Last Updated: August 13, 2020
Everyone has times when they need to remove some old paint from metal or wood. When that happens, what do you use? How do you choose what to use?
Making that decision can be a daunting prospect due to the sheer number of options on the market. You could wade through them for days trying to find the right one for your purposes. We’ve set out to make it easier for you.
We’ve researched all the different paint removal methods, examined how well they work, compared them to each other, and shared the results in these reviews. We’ve given you a shortcut so that you don’t have to do all the work yourself.
|Best Overall||Wagner PaintEater||
|Citri-Strip Stripping Gel||
|Best Value||Excel Blades K11||
This rotating sander/paint remover works like a champ. It chews through paint without damaging the surface beneath it. After that, it can be used to smooth rough wood to prepare it for being stained, varnished, or painted. It takes off latex without difficulty, and after only a few passes it takes off enamel too.
It’s quite easy to use, although occasionally it requires the use of two hands to hold it steady. In fact, it’s much easier than using a traditional belt sander. It works equally well for scraping paint off of wood or metal. It’s lightweight and quiet.
This tool chews through paint without damaging the surface underneath it. Stays cool most of the time, keeping your hand cool. If it does get too hot (200º) a thermal fuse will trip until it cools down. This is the only drawback. It really needs to have a reset switch for when the fuse trips.
This is thick, yogurt-like gel. Slather it on the surface you want to strip, let it sit for several hours and then wipe it off. It really is that simple. It stays wet and active for almost twenty-four hours, and you can strip multiple layers of paint in one step. It also adheres to vertical surfaces, which is a nice surprise.
This is a chemical mixture containing N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone, which is known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. Standard latex, rubber, or nitrile gloves will NOT protect you because the stripping solvent will penetrate them. You must use butyl rubber gloves for protection.
The fumes are also hazardous. Open windows aren’t enough to disperse them. You must have a positive airflow through the room where the gel is being used, to blow them outside.
This stripping gel works very well, but the biological hazards make it a perpetual runner-up.
This manual scraper uses replaceable razor blades set in a lightweight steel body. It’s flat and efficient at scraping away soap scum, old caulk, burned on cook-top spills, glue, and paint. This is especially useful for small jobs where a large power scraper or sander would be overkill. There’s little or no cleanup to worry about.
Because of its size, it can be difficult to hold it securely. It uses a spring to hold the razor in place. When any pressure is put on the indented button the razor unexpectedly retracts. It’s also hard to insert and remove the blades.
This scraper works and is the “best for the money,” but it will never win any awards for first place.
This heat gun puts out a lot of heat, enough to set paper on fire if you aim the head at it. It has dual speed and variable temperature controls to get just the right settings for your job. It does strip paint effectively, but you have to be slow and methodical, so it’s very time-consuming. If you’re in a hurry, this heat gun won’t be your cup of tea.
One of the problems is that the temperature doesn’t remain constant. It moves up and down at random without any warning. It also has a short lifespan. It dies soon after being purchased, so this isn’t a long-term answer to anything. Last but not least, it’s too loud. When it finally does die, you’ll discover that customer service won’t replace it.
This paint stripping heat gun works—while it works. You’ll have to put up with its limitations though, so this tool will have to stay in fourth place on the list.
We have also have an article where we rank our favorite heat guns on the market from #1 to #5.
Sometimes, you need a bit of elbow grease to help strip the paint, and that’s when the FOSHIO paint scrapers shine. For a very affordable price you get two plastic scraper handles, and 100 double-edged razor blades, so you won’t need to stock up any time soon. While the plastic used for the paint scrapers is very light, it’s not the most durable and if abused they could break.
On the upside, they won’t rust, and there is no spring mechanism, lowering the chances of anything happening to stop them from functioning. As with any scraper blade, it’s very easy to go too deep and scratch the surface below. You’ll need to take extra care when using these to make sure you’re not damaging a surface you don’t intend to.
This paint and varnish remover from Sunnyside is touted as a more natural product than its competitors. To that end, it’s free from many harmful chemicals such as methylene chloride and NMP. Because of this, it doesn’t have the same harsh odor that’s present with many other paint removers. It’s also a low VOC compound and is easily cleaned up with water. Despite the improved safety over traditional paint strippers, it can remove up to seven layers of many different coatings such as paints, lacquers and urethanes, stains, and varnishes.
The Ready-Strip formula takes 60 minutes to begin working. Thanks to the patented color change technology, you’ll be able to visibly see when your paint is ready to be removed. Where it worked, it did exactly what it was advertised to do—remove the paint without damaging the surface beneath. It didn’t seem to work everywhere though, only removing the paint on about half the area covered. If it worked consistently, it would place higher on this list; but as it is, it’s not quite reliable enough for such a high recommendation.
This biodegradable and odor-free paint stripper from Dumond Chemicals removes multiple layers of paint while remaining safe for the environment and the user. That’s quite a claim, and in our experience, it does lack the harsh odors and fumes that are present in many other chemical-laden paint removers.
Unfortunately, this isn’t nearly as effective as other compounds. It left a nasty mess to clean up, but it only made it through the first layer of paint. Even that level of performance was spotty because in many places it didn’t seem to have much effect at all. Although it did work to some degree and it is free of nasty chemicals, we have to recommend choosing a different product with a better chance of actually removing the paint.
This new generation paint stripper from Super Remover is a versatile and fast-acting paint remover product. It can be used to remove a variety of finishes such as latex and oil paints, varnishes, lacquers, polyurethanes, and even epoxies. Despite its wide array of uses, it’s free from harmful chemicals like methylene chloride and NMP.
One of the most attractive traits of this paint stripper is the ultra-fast 15-minute working time. It’s supposedly able to remove five layers of finish in that time. In our testing, we seemed to have hit or miss performance from this product. Sometimes it would work great and remove the paint as intended, but other times almost nothing would happen. We couldn’t seem to determine an underlying cause. The chemical odor is very harsh, even though it’s devoid of the worst chemicals. To top it off, this product is quite a bit more expensive than other chemicals that do the exact same thing. Overall, we think there are much better products that we’re more comfortable recommending.
Non-toxic and affordable, it’s easy to see why any consumer would be attracted to the MAX Strip paint and varnish stripper. With a skin-safe formula and no harsh fumes, this solution is free from the worst toxic chemicals like many other paint strippers on the market. This one is advertised as having a pleasant fragrance, which we did not smell, though we actually didn’t think it had any real smell to speak of, so mission accomplished.
Performance-wise, this product was lackluster. It didn’t fully remove the paint anywhere. After leaving it to sit, some of the paint could be scrubbed off with some good old-fashioned hand-power, but this product on its own did not successfully remove the finish. If it did, it would certainly earn a higher position on this list thanks to its affordable price and lack of any distinct odor. While it’s supposedly safe for antique woods, it may etch plastics.
The Sunnyside 2-minute advanced paint and varnish remover is obviously attractive for the short working time advertised. With a safe formula that’s methylene chloride free, this product would be pretty impressive if it worked as well as the label shows. In our experience, it just doesn’t really work. We kept applying this product, but it would dry before any of the paint would even be softened, let alone removed. Maybe it works on some particular type of surface or finish, but in our testing, it just didn’t really work. To make matters worse, it’s more expensive than many other products that did actually work, so we really can’t recommend this one.
Warranty information is generally something you need to think about, but some of these tools are so inexpensive they don’t come with warranties. With other tools, the manufacturers don’t seem inclined to honor their warranties as presented, so for the time being you should assume there aren’t any warranties worth mentioning in this category of tools.
You should also assume your purchase won’t qualify for free shipping if you’re buying it online. Some of these tools are so inexpensive they don’t meet the guidelines. That being said, it might be easier on your budget if you purchase them at a brick-and-mortar hardware store.
A good paint stripper should strip the paint off of wood or metal surfaces quickly, completely, and consistently. Slow methods can take too much time, and any tool that only works part-time, or works only under certain conditions, isn’t worth spending your money on. Chemical paint strippers can be hazardous to your health and manual ones can wear you out. The whole point of using tools is to make life easier for you, not harder or more dangerous.
Paint strippers should protect the surface under the old paint without you having to take special precautions. If they work as designed, they shouldn’t damage the wood or metal you’re uncovering. Tools that damage the underlying surface defeat the whole point of using them.
On smaller purchases such as these, manufacturers might not always honor their warranties, but retailers could be convinced to do so. They have a far more direct stake in the transaction than the manufacturers do. Their reputation is on the line, especially if they’re a local hardware store. If something doesn’t work the way it should, or if it breaks, and you still have the receipt, retailer outlets will often exchange an item or even accept it as a return.
Depending on what you choose as your paint stripper, the shipping charges from a web-based company might be more than paying the sales taxes at the store. Take a look at it before you pull out your wallet.
Most paint strippers will need replacement pads, sanding paper, or razors. You might as well get them at the same time as the stripper. You’re going to need them eventually.
Goggles to protect your eyes are a requirement when you’re using any kind of paint stripper. Whether they sand the old paint off, use chemicals, or scrape it off mechanically, there will be particles in the air which can damage the eyes. Goggles are dirt cheap, and if you bundle them with your purchase, it will help qualify you for free shipping.
Chemical resistant gloves (specifically butyl rubber gloves) will be needed when using chemical strippers, even if they’re aerosol ones. Respirators to protect your lungs should also be included as an important accessory to your purchase.
As strange as it might sound, a good shop fan is also a smart option to include when getting a paint stripper of any kind. It can blow away hazardous fumes or particles in the air and protect your health.
Our reviews show that the Wagner 0513040 PaintEater is easily the top pick on the list. It’s fast and efficient, lightweight, and easy to use. Plus it has a long lifespan. This is a great tool.
The Excel Blades K11 Razor Blade Scraper is the “best for the money.” It’s a manual scraper so the price is minimal. If you don’t mind spending a little extra time and elbow grease, this tool will get the job done for you.
These reviews have, hopefully, made your decision much easier than it would have been otherwise. Now that you’ve got all the information about the different methods out there, you’ll be able to sit down and pick out the tool you want to use for your project(s).
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David Janus is the founder and CEO of Paint Sprayer Magazine. He has over two decades of experience in the spray paint industry and still enjoys writing about new products and technologies.
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