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Homeowner’s Guide to Paint Strippers and Removers

Get the answers to your questions about paint strippers — what they are, how they work, and which are best for your DIY project.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.

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Removing Paint Gettyimages 157638690mbbirdy/Getty Images

All About Paint Strippers

Paint strippers (a.k.a. paint removers) are chemical compounds designed to quickly lift and peel away paint, varnish, lacquer and other coatings from surfaces like wood, MDF, metal and masonry. The main categories of strippers/removers found in stores today include:

Caustics

These removers work by breaking down the chemical bonds of the polymers in the paint.

Cons: May burn skin and cause lung irritation.

Biochemical

Stripping agents derived from plants, these citrus- and soy-based formulas are less toxic and somewhat safer to use. Many are biodegradable but some are not, so be sure to read labels carefully.

Cons: Can irritate the skin.

Solvents

Strippers/removers in this category penetrate the paint to dissolve the bond between surfaces and paint.

Cons: Can cause skin swelling, irritation and blisters.

Heat

Becoming more popular in recent years, heat guns and steamers propel hot air to loosen paint on surfaces. Not economical for one-off jobs, it is, however, a good option if you’re doing a lot of paint stripping.

Cons: Fire hazard if not used properly.

About Methylene Chloride

On March 15, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the manufacture and sale of methylene chloride paint removers. As Andrew Raker, third-generation owner of Clark Paint in West Springfield, Mass. points out, “With the outlawing of methylene chloride’s use in paint strippers, the new alternatives work but be prepared to wait longer for the stripper to do the job.”

Because there may still be products containing methylene chloride floating around on store shelves, be sure to check the ingredients before buying to avoid the serious health risks associated with their use.

As with any household solvent, when using a paint stripper, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and work only in well-ventilated areas. Always wear protective clothing and use proper safety equipment like gloves, respirators and goggles. Most importantly, store these products out of reach of children and pets.

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Paint Stripper 030192009611.jpgvia lowes.com

Best Paint Stripper for Furniture

Klean Strip Kwik-Strip Paint and Varnish Stripper scores high marks for its ability to break down old paint, varnish, lacquer and shellac without ruining the wood’s natural grain underneath. Its semi-paste, brushable formula clings to vertical surfaces without runs or drips, stripping up to five layers fast. Dissolve decades of built-up finishes to give your treasured hand-me-down desk or funky garage-sale headboard a new lease on life.

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Paint Stripper 61r1hdtynbl. Ac Sl1500 via amazon.com

Best Paint Stripper for Multiple Layers

Sunnyside Multi-Strip Advanced Paint & Varnish Remover dissolves numerous coats of stubborn paint and varnish in a blink of an eye. Just apply, set and scrape — it begins working in 30 minutes or less. What’s more, the professional-quality, non-drip formula clings to most interior and exterior surfaces whether they’re horizontal or vertical. For eight to 15 layers, it could take up to 24 hours to work.

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Paint Stripper 817jbrkbmdl. Ac Sl1500 via amazon.com

Best Earth-Friendly Paint Stripper

If you want to steer clear of harsh chemicals, Dumond SmartStrip Advanced Paint Remover is a revolutionary, non-toxic paste alternative that’s simple to use, even for novice DIYers. Totally biodegradable, Smart Strip cleans up with water, is pH-neutral and odorless.

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Paint Stripper Max Strip Paint Strippers Removers Esa 522 64 1000via homedepot.com

Best Budget Paint Remover

A great value at $6 for a big 22-ounce bottle, Max Strip All-Purpose Remover is a fast-acting spray that erases drips, spills and overspray left behind by sloppy painters, removing the damage before it becomes permanent. It also tackles stuff like permanent markers, ink, glue, decals, stickers, gum and anything else your kids can throw at you (or on the walls).

For extra-obstinate stains, let it sit a while. The dwell time can span a few seconds for pen marks to a couple of minutes for mysterious goopy stuff.

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Paint Stripper 81kkop8ojfl. Sl1500 via amazon.com

Best Heavy-Duty Paint Stripper

Dumond Peel Away1 Heavy-Duty Paint Remover is especially well-suited for large home renovation projects. According to the manufacturer, one coat strips up to 30 coats of paint! The formula also contains no VOCs so it’s safer for you and the environment. The kit includes paste remover, application tool, Dumond Laminated Paper and Citri-Lize neutralizer.

As one DIYer said in her Amazon review, “This stuff is amazing. I am so relieved that I will be able to restore my historic home.”

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Paint Stripper 71jzbq6kmwl. Ac Sl1500 via amazon.com

Best Paint Stripper, Overall

Loosening up seven layers of paint in one step without harsh chemicals, CitriStrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel does most of the paint-stripping work for you. The only product you’ll need, it strips latex and oil-based paint, varnish, lacquer and shellac from wood, metal, and masonry surfaces. Slather it on and let it penetrate. The gel stays wet and active for up to 24 hours.

Extra kudos for its fresh, pleasant scent. Since it won’t stink up the place, you can use it for your indoor paint stripping projects.

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Paint Stripper Wagner Heat Guns 0503063 64 1000via homedepot.com

Best Heat Gun for Paint Removal

For a 100 percent chemical-free way to remove paint, consider the Furno 500 Heat Gun. This point-and-shoot tool is great for stripping paint off family heirlooms, crown moldings and other uneven surfaces. It features 12 digital temperature settings and two fan speeds. After you’re done, hang up the heat gun from the built-in loop to cool off and store.

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Paint Stripper 91cyka+xp4l. Ac Sl1500 via amazon.com

Best Power Sander for Paint Removal

One effective method to remove built-up paint from flat wood surfaces relies on sandpaper and an electric sander. Orbital sanders like the Bosch Random Orbital Sander/Polisher Kit are more versatile, making them great for DIY furniture refinishers.

With a combination of pad orbit and rotation, the sander delivers fast paint removal that won’t leave behind unwanted swirl marks. Other features include an all-important dust collection canister to cut down on the mess, easy disc attachment to ensure firm grip during use and variable speed control to match the right speed to the task.

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Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.