The 8 Best Paint Strippers of 2022 for Any Surface

Remove layers of paint in no time with citrus-scented Citristrip

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The Spruce / Zackary Angeline

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.

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.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel

4.5
Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Citrus fragrance

  • Highly effective, even when removing multiple layers of paint

  • No methylene chloride or NMP

What We Don't Like
  • 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 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 in this line, 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.

What Our Experts Say

Tips for DIY Painters: “To calculate how much paint you’ll need, multiply the length of each surface by the height to get the square footage, and then add up the totals. One gallon of paint will cover about 400 square feet. And always splurge for high-quality paint; it’s worth it. They will cover better, finish better, last longer, and make touch-ups much easier.”  Geoff Cook, owner of Handyman Connection of Pensacola

Best Value: Motsenbocker's LiftOff Latex Paint Remover

Motsenbocker's Lift Off Latex Paint Remover

Courtesy of Home Depot

What We Like
  • Water-based, biodegradable, and has low VOCs

  • Excellent for cleaning paintbrushes and other painting tools

What We Don't Like
  • Some complaints of nozzle leaking

  • Strong odor

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.

Best for Indoors: Dumond Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover

Dumond Chemicals, Inc. 3301 Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Thick paste won't drip or run

  • Odor is not too strong

  • No methylene chloride, NMP, or caustic chemicals

What We Don't Like
  • 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.

Best for Wood: MAX Strip Paint & Varnish Stripper

Max Strip Paint and Varnish Stripper

Courtesy of Home Depot

What We Like
  • No methylene chloride or NMP

  • Low VOCs

  • Safe for indoor use, no overly strong odor

What We Don't Like
  • 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.

What Our Experts Say

Tips for DIY Painters: “If purchasing several gallons of the same paint color, pour them all into one large container and mix thoroughly, rather than using one gallon at a time. This keeps the paint color consistent from start to finish.” Geoff Cook, owner of Handyman Connection of Pensacola

Best for Masonry: Klean-Strip Premium Stripper

Klean Strip Spripper

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Works fairly quickly

  • No methylene chloride

  • Thick paste clings without dripping

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Strong odor

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.

Best Fast-Acting: Sunnyside 2-Minute Remover ADVANCED Detailing Liquid Paint & Varnish Remover

2 Minute Remover Advanced Detailing Liquid

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Methylene chloride free

  • Works quickly

What We Don't Like
  • 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.

What Our Experts Say

Tips for DIY Painters: “Set aside some of the paint in a tight-lidded plastic container for touch-ups. Store the container inside the home—when stored outside it falls victim to temperature fluctuations—and label it, including where it was purchased, any color codes, and where the paint was used. I have had perfect touch-ups as long as 12 years after the original paint job by doing this. When you store small amounts of paint in a large paint can, the paint will deteriorate even if the can is sealed.”  Geoff Cook, owner of Handyman Connection of Pensacola

Best for Latex Paint: Krud Kutter Latex Paint Remover

Krud Kutter Latex Paint Remover

Courtesy of Home Depot

What We Like
  • Biodegradable, low VOC formula

  • Removes paint from carpet and fabric

  • Reasonable price

What We Don't Like
  • 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.

Best for Metal: Rust-Oleum Aircraft Remover

Rust-Oleum 323172 Aircraft Remover

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Very effective on metal

  • Methylene chloride-free

  • Doesn't drip or run

What We Don't Like
  • Strong odor

  • Somewhat expensive

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.

Final Verdict

For nearly all paint-stripping jobs, we recommend Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel (view at Lowe's). 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 (view at Amazon).

What to Look for in a Paint Stripper

Type

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 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. 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.

Application

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.

Safety

Your safety—and the safety of any people or pets nearby—should be your first priority when using paint strippers. You must wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Ensure, too, 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, 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.

FAQ
  • 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?

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. Geoff Cook, owner of Handyman Connection of Pensacola, also offered advice and suggestions.

Timothy Dale, a seasoned home improvement expert who specializes in a number of topics, including plumbing, construction, and product recommendations, contributed additional research.

Updated by
Timothy Dale

Timothy Dale is a home repair expert and writer with over a decade of hands-on construction and home improvement experience. He is skilled in residential, commercial, industrial and institutional plumbing, electrical, carpentry, installation, renovations, and project management.

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