Scrapping and sanding away old paint is inefficient and can damage the underlying surface, which is why often your best option is stripping the paint with a chemical paint stripper. However, before getting started, take the advice of Deane Biermeier, licensed contractor and carpenter and also a member of The Spruce's Home Improvement Review Board, who cautions, "Before committing to a time-consuming paint-stripping project, decide if you really need to strip all of the paint, or if you can repair the painted surface and cover it with a new coat."
We evaluated paint strippers based on their effectiveness, ease of use, toxicity, and versatility. Our top choice is Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel, which removes most types of paints without the terrible smell of most similar products.
Read on for the best paint strippers to help you with your project.
Best Overall: Citristrip 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
Who else recommends it? Bob Vila and Family Handyman both picked Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel.
What do buyers say? 80% of 4,800+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.
Our top recommendation for removing paint is Citristrip. This paint remover is effective at removing several types of paint and varnish, including latex-based paint, oil-based paint, shellac, varnish, and polyurethane. Plus, it can be used on several types of surfaces—wood, metal, and masonry, including brick and concrete—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 of this type, it offers a fresh citrus smell. And while it may be lacking in some harsh chemicals (like NMP and methylene chloride), Citristrip 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.
Price at time of publish: $13
Best Value: Motsenbocker's LiftOff 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. Motsenbocker’s Latex Paint Remover fits the bill nicely. It’s highly effective at removing 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. Despite its versatility, it isn’t very costly. Plus, the spray bottle makes application easy, even on oddly shaped items or into crevices or angles.
While this product contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), it's almost half the regulated VOC limit, per the manufacturer. This brand works very well at removing paint without causing any damage to the surface below.
Price at time of publish: $8
Best for Indoors: Dumond 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 requiring paint removal occur within your home—like getting rid of the paint on a banister or around a fireplace. When working inside, 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 it works well at removing paint from carved surfaces, moldings, or any surface with many crevices. You can also use it in outdoor areas, and it’s suitable for many types of surfaces.
Price at time of publish: $57
Best for Wood: MAX Strip Paint & 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 from wooden items—even layers of paint. It also works on other surfaces, such as metal, tile, glass, stone, and masonry.
Unlike some 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.
Price at time of publish: $12
Best for Masonry: Klean-Strip Premium 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. Ideal for metal, this product also works 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. It does have a strong odor and is not suited for interior use. It is highly flammable, so take care to keep the product away from any source of high heat or flame.
Price at time of publish: $57
Best Fast-Acting: Sunnyside 2-Minute Remover 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. It can also remove a wide variety of paints, including oil-based and latex paints, as well as varnishes 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.
Price at time of publish: $10
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 interiors 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 help.
This versatile spray can be used on hard, soft, and porous surfaces—it removes paint from carpets just as adeptly as it does from harder surfaces like brick and tile. The product is effective at removing both fresh and dried paint.
Krud Kutter’s spray bottle makes it convenient to use—just spray on the paint, let it sit for several moments, and then wipe it 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. While there is an odor to it, the manufacturer notes that the product is both biodegradable and low in VOCs.
Price at time of publish: $10
Best for Metal: Rust-Oleum Aircraft Remover
Very effective on metal
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 for removing paint from your car, truck, or any other metal surface.
The product will take up to 45 minutes to work, and it 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, and keep it away from open flames or intense heat.
Price at time of publish: $29
Best for Graffiti: Goof Off Graffiti Remover
Quickly and easily removes graffiti from most surfaces
Thick gel won't drip or run
Might damage plastic or vinyl siding
If your home or business has been hit by taggers, you'll probably want to get rid of the graffiti as quickly as possible. Goof Off Graffiti Remover is formulated just for this purpose, removing just about any spray paint or latex paint quickly, easily, and effectively from stone, concrete, brick, metals, glass, fiberglass, wood, fully cured varnished surfaces, and oil-painted surfaces.
The thick gel won't drip or run. Spray it onto a cloth and then wipe the offending paint away. If this doesn't work, then spray the Goof Off directly onto the graffiti, let it sit for 15 minutes, and then wipe it away. Note that this isn't suited for use on plastic or vinyl surfaces and must be kept away from intense heat sources or open flames.
Price at time of publish: $13
For nearly all paint-stripping jobs, we recommend Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel. Used for both inside and outside projects, it 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.
What to Look for in a Paint Stripper
There are four main types of paint strippers: solvent, caustic, biochemical, and zero-VOC. Each kind has its strengths and weaknesses, so you must understand the differences between them to choose the best paint stripper for removing paint, epoxy, or even polyurethane.
- Solvents are the most effective 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. However, they may also 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). 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, and wood surfaces. Despite being gentler than solvents and caustic paint strippers, biochemical strippers are still powerful and can cause adverse effects to your respiratory and reproductive systems. 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. Low- and zero-VOC strippers 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 among the various paint stripper types. However, 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.
Your safety—and the safety of any people or pets nearby—should be your first priority when using paint strippers. Johnathan Brewer, licensed general contractor and member of The Spruce's Home Improvement Review Board, cautions, "Always use paint thinners in a well-ventilated area and wear eye and lung protection while working with them. And block the area off to prevent kids or pets from touching or breathing the paint stripper fumes."
If you are planning on working inside, consider investing 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, so you should 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 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?
Before using a paint stripper, you'll first want to block off the area to prevent kids, pets, and other people from accidentally touching the stripper or breathing the fumes. Then 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 paintbrush in short strokes. Make sure to apply it in thick enough layers moving in one direction to get the best results.
After the time indicated by the manufacturer's directions has passed, scrape the paint and paint stripper off the surface. If you're working with a caustic paint stripper, neutralize it with a water-and-vinegar mixture. If you're using a solvent, biochemical, or low-VOC paint stripper, simply wash it off with water.
How do you dispose of paint stripper?
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 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 leftover paint stripper 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?
Michelle Ullman is the home improvement/tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs around the house and yard.
For this roundup, she considered dozens of paint strippers, evaluating each for effectiveness, ease of use, and versatility, as well as safety. She also looked at feedback from customers, both positive and negative, and received further input and advice from The Spruce Home Improvement Review Board members Deane Biermeier and Johnathan Brewer.
Timothy Dale, a seasoned home improvement expert who specializes in a number of topics, including plumbing, construction, and product recommendations, contributed additional research.