How to Strip Paint With Brake Fluid

Strip the paint from a model before applying a new paintjob with brake fluid.
Strip the paint from a model before applying a new paintjob with brake fluid. (Image: model car. hobby, collection image by Ana Vasileva from Fotolia.com)

Brake fluid can serve as an acceptable alternative to paint stripper for removing paint from small metal or plastic objects. Brake fluid is commonly used in the wargaming and modeling community by modelers looking to remove an old paint job in preparation for a new one. The fluid, left in contact with the model for an extended time period, loosens the paint, breaking down the adhesion between the paint and the model. It’s a process that works well for lead and lead-free metal alloys, but do take care with plastic models as the fluid can cause softening in some types.

Things You'll Need

  • Sealable glass jar
  • Liquid soap
  • Paper towel
  • Brake fluid
  • Rubber gloves
  • Toothbrush
  • Wooden toothpick

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Pour the brake fluid into a glass jar that’s large enough to hold the item you’re stripping. Pour enough brake fluid in the jar to fully submerge the item in liquid.

Wash the surface of the object with mild liquid soap and warm water to remove any dirt, debris or chemicals. Rinse it thoroughly in running water and then pat the object dry with a paper towel.

Submerge the item within the fluid in the jar. Place the cap on the jar and leave the item submerged in brake fluid.

Check the paint adhesion on the item after 12 hours to determine if the paint has pulled away from the object. Scrape the edge of the object with a wooden stir stick to see if the paint flakes away. If it does, remove the object from the fluid. Otherwise leave it in place for up to an additional 12 hours.

Put on a pair of rubber gloves for protection from the brake fluid. Pull the object from the jar when the paint easily flakes from the object.

Fill a small bowl with liquid soap. Dip the bristles of a toothbrush into the soap and then use the brush to scrub away the loosened paint from the object. Scrape paint from hard to reach areas using the tip of a wooden toothpick.

Rinse the brake fluid residue from the object with cold water.

Submerge the object back in the same jar of brake fluid if paint remains. Soak it for an additional 12 hours and repeat the scrubbing process afterward.

Tips & Warnings

  • Test the brake fluid on plastic objects before submersion by brushing the fluid onto a small section of the plastic and allowing it to sit for two hours. Wipe the fluid off with a paper towel and examine the towel for signs of plastic coming away with the fluid. Check the plastic for softening due to the fluid. If either occurs, do not use the fluid to remove the paint.
  • Save the brake fluid in a sealed jar for future use. Otherwise dispose of the brake fluid according to waste disposal regulations for your area. Do not pour it down a drain.
  • Brake fluid is a caustic chemical, so be careful not to splash it on your bare skin. Work in a well-ventilated area, and wear rubber gloves and old clothes.

References

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