How Does Paint Remover Work?


Paint Remover Basics

  • Paint removers are liquid or semiliquid solvents that soften and aid in the removal of paint so the underlying surface can be restored to its original state, or recoated like new. For decades, all paint removers were very corrosive, and users had to be extremely careful to avoid contact with skin or mucous membranes. Modern paint paint removers come in a range of more environmentally friendly formulas, and many are gentler to the skin and surrounding surfaces while still being effective at removing layers of old paint

Active Ingredients

  • For many years, the main active ingredient in paint removers was methylene chloride. Mildly corrosive to skin, it can cause chemical burns within a minute of contact. The main danger with methylene chloride is that it converts to carbon monoxide when inhaled and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. It has also been known to cause heart attacks and is a suspected carcinogen. Despite this, it is still a widely used and effective ingredient, but there are now other choices. Removers made with sodium or calcium hydroxide are known to be environmentally safe and have no significant health risks associated with their use. Orange oil, also known as limonene, is another fairly safe ingredient used in paint removers today, and while it can cause skin irritation, it takes prolonged and repeated skin exposure to cause harm. When choosing paint removers, read the chemical ingredient data on the container and follow all safety directions.

How Paint Removers Work

  • All paint removers work by dissolving and softening the paint so it can be either mechanically or hand-removed from the underlying surface. Primarily, the molecules in the remover soak into the paint and cause it to swell or bubble up so it can be scraped away. Some are heavy gels, designed to cling to vertical surfaces. All removers must remain on the old paint for some time to work.

How to Use Paint Removers

  • The procedure for paint removers is essentially the same, no matter what the active ingredients are. It brushed onto the surface, usually with a natural bristle applicator since it will melt synthetic bristles. It is brushed on quickly, in one direction only, because excess brushing allows the active ingredient to evaporate. Paint remover is left on the surface for 10 to 30 minutes, during which time the old paint will start lifting and bubbling. If there are multiple layers of paint, it can take several applications to remove it all. Depending on the underlying surface, a thorough cleaning with copper wool or soft scrub brushes is usually required to remove all traces of solvent.

Alternative to Chemical Remover

  • If it is impractical to use a chemical paint remover, another alternative is a heat gun, which also can soften and lift old paint. This is a less messy method, but it is usually more labor intensive. Additionally, great care must be taken when working around wood or flammable materials since the forced hot air can ignite dry wood.

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