We spent 50 researching and testing over 15 different brands and types of paint strippers and found that performance, ease of use, and a low amount of harsh chemicals were the most important factors for consumers who were shopping for paint strippers. Citri-Strip Paint and Varnish Stripping Gel scored high marks in all categories and is our overall top pick. This easy to use paint stripper is very affordable and does not smell like a lot of paint strippers that have a strong, unpleasant odor. This stripper smells like oranges! There is no DCM in this stripper making it safer to use. Citri-Strip stays wet for 24 hours so you can move on to the next step easily when the 24 hours is over.
Paint Stripper Buying Guide
Paint strippers come in a variety of styles and formats. When you need to get one for your projects it is very important to purchase the right kind of paint remover for your specific needs.
There are three categories of paint strippers on the market. We have listed all three categories below along with some valuable information about each type so you understand the differences. Understanding these three different categories will help you choose the right paint stripper for your projects.
Caustic Paint Strippers – Caustic paint strippers have lye as the active ingredient. When applied, the lye will break down the old paint and partially convert it into soap. This will loosen it from the surface of whatever you are removing it from.
If you are trying to remove polyurethane or epoxy, caustic paint strippers will not be effective at all. They are best used for removing paints that are oil-based from concrete floors, brick fireplaces, and other masonry surfaces. They are capable of removing some oil and water-based paints from some wood and metals but you must be careful because the caustic strippers can damage aluminum and black hardwoods.
You should apply caustic strippers in 1/8 to ¼ inch layers and should sit undisturbed for a minimum of 30 minutes before scraping the paint off. After removing the paint with a caustic stripper you should wipe it down with a vinegar and water mixture. Make certain you pay attention to all of the warnings on the container by wearing the appropriate safety gear because caustic paint strippers can irritate your lungs, eyes, and skin if inhaled or touched.
Safety gear includes safety glasses, a respirator, and gloves that are chemical resistant. Don’t forget to wear long pants/jeans and long sleeves aren’t a bad idea either. Caustic paint strippers are lower in VOCs and safer than solvent paint strippers.
Solvent Paint Strippers – Solvent paint strippers are the most versatile of all the different strippers. They use chemicals to loosen the paint from the surface and can be used to remove oil-based and water-based paints, polyurethane, and epoxy from a variety of surfaces including masonry, wood, and metal without discoloring these surfaces.
Some solvent paint removers contain methylene chloride which has high VOCs while others are made from a combination of toluene, methanol, and alcohol. You will notice that products that have high VOCs will smell a lot stronger than others and pose a greater hazard than others that have lower VOCs.
Inhaling paint thinners that contain methylene chloride can damage the reproductive system as well as the brain so be sure to use the appropriate safety gear including respirators, safety glasses, clothing that covers your skin, and chemical resistant gloves.
Biochemical Paint Strippers – This type of paint stripper is a safer alternative to caustic and solvent strippers. They are made from a combination of an organic compound known as NMP (N-methyle-2-pyrrolidone) and terpenes, a plant-based solvent that is naturally found in citrus fruit rinds, corn sugars, and pine trees. Others are citric acids and dimethyl sulfoxide that come from wood pulp, soy oil, and paper by-products.
Biochemical paint strippers have fewer fumes and are lower in VOCs than others. It can still have negative effects on reproductive and respiratory systems so use the appropriate safety gear when using these products.
Biochemical paint strippers can be to remove oil-based and water-based paints from wood, masonry, and metal items but they are not effective on polyurethane or epoxy removal. They can also leave loose wood fibers when used on wood products. Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area when using this type of paint stripper.
Zero-Voc – If you are worried about using chemical-based paint strippers and want to find something safer, take a look at paint strippers that are VOC-free. These are made without lye, methylene chloride or NMP.
They are more expensive but do not have the strong odors or dangers that chemical-based paint strippers have. VOC-free paint strippers use solvents that are naturally occurring like benzyl alcohol. They can be used to loosen oil-based and water-based paint from masonry and metal but do not always do well when used on wood products.
They are not a good choice for removing polyurethane and epoxy. Despite being the safest type of paint strippers on the market, you should still wear appropriate safety gear as they can irritate your lungs or skin and cause skin redness.
What are you stripping? – One of the first things you need to do before choosing a paint stripper is to determine the surfaces that you will be stripping. This could change so it is better to look for a product that works with many different surfaces rather than strippers that work with just one type of surface.
You will need to do some label reading to determine if the product you are considering works well on the surface you are stripping. Some products work well on masonry and metal but may not do so well when used on wood.
Safety is crucial
One of the most important considerations you will make when refinishing items is safety. Safety for yourself, safety for the items you are refinishing, and safety for any people or pets around you while you are working.
Many of the paint strippers on the market contain a chemical substance that is known as DCM or dichloromethane. Products that contain this ingredient are favored because of their speed and strength. The problem with these chemical based products is that DCM is considered very hazardous and can leave those working with it dizzy and even short of breath.
If you do a LOT of refinishing work and have long term exposure to this chemical, it can potentially cause liver failure, cancer, and damage to the kidneys. The fumes from DCM are super strong and can over-power regular air-purifying ventilation systems. For these reasons, it is better to avoid products with DCM.
Make sure that any time you use paint stripping products whether they contain VOCs, DCM, or any of potentially hazardous chemical you use the appropriate safety measures that include:
- Wear chemical resistant gloves
- Wear appropriate goggles that are designed for working around fumes
- Wear appropriate clothing so pain stripper does not touch your skin
- Wear the proper type of respirator for the fumes you will be working in. Regular dust masks are not sufficient to protect your respiratory system from chemicals. Choosing the right respirator is very important and a mistake that is commonly made. Ask the professionals where you purchase the paint stripper for the right respirator.
- If you will be handling lead paint at all, make sure you have done your research on how to handle it properly and safely.
Things to know when working with paint strippers
In addition to wearing the proper safety gear when working with paint strippers there are some safe practices that you should adhere to as well.
- Test for lead paint if there is a question – If you are stripping antique pieces of furniture you want to be sure that you are aware if you are working with lead paint. If the items are older than the late 70s it is very possible that they will have been painted with lead paint. There are lead paint test kits you can purchase that will let you know what kind of paint you are working with. If there IS lead paint present you will need to choose a product that is lead paint compatible. These paint strippers are usually gel or paste form so they trap the lead particles, preventing them from becoming airborne.
- Use paint stripper outdoors – When refinishing furniture you should always try to do it outdoors where there is a lot of ventilation. If you have to do the stripping indoors make sure that there is a fan behind you and that you open windows on two sides of the room that are opposite from each other to maximize ventilation.
- Follow the directions carefully – Don’t skip steps or assume you know how a particular product is used. When you purchase a paint stripping product, start by reading ALL of the directions and usage instructions and then follow them.
- Discard paint waste appropriately – Once you are done stripping the furniture or items you wanted stripped, it is important to dispose of the paint waste appropriately. There should be a hazardous waste disposal spot in your town that you can use.
Your goal for purchasing a paint stripper should be to choose the right one for the kind of paint you are removing as well as the type of product that has the formulation you want based on the information we have provided above. Refinishing furniture, wood work in homes and other things can be a really rewarding activity if you have the right paint stripper.
The three top-rated paint strippers featured in this guide will get the job done quickly and efficiently. Once you determine the type of paint remover you need for your project, you can choose one of these top-rated selections if they are applicable.
Using the information we have provided for you in the buying guide above will help you determine which type of paint stripper you want to use, what to avoid, the safety gear you need and what to do with the paint waste when you are done.
This knowledge will help you purchase the best paint stripper for your needs as well as help you to stay safe during the stripping process. Knowing how to sort through the different types of strippers on the market and how to determine which one to get will allow you to make a confident decision without worry you will be buying a product that is unsuitable for your project or that is of lower quality.
Following these tips and strategies will help ensure a positive outcome for all your paint-stripping projects.