Paint Stripping - Using Different Techniques to Strip Paint From a Variety or Surfaces

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Summary: In this DIY guide you learn about the various methods of stripping paint and removing paint from surfaces such wood and metal using a variety of paint strippers and techniques such as gel, liquid and paste based paint strippers, eco friendly and non solvent based paint strippers and also how to strip paint using blow torches and heat guns. Also find out about more hands-on approaches such as using sand paper, wet and dry paper and wood scrapers.

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As I’m sure anyone that has previously tried this will agree, it’s not one of the nicest jobs to do as it can be messy and time consuming.

We get many questions regarding stripping paint from flaky walls, door and window frames etc. As is the case with many jobs the final finished product will be reflected by the prep work carried out on the surface.

If the surface is not clean, flat and free of dust, flakes, grease etc then the final finish will either look rough or will crack and fall off in a short space of time. With this information in mind, preparation is the key to success!

Pretty much all the techniques discussed in this project will work on a variety of surfaces such as wood and metal etc.... but it is always a good idea to check the manufacturers specifications on specific paint stripping products to ensure they will not cause damage.

Before We Start Stripping Paint – Lead Paint Awareness!

Lead paint is one of the major sources of lead in older houses. It is recorded that about two–thirds of the homes built before 1940, and one–half of the homes built from 1940 to 1960 have been decorated with lead–based paint. Some homes built in the 60's and early 70's may also contain some lead too.

DIY Doctor, in the interests of safety does not recommend sanding down or burning off paint from internal or external surfaces of a house unless you can be sure the paint does not contain lead. If this is the case, please see our project on preparing timber for painting where you will get full instructions on how to sand.

In the following paragraphs below you will see a product called Paint and Varnish Remover and this is the best product DIY Doctor has found in over 30 years of decorating, for stripping paint. It is safe and it is clean. If this project looks like product placement it's because it is! This is the only way we strip paint and we know what we are doing.

Lead paint warning

Danger of lead paint warning sign

Paint Stripping Options

When it comes to stripping paint there are several ways that this can be done and depending on the situation, environment or surface you may be able to pick and choose from the options available or you may only have one choice!

NOTE: Whichever option you choose it’s always a good idea to test on a small and inconspicuous area first to ensure that no permanent damage will be caused.

Paint stripping options:

  • Liquid, gel or paste strippers
  • Mechanical strippers such as sanders
  • Hand stripping with sand paper
  • Heat guns

Using A Liquid, Gel or Paste Based Paint Stripper

Without doubt this is probably the quickest and easiest way to strip paint and in the majority of situations can be the most useful as it can be applied with a brush or putty knife and due to this can be plied into very tight spaces where you may not be able to get a scraper.

Due to this, it can be great for use on decorative moulding and odd shapes where scraping would take a life time.

As you may be aware there are quite a few products of this kind on the market. The most common of these come in the following forms:

Gel Type Paint Stripper

The gel types can be brushed onto the surface to be stripped using a paint brush. Once applied (read the manufacturers guidelines on the packaging for how much should be applied to the surface, generally a thin layer 1 – 2mm thick).

You generally have to wait a few minutes while the gel penetrates and as it either softens or lifts off (in most cases you should be able to visually see the paint lifting), it can then be scraped off using a scraper or wiped off with an old rag or cloth.

This process may have to be carried out several times depending on how many layers of paint have been applied to the surface over the years.

Once you have scraped off the first coat, inspect the surface for any remaining paint and then repeat the process if necessary.

Gel based paint stripper

Gel based paint stripper

Paste Type Paint Stripper

With paste type stripper, this usually comes in 2 forms – a powder that you have to mix and a ready to use version. Similar to the gel version above and depending on the consistency, you may be able to apply the paste with a brush but if it is too stiff you may need to use a scraper or a putty knife.

Spread the paste over the surface to be stripped following the guidelines on the packaging as to how much should be applied ensuring that you ply it into any corners etc…(again usually a thin layer 1 – 2mm thick) and leave the paste on the surface for the time specified by the manufacturer.

Unlike the gel type where in most cases you can see the reaction occurring, you will be unable to if you use paste so ensure you wait for the full amount of time specified by the manufacturer.

Once this time is reached test a small area first to ensure that it has worked correctly. The paint should lift away with the paste.

If all has worked as it should, use a scraper to lift the paste and paint away from the surface.

Paste based paint stripper

Paste based paint stripper

Which ever of the above methods you have used, once you have removed all of the paint it is always a good idea to clean over the surface with some fine wire wool or very fine sandpaper.

Take great care when doing this as if the surface is wood or decorative then there is a good chance that if you are too heavy handed or use a course abrasive then you will damage it!

As easy as they are to apply, the 2 above options do feature some draw-backs in that they are corrosive and can burn if contact with bare skin is made and they can also give off harmful and toxic fumes so always refer to the packaging and manufacturers instructions for use and always use in a well ventilated space, wear gloves, eye protection and if possible overalls and other protective clothing.

In some cases (depending on what you are applying to) gels and pastes can also cause surface damage e.g. to some wood fillers. If this is the case then you will have to repair/replace before you can then start painting.

One further thing to be aware of is that once you have used chemicals on a surface, before you re-paint, you will have to thoroughly clean the surface first in order to remove any chemical residue as this may affect the paint. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions once again for this and what to use in order to neutralise any residue.

In most cases this can be achieved by using white spirit, adding some to a rag and then wiping the surface over ensuring that you have covered the entire surface.

One final point to make is always ensure that you do not leave chemical based strippers on a surface for any period where they could then dry into the surface as this can then become a monumental hassle to ensure that you have removed from the surface entirely.


  • Quick and easy to apply
  • Can get into awkward areas
  • Thorough and complete paint removal


  • Corrosive to skin and can burn
  • Produces toxic fumes
  • Can damage some surfaces and fillers
  • Needs cleaning properly before applying paint

An Alternative to Traditional Chemical Strippers

Here is a product which is taking the market by storm. A user friendly, solvent free stripper which is guaranteed not to harm the surface you are stripping.

Home Strip paint stripper

Home Strip available from the DIY Doctor Superstore

To find out more information on what products can be safely removed and also what surfaces they can be removed from visit the Eco Solutions website for further details. All Eco Solutions products are produced to be very environmentally friendly and very safe to use. They have also been Endorsed by Wayne de Wet, Multiple award winning decorator and Grand Winner Dulux Select Decorator 2011

Researched, developed and manufactured in the UK, Home Strip™ is a revolutionary unique patented water–based paint stripper using science not solvents that is safer to its user and the environment than conventional hazardous solvents. Home Strip® awarded Millennium Products Status for creative and innovative products for the Millennium.

Home Strip™ is ideal for use by do–it–yourself enthusiasts, as well as professional users. Economical to use – Goes further than hazardous solvent based strippers – Minimal VOC content (0.000004%, as certified by independent laboratory detection test)

Most DCM–free paint strippers have just replaced one hazardous solvent with another, but Eco Solutions patented technology removes the hazardous solvent content and replaces it with water. A safer alternative for you and your family.

Product Features and Advantages:

  • Water-based
  • Tough non–toxic formulation
  • Non Hazardous
  • Non Caustic
  • Non Flammable
  • PH Neutral
  • No Fumes
  • No Skin Burns
  • Product requires no ventilation
  • Suitable for use by people with respiratory problems such as asthma sufferers

If you are interested in purchasing Home Strip™ Paint and Varnish Remover then it is available from our very own toolstore.

Eco Solutions supply stripping products for a number of surfaces and applications that also include stripping artex. To find out more about this check out our removing artex project. Additionally we have just reviewed the Home Strip range so if you would like to know what we thought of it when we tested check out our review here.

Mechanical Paint Stripping Using Sanders

There is a huge range of sanding tools currently available on the market that come in all shapes and sizes. These include:

  • The domestic plate/sheet sanders - you may already be familiar with these, usually feature a foam plate that you strap a piece of sandpaper to and the plate vibrates creating the friction between the sandpaper and the surface
  • The belt sander type - an oval belt revolves around a set of rollers rubbing the sandpaper over the surface
  • The drill attachment type - usually circular in appearance and slot into the end of a standard drill chuck and revolve in a circular motion, powered by the drill
  • The orbital type - similar to the plate/sheet sander in that a sanding disc/sheet is attached to a plate at the base of motor that turns the disc in a circular motion creating the friction between the sheet and surface
  • Detail/Corner sanders – these come in various shapes and sizes and are similar in function to the plate/sheet sanders but with one difference in that the plates are not uniform rectangle in shape they are usually odd shapes, featuring points enabling you to get into hard to reach corners etc….
  • Drum sanders – these feature a foam drum that features an abrasive coating that revolves and creates the friction between the drum and the surface.

All of the above have their advantages and disadvantages; you can cover large areas in a relatively short space of time, there is a wide and varied selection of grades (coarse to fine) that can be attached and adapted to almost any sanding/stripping situation. Attachments can be purchased to enable you to get into hard to reach areas etc….

Despite the above advantages there are also quite a few disadvantages; it’s easy to use the wrong grade of paper for the wrong surfaces causing damage.

It’s also very easy to get carried away and go past the surface you are trying to remove and burrow into the surface below as some machines can be quite aggressive. It can also be difficult to work on shaped or decorative items.

What ever surface you are sanding or stripping you will create a huge amount of dust that will get everywhere and will take a lifetime to clean up and in some cases can damage electrical equipment if left unprotected (always ensure any furniture etc.... is covered and you are wearing goggles and a suitable dust mask) and also you have to be aware of the surface you are sanding e.g. if it is wood then you have to be careful to run with the grain of the wood as you can damage the surface.


  • Sand and strip large areas at a time
  • Varied range of paper grades for different jobs
  • Cost effective when it comes to purchasing sanding paper


  • Using the wrong paper can damage a surface
  • You can damage the surface beneath the paint
  • Sanding intricate or odd shaped objects can be tricky
  • Massive amount of dust created
  • Have to be aware of the type of surface you are sanding e.g. you can damage timber if you do not run with the grain when sanding
Corner and detail sander

Corner and detail sander

Paint Stripping by Hand

As you can guess this involves a fair amount of elbow grease and due to this fact is only a realistic solution for small jobs where there is only a very thin layer of paint that needs to be removed.

There are several ways to do this:

Using Sandpaper:

The first is using sandpaper – Firstly start with quite a coarse grade of paper (60 or 80 grit) and as you get through the layer(s) of paint move down to more of a medium paper (180 or 240 grit).

Once pretty much all the paint has been removed it is always a good idea to go over it again with a fine grade of paper (800 to 1200 grit) to give the surface a nice smooth finish, if or course that’s the finish you are after.

This final process also removes any final microscopic traces of paint that may remain on the surface. Again, this will create a fair amount of dust so always remember eye protection and a mask!!

General purpose sandpaper set

General purpose sandpaper set with fine, medium and course grade papers

Using Wet and Dry Sandpaper:

You can also use wet and dry sandpaper. This is very similar to the conventional sandpaper type only you can dip it is water before you begin sanding over the surface.

This helps to prevent too much dust and depending on the surface you are stripping will create a lovely smooth finish.

If the surface you are working on is wooden this may not be the ideal solution as obviously it involves the use of water and thus the water will be absorbed by the wood making it swell so before re-painting can commence you will have to give it plenty of time to dry out.

General purpose wet and dry sandpaper set

General purpose wet and dry sandpaper set with fine, medium and course grade papers

Also if the surface you are working on is shaped or decorative this is not the best solution as no matter how careful you are you will begin to flatten edges and remove detail.

Using a Wood Scraper

The final method of hand sanding is by using a wood scraper. Again this can yield some good results but if you are not careful you can bite into the surface and take chunks out of it.

General purpose wood scraper

General purpose wood scraper


  • Cheap and cost effective for all types
  • Fairly easy to control the amount of paint removed
  • Ideal when only small amounts of paint need removing


  • Lots of hard work
  • Easy to damage detailed work
  • Can damage surface

Paint Stripping Using Heat

There are 2 tools that are commonly used in order to strip paint using heat – the blow torch and the heat gun. Each of these tools has a very specific difference.

Blow Torches

The blow torch uses a naked flame in order to heat a surface and strip paint. Most available today feature an adjustable knob that will allow you to control the temperature and intensity of the flame by using specially supplied nozzles you can control the air flow.

Heat Guns

Unlike the blow torch, the heat gun does not use a naked flame in order to heat a surface. Very similar to the domestic hair dryer that we are all used to this works on the same basis only in a more intense manner, essentially a hair dryer x10 (Do not try and use a heat gun as a hair dryer)!!

Using Heat Guns and Blow Torches

When using either tool above ensure that it is held a constant distance from the surface, roughly 6 to 8 inches (you may have to adjust depending on the intensity of your flame/heat source).

With the tool held at the correct distance move it back wards and forwards over the surface in a sweeping motion again of about 6 to 8 inches heating the surface as you go. After a period of time you will begin to see lift from the surface (bubbling or wrinkling).

Once the paint has started to lift you will then need a scraper in order to scrape it off. An old rag is also a good idea in order to wipe of any residue.

Repeat until all the paint has been removed and once all removed you will then need to go back over with some sandpaper (more than likely a fine grade 800 to1200 grit) and rub the surface down to remove any final residue and also give the paint a decent surface to key to.

Before using either of the above items it’s always worth practicing for a while to get used to the intensity of the flame/heat settings and also how fast a surface is heated and how long the heat source can remain in one place before it causes and scorching or damage.

Using this method may in some cases cause the resin in the timber to seep out. Also any fillers that may exist in the surface you are heating can become damaged and will need to be replaced before re-painting/covering

As mentioned it is a good idea to practice before you get stuck into the actual job – get used to your heat gun/blow torch and the way it works and functions.

Also, as you work beware of items around you e,g, materials such as curtains, carpet, sofas, plastics etc.... you do not want to set your house on fire so please remove anything that can be removed and if it can’t move it/tie it out of the way as best as you can. Also beware of glass. If this is heated with too much intensity then it will crack.

As with the other paint stripping methods wear eye protection and also a mask. Heating paint can in some cases give off harmful fumes. Also, always, always wear a pair of heavy duty gloves such as riggers gloves.

While you are concentrating on the work in hand it’s very easy to forget about what you have in your hand and as the paint begins to bubble and wrinkle and you move in with your scraper to scrape it off you can occasionally end up torching the back of your scraper hand as you pass it underneath the heat gun/blow torch!!


  • Can remove paint very quickly
  • Works on multiple layers
  • Relatively cheap to purchase


  • Can be very dangerous
  • Can damage the surface or item you are trying to strip especially wood surfaces
  • May need several different tools to complete the job
Hot air or heat gun

Hot air or heat gun with multiple heat settings

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