Using Chemical Stripper to remove a lot of paint in a little time

Tags: Strippers and Blasting

Be Sociable, Share! Stripper can be your best friend or a total nightmare depending on how you use it.  The benefit of chemical stripper is that it can take off large amounts of paint relatively cheaply. The one thing that you don’t want to do is think of chemical stripper the same way you would media blasting.

Chemical stripper is a caustic liquid that is a base similar to draino or lye. Most people understand the strength of Acids like the sulfuric acid in your car battery but caustic bases which are the opposite of an acid are just as strong and just as dangerous.

Think about this a very weak base is household bleach. You know if you get it on your clothes it will burn little holes through your tshirts or totally discolor them. If you spray it on mold in your house it will kill it and it is the preferred disinfectant for disease control in hospitals because it kills everything thats alive.

Now if you concentrated and multiplied that strength and stuck it in a can you would have paint stripper.

Where you can pour bleach on your hands and just wash it off if you were to get a bit of stripper on your arm while you work and don’t notice it right away you will end up with serious chemical burns. You may even end up in the hospital and thats saying nothing about if you got it in your eyes.

So, when you are working with stripper you want to think of it like holding 4 cutting torches in your hand all fired up and ready to burn the crap out of you if you make a mistake.

This is coming from someone that used this stuff daily on airplanes because you can not sand airplanes you must strip them. Any sanding risks damaging the metal skin which could result in a fricken wing coming off in the air so you use stripper anytime you need to take paint off. Its not fun stuff and if you are lucky and nothing worse happens you can bet a little dot of it will get on the inside of your arm and give you a scar that lasts a lifetime.

You see I feel I have to say these things because most people who pickup their first gallon of stripper have absolutely no clue what they are in for. Anything I say here will not be enough and everyone that works with the stuff ends up chemical burned like the guy in Fight Club.. but you know what .. I am willing to talk about it.

How do you protect yourself when working with Chemical Stripper first thing you have to do when working with stripper is have everything organized.

You want to have the car ready to strip. All of the plastic and fiberglass parts must be well protected with tape and plastic. Every seam of every door, hood or other part taped off with at least one inch on either side. The vehicle should have been washed and I like to hit the surface quick with 80 grit to open the paint.

Now that the car is ready you have to get yourself ready.

You want to get some wrap around safety glasses and cut a rubber band in half and tie it on the ends so they are tight to your face and they don’t fall off. And very important you want to get some masking or clear tape and build an edge around your glasses so there are no gaps where splatter can get in.

In addition to safety glasses you want to wear a face shield. Do the same thing with tape and plastic tarp to reduce the gap below your chin and on the sides of your head.

You want to wear a baseball cap turned backwards. is best to wear full length pants and a work shirt but they will be under a disposable paint suit.

The heavy yellow rubber gloves will be good enough to protect you but if you need to change them out when you take a break you will probably need a second pair.

Don’t wear good boots and you want to tape over the laces so stripper won’t get in there and sit until you feel it burn.

You don’t want to feel like you have been bubble wrapped while you are working you want to feel like you are well protected and can move around easily.

If you are working alone you want a phone near you that you can dial with your eyes closed just in case you need to call 911 so grab a cordless if you got one not your touch screen cell.

Materials you need for stripping so you have everything taped off and protected including yourself so now you need to organize the stuff you need to do the job.

You want to use a stripper that is gel formula not liquid. Gel will stick to surfaces better especially the sides of fenders and doors.

When applying stripper you will need a small plastic bucket.. a mixing cup will work if you have an old one that is clean.

You want to pour the stripper into the cup only about half way and apply it by pouring a small amount on the vehicle and spreading it with a chip brush / old nylon brush that you will definitely throw away.  Its not a bad idea to hit harbor freight and get a pack of brushes you can toss.

Once the stripper is on the car its time to take  a break for about 3 hrs. The paint should look really wrinkled before you start scraping it but you can test in spots. The longer the stripper is on the paint the better the results and it has to be wet to work so a spray bottle with water in it is good for misting. Oh yeah you’re doing this in the shade on a cold car right? Thats a real good idea.

When the paint is ready to come off don’t grab the pressure washer. You need to scrape the surface with heavy / stiff filler spreaders and you need lots of like 1 foot size pieces of cardboard to scrape that paint on to.

For discarding this stuff put a trash bag in a box and toss it all in.

When you are done scraping off as much as you can you might have to put on another coat and do it all again.

If the original primer doesn’t come off you are going to have to sand it off. Don’t keep applying stripper because primer is just easier to sand and you’re gonna have to sand the car before you primer it anyway.

Ok so you got all the paint off that you can so now is the time to neutralize the stripper with water.

Leave all the tape on the seams until you neutralize the stripper.

If you are outside stand up wind and hose it down. Don’t jump in with the pressure washer yet.  Once you have washed it down real good you can go ahead and pull the tape and pressure wash the whole thing.

Make sure you open the doors, hood and trunk to catch any stripper that might have got past your tape.

Now you can take everything off that you are wearing and toss it out. Well you can probably save your boots but heh really don’t try to save a $2 pair of safety glasses.


Because this chemical is so caustic it can catch on fire without notice. This happens more often when it is in contact with aluminum like aluminum foil from your lunch.. Don’t leave it in the house or in the building and don’t toss it right in the dumpster if they won’t be coming for a couple days.

Final Note

This is a really nasty job and you are really going to be debating if you should have just sanded the whole car but you probably saved yourself a day or two of sanding and you didn’t have to use a grinder on good metal  so there is that.

The best use of stripper is when you have a few coats of paint on a car or when you are taking down a factory finish that has completely failed and cracked.

The bad part of stripping is a full day of dealing with stuff that can burn your skin and if you don’t get burnt the first time due to beginners luck or paranoia then its likely to happen if you continue doing this work.

When stripping you must protect the jams of the car because you don’t want this stuff getting in and causing damage in areas you can’t sand easily.

You also don’t want this stuff in any weld seams because it will cause major rust failures down the road.

Personally Stripping is not something I enjoy but it is a tool we have to avoid full media blasting and it means you don’t need to disassemble the vehicle.

On the other hand I think it is probably better used for smaller parts like an old air cleaner on a 60’s vehicle thats not rusted where you can strip the whole thing then start again.






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