Most homeowners at one time or another find themselves faced with having to remove paint from walls, furniture or other surfaces. Most commercial paint strippers use toxic chemicals that are harsh for your family and the environment. Fortunately, there are alternatives to chemical paint removers that are relatively simple and involve very little cost.
You should always spot test any paint-stripping recipe or procedure in an inconspicuous section to make sure it doesn't damage the surface. Wood can be particularly tricky, as oak will blacken when it comes in contact with washing soda, for instance. Also, note that most homemade non-toxic paint removal recipes use washing soda. This is different from baking soda, although you can usually find both in most grocery stores. Washing soda is made from sodium carbonate and baking soda from sodium bicarbonate, but it's the washing version that you'll need. Washing soda is safer than harsh chemicals, but it's still a corrosive (it has to be or it wouldn't strip paint!), so be sure and wear rubber gloves whenever using it.
Paint Stripper Recipe #1
Dissolve about 7 oz. washing soda in cold water, about a 1-to-1 solution. Then mix 2/3 cup flour in a little warm water, just enough to moisten. Gradually add more warm water until you obtain a thick gel paste, and then add the dissolved washing soda. Using a paint brush or putty for molding or a sponge for flat surfaces, apply a thin coat of paste. Allow the paste to penetrate for at least 30 minutes, preferably several hours, keeping it damp by misting with water sprayed from a bottle. Then, rinse thoroughly while scrubbing with a stiff brush, and the paint should peel off. Finish by washing the surface with a mixture of warm water and vinegar to neutralize the soda. Repeat as necessary.
Paint Stripper Recipe #2
Thoroughly mix together 1 cup borax, 1 cup ammonia, 1 cup washing soda and 2 cups water. Brush on woodwork or furniture, let stand for at least 30 minutes, and then wipe with warm water and steel wool. This will work on most old paints and varnishes, especially if there aren't several coats involved.
Other Non-Toxic Paint Stripping Methods
Electric heat guns are helpful when you need to remove several layers of paint. The heat will swell and blister the paint, which can then be scraped off with a putty knife. Rinse thoroughly and let dry, then sand the wood. You should work in a well-ventilated space and never use on lead-based paint, which would release harmful fumes. Sanding is another method, and one of the most natural ways to remove paint, especially on wood furniture. You can either use sandpaper or a power sander, being careful to wear a mask and goggles to protect yourself from flying particles. For large jobs like beams or building frames, consider a sandblaster, although rental costs can be more expensive.