About Paint & Varnish Removal

What is Paint Remover

Paint removers, or strippers, are not merely one chemical, but a combination of them, each with a specific job to do. These pages provide information on solvent-based removers, those that use chemical solvents to remove the old finish.

Solvent-based strippers come in three forms: liquid, heavy bodied, and semi-paste. In general, the liquid works best for varnish and lacquer finishes on such things as antiques with flat horizontal surfaces. The heavy-bodied and semi-pastes are very similar with the semi-paste being slightly thicker. The heavy bodied and semi-paste removers will cling to rounded and upright surfaces making them ideal for irregular surfaces. Removers may also be flammable or nonflammable. Nonflammable removers would be the choice for interior work. The active ingredient in many solvent-based strippers is a chemical called methylene chloride. Methylene chloride is present in the paint remover to penetrate, blister, and finally lift the old finish. Other chemicals in paint removers word to accelerate the stripping process, to retard evaporation, and to act as a thickening agents.

It goes without saying that any chemical or combination of chemicals with the potency to lift off old paint should be treated with respect in terms of safety. So, while solvent-based strippers work fast and are harmless to wood, they may pose health hazards to humans and should be used in strict accordance with the product label instructions.

A complete discussion of safety and health-risk issues follows the “Cleanup & Disposal” section of this web site. With any product, always be sure to read individual product labels and follow them exactly.

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