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For all the work that’s required to paint, removing it can be an even more challenging task. Whether the paint is on furniture, a wall, brick, concrete, or even your automobile, there are times you need or want to remove the paint, usually to change the color or reveal the original surface. But scrapping and sanding is inefficient and likely to damage the underlying surface. That's why stripping the paint is your best option.
There are a variety of chemical-based paint strippers available, some more toxic than others. There are also different formulations to tackle different types of paint or painted surfaces, so before purchasing a paint stripper, always check that it's suited to your project.
While paint strippers can be hugely helpful with the admittedly tedious task of removing paint, they do need to be used with care. Check the manufacturer's guidelines for safe use, which should be clearly printed on the can or bottle, and follow all directions, including those for eye or respiratory protection, ventilation, and skin precautions. Still, while paint strippers may involve noxious fumes and use powerful chemical formulations, they cut down on the labor and elbow grease required to remove multiple layers of paint, and if you tackle enough DIY painting projects, you'll likely require the use of one at some point.
Read on for the best paint strippers to help you with your project.
Best Overall: Citristrip QCSG801 Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel
Highly effective even when removing multiple layers of paint
No methylene chloride or NMP
Some complaints that texture is slimy
Can take a while to work
Our top recommendation for removing paint is Citristrip. This paint remover is effective at removing several types of paint and varnish, including both latex and oil-based paint as well as shellac, varnish and polyurethane. Plus, it can be used on several types of surfaces, removing several layers of paint in one go.
One of the most appealing aspects of this paint remover is its scent: instead of the typical odor of most products in this line, it offers a fresh citrus scent. And, while it may be lacking in some harsh chemicals (like NMP and methylene chloride), Critristrip is highly effective at removing paint from surfaces. Just be patient: While the paint will likely begin to bubble as soon as you apply the product, the paint remover may need to be on the surface for several hours to fully remove the paint. In fact, Citristrip remains wet for up to 24 hours, making it ideal for situations where you need to remove multiple layers of paint.
Best Value: Motsenbocker's Lift Off Latex Paint Remover
Water-based, biodegradable, and has low VOCs
Excellent for cleaning paintbrushes and other painting tools
Some complaints of nozzle leaking
If you have a small project, you might not want a giant supply of paint remover. This Motsenbocker’s Latex Paint Remover fits the bill nicely: It’s highly effective at removing both old and new latex paint and latex enamel from a variety of surfaces, including walls, trim, molding, floors, wood, vinyl, tile, laminate, metal, brick, concrete, and vehicles, but it isn’t very costly. Plus, the spray bottle makes it easy to apply, even on oddly shaped items or into crevices or angles.
While this product contains VOCs, it's almost half the regulated VOC limit, per the manufacturer. It works very well at removing paint without causing any damage to the surface below.
Best for Indoors: Dumond 3301 Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover
Thick paste won't drip or run
Odor is not too strong
No methylene chloride, NMP, or caustic chemicals
Can take quite a while to work
Many of the projects that require paint removal occur within your home—like getting rid of the paint on a banister, around a fireplace, and so on. That means you’ll need to be working inside, and there’s a limit to how well open windows and running fans can ventilate the area. That’s why for indoor projects, we recommend using this paint remover from Dumond Chemicals, which is odor-free and doesn't contain methylene chloride.
This product is a paste, and works well at removing paint from carved surfaces, moldings, or any surface with many crevices. As well as using it inside your home, you can also use it in outdoor areas—it’s suitable for many types of surfaces.
Best for Wood: Max Strip Paint and Varnish Stripper
No methylene chloride or NMP
Safe for indoor use, no overly strong odor
Works best when kept covered with plastic wrap to maintain wetness
All sorts of painted-over wooden surfaces may need stripping, from bureaus to walls. This option from Max Strip is free from methylene chloride, NMP, and other caustic chemicals but can still successfully remove paint—or even layers of paint—from wooden items. It also works on other, non-wood surfaces, such as metal, tile, glass, stone, and masonry.
Unlike some other paint strippers, Max Strip's stripper does not have a strong smell. It’s very easy to apply, and does a great job at removing paint or varnish from wood. You'll get the best results by covering the stripper with a layer of plastic wrap to keep it wet as it works.
Best for Masonry: Klean-Strip Premium Paint Remover and Stripper
Works fairly quickly
No methylene chloride
Thick paste clings without dripping
Brush Klean-Strip on a metal surface, and you’ll be able to easily strip off paint, epoxy, or polyurethane. This product is ideal for metal, as well as working on masonry and wood without damaging the surface or lifting wood grain. After just 15 minutes, it can remove multiple layers of paint or other products—but in some cases, you’ll need to let the product sit on the surface for longer. For especially old or thick paint, you might need to do a few rounds of application.
The product is a thick paste that clings well even to vertical surfaces, so you won't have to worry about drips.
Best Fast-Acting: 2 Minute Remover 63532 Advanced Detailing Liquid Paint & Varnish Remover
Methylene chloride free
Thinner consistency than many other strippers
In many cases, paint removers require a great deal of time to take action—you have to apply, then wait, then remove. And that waiting time in the middle can eat up a big chunk of your day. If you’re looking to speed up the process, try this fast-acting paint and varnish remover from Sunnyside Corporation.
It works in mere minutes to remove several layers of paint. It’s particularly adept at dealing with paint that’s in nooks and crannies or on textured surfaces. For more complicated jobs, you’ll want to leave the paint on for a longer period of time, but most situations will be resolved in two minutes.
This paint remover can be used on several different types of surfaces—both wood and metal, for instance—and can also be used to remove a wide variety of paints, including oil-based and latex paints, as well as varnish and finishes.
For tough jobs, you may find that you’ll need multiple coats, but in most cases, this paint remover will complete the job in just a few minutes.
Best for Latex Paint: Krud Kutter Latex Paint Remover
Biodegradable, low VOC formula
Removes paint from carpet and fabric
Can run or drip on vertical surfaces
Latex paint is commonly used to paint the interior of homes. If the paint has dripped from the walls onto the floor, or if you need to remove several layers, a spray bottle of Krud Kutter can be really helpful.
This versatile spray can be used on hard, soft, and porous surfaces—it’s just as adept at removing paint from carpets as it is from harder surfaces like brick and tile. It’s effective at removing both fresh and dried paint.
Krud Kutter’s spray bottle makes it convenient to use—just spray on the paint, let sit for several moments, and then wipe off, following up with soap and water. This paint remover can be used both indoors and outside. You’ll find that Krud Kutter is both easy to use and effective. There is an odor to it, but the manufacturer notes that the product is both biodegradable and low in VOC.
Best for Metal: Rust-Oleum 323172 Aircraft Remover
Very effective on metal
Methylene chloride free
Doesn't drip or run
This product from Rust-Oleum is ideal for removing all sorts of finishes, including paint, acrylic, lacquer, epoxy, and polyurethane from metal surfaces without corrosion or damage. That makes it particularly well suited if you’re looking to remove paint from your car, truck, or any other metal surface.
The product will take up to 45 minutes to work, and should not be used on fiberglass or plastic surfaces. Since it’s a gel—not a liquid—you won’t have to worry about drips or the product straying from its original application spot. Make sure to use this paint remover outside for maximum ventilation.
For nearly all paint stripping jobs, we recommend Citristrip QCSG801 Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel (view at Lowe's). It can be used inside and outside, and lacks the noxious odors of other paint strippers, yet is still highly effective. If you're specifically working on an indoor job, check out Dumond's Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in a Paint Stripper
Most people are unaware that there are actually four main types of paint strippers: solvent, caustic, biochemical, and zero-VOC paint strippers. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, so it's necessary to understand the differences between them in order to choose the best paint stripper for removing paint, epoxy, or even polyurethane.
- Solvents are the most common and versatile type of paint stripper. They are made with powerful chemicals that break down the bond between the paint and the surface. These paint strippers are effective for removing paint, epoxy, and polyurethane from wood, masonry, and metal surfaces, though they may contain ingredients with very high VOC content, like methylene chloride. Many of today's solvents, however, substitute alcohols for more toxic methylene chloride.
- Caustic paint strippers interact with the paint on a chemical level to change the paint into more of a soapy substance, which loosens the bond between the paint and the target surface. These alkaline paint strippers must be neutralized with a water and vinegar solution after use to return the surface to a neutral pH of 7. Use caustic paint strippers for paint on masonry surfaces (such as when removing paint from brick), and keep in mind that these paint strippers don't work on epoxy or polyurethane.
- Biochemical paint strippers are less harsh than both solvent and caustic strippers because they are made with a mixture of plant-based solvents and an organic compound known as N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP). These strippers do not work on epoxy or polyurethane, though they are suitable for both water- and oil-based paints on masonry, metal, or wood surfaces. Despite being gentler than solvents and caustic paint strippers, biochemical strippers are still powerful and can cause adverse effects to the respiratory and reproductive systems, so make sure to use appropriate safety equipment when working with any paint stripper.
- Low- or zero-VOC paint strippers are the safest option if you are concerned about the harmful effects of some of the other types. They are made with naturally occurring solvents, like benzyl alcohol, rather than more caustic chemicals like NMP or methylene chloride. There's a tradeoff for the more environmentally friendly formula, however; these strippers tend to take more time, applications, and scraping to remove paint completely than older, more toxic formulations. Use these paint strippers on water- or oil-based paint that has been applied to a metal or masonry surface. They also work on wood surfaces, but the results can vary depending on the paint and the type of wood.
The method for application differs slightly between the various paint stripper types, though all strippers should be applied with a disposable paintbrush and applied in short brush strokes in a single direction. Make sure to apply the stripper with the grain when working with wooden surfaces.
- Solvents should be applied in a thin layer less than 1/8-inch thick. This type of stripper can be removed with a paint scraper after about 10 to 15 minutes. Wash any remaining stripper off the surface with water.
- Caustic strippers require a thicker layer of application from about 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch. Make sure the stripper stays on the surface for at least 30 minutes before removing the paint with a scraper, then neutralize the caustic stripper with a vinegar and water solution.
- Biochemical paint strippers should also be applied in a thick layer of between 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick, though they need to remain on the surface for three to four hours before the paint can be removed with a scraper. Afterward, simply wash the surface with water to remove the leftover stripper.
- Low-VOC paint strippers can be rinsed off with water and they need to be applied in 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch layers. Leave the paint stripper for three to 24 hours before attempting to scrape away the paint.
The safety of yourself and any other people or pets that are nearby should be your first priority when using paint strippers. With that in mind, it's necessary to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensure that the area is well-ventilated and blocked off to prevent kids or pets from touching or breathing the paint stripper.
If you are planning on working inside, then it's advised to invest in a biochemical or low-VOC paint stripper that won't be as harmful as a solvent or caustic stripper. Just keep in mind that all paint strippers can cause problems and it's necessary to wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, chemical-resistant gloves, a respirator, and safety glasses when working with them.
What is paint stripper?
Paint stripper is a chemical solution that is specifically formulated to remove paint from the surface of wood, metal, and even masonry materials, like brick or concrete.
How do you use paint stripper?
Use a paint stripper by first blocking off the area to prevent kids, pets, and other people from accidentally touching the stripper or breathing the fumes. Put on PPE, including long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, chemical-resistant gloves, a respirator, and safety glasses.
Apply the paint stripper with a disposable paint brush in short strokes. Make sure to apply the stripper in thick enough layers and in one direction to get the best results.
After the period of time indicated by the manufacturer's directions has passed, scrape the paint and paint stripper off the surface. Next, either neutralize a caustic paint stripper with a water and vinegar mixture, or simply wash off a solvent, biochemical, or low-VOC paint stripper with water.
How do you dispose of paint stripper?
It's important to understand that paint stripper is a highly hazardous product and should never be dumped down the drain or tossed into the regular trash collection bin. Paint strippers need to be disposed of at a hazardous waste collection facility.
How do you remove paint stripper?
Most paint strippers, including solvents, biochemical, and low-VOC paint strippers, can be removed with a scraper, steel wool, a cloth, and some water. Use the scraper to remove the paint and the majority of the paint stripper, then follow up with a piece of steel wool to get rid of any remaining paint. Dip the cloth in water and wash away any remaining paint stripper that is still on the surface.
Caustic paint strippers can be removed in much the same way as solvents, biochemical, and low-VOC paint strippers, except that they also need to be neutralized with a vinegar and water solution to prevent damage to the target surface. Make sure to wipe away all remaining paint stripper with a cloth that is treated with water and vinegar.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Madeleine Burry has been writing for the Spruce since 2019, covering pets, crafting, and helpful home and kitchen products. You’ll find her writing on a wide array of sites, including Apartment Therapy, the Kitchn, Women’s Health, Livestrong, and others. Timothy Dale, a seasoned home improvement expert who specializes in a number of topics, including plumbing, construction, and product recommendations, contributed additional research.