with acetone.

Acetone is highly flammable though, so do be aware of this.

Dip a rag or pour the acetone directly onto the paint spot. Make sure to saturate the paint enough that the acetone doesn’t dry out before it has a chance to break down the paint. Don’t over-scrub as well as this could cause damage to your garment.

 

Goof Off, Laquer Thinner, and Denatured Alcohol

Goof off can be used to remove paint from clothing, but again, Goof Off has a high VOC (on par with Lacquer Thinner) but is fantastic at removing paint. It can leave an oily residue though and the clothing will need to be thoroughly cleaned after use.

Lacquer thinner will work every bit as well as goof off if not better, again though, super high VOC content.

Of these three, denatured alcohol has the lowest VOC content but will probably produce the worst results.

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