Lurking behind that paint might be a beautiful brick fireplace or wall. Though the paint was someone else's vision (or your own prior project), now it's your dream to remove that paint from the brick. With the right materials and a little concerted effort, it's possible to remove paint from brick indoors in small applications such as interior walls or fireplaces—restoring them to near-original condition.
Before You Begin
Common Problems With Painted Brick
Before removing paint from brick, it's important to determine when it was painted. Painted brick in older homes may contain lead paint. Gently remove a small section of paint and test it with a lead testing kit. If the paint contains lead, avoid sanding or chipping the paint during removal, which can cause the lead particles to become airborne. In this case, it may be easier to paint a new color over the brick rather than taking extensive safety precautions to remove it.
Brick may also be painted to seal moisture or conceal imperfections like cracked and damaged brick. If you want to restore it to its original look, be prepared for additional projects after removing the paint, like repointing or addressing moisture issues.
Paint Removal Methods
When it comes to interiors, the best paint remover for brick is a non-caustic paint stripper applied before scraping and brushing. It's a manual job that takes time—and this is why removing dried paint from brick on the exterior of a whole house or building is much easier said than done—but it's made somewhat easier with an effective paint stripper.
Pressure-washing and sandblasting can damage your house's interior. Either method, too, can pit or chip the brick beyond repair.
No paint stripper will do it all for you, but some strippers will do it better (and more safely) than others. Make sure your paint stripper does not contain harmful ingredients such as methylene chloride (also known as dichloromethane or DCM) or N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP).
When removing paint from a vertical surface such as a brick fireplace surround or a wall, purchase a gel-based paint stripper. Gel strippers stick better to vertical surfaces and they apply in thick coats.
Codes and Permits
If you do choose to strip paint with a paint stripper containing methylene chloride, you may need to obtain a permit to use the product or follow certain emissions management practices. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the usage of such products to reduce emissions, and requirements vary based on where, how, and to what extent the stripper is being used.
Though there are options for paint strippers that don't contain methylene chloride, most products can still be hazardous. Always follow manufacturer instructions, wear chemical-resistant gloves, eyewear, and protective clothing, and work in a well-ventilated space.
Equipment / Tools
- Paint brush
- Putty knife
- Five-in-one tool
- Wire brush
- Steel wool
- Plastic bags
- Kitchen gloves
- Clean bucket
- Paint stripper
- Plastic sheeting
- Painter's tape
- Lead paint test kit
Use the lead paint test kit to slice off a small amount of paint and send the sample to the laboratory. If the sample tests negative for lead, proceed with removing the paint from the brick. If lead is detected in the paint, a lead abatement contractor will be required to perform the job.
Add Plastic Sheeting
Tightly tape down plastic sheeting on the floor in front of the brick and around the brick on the wall. Extend the sheeting on the ground by at least 6 feet and on the walls by 3 feet. Cover all nearby furniture or other items that cannot be removed.
Add the TSP and warm water to the clean bucket. Wearing kitchen gloves, clean off heavy deposits of soot on fireplaces. The goal is to remove any kind of dirt or soot that may be an obstacle to stripping the paint.
Apply Paint Stripper
Using paint stripper is the easiest way to remove paint from brick. Wearing protective gear, brush the paint stripper onto the brick. Apply the stripper in thick layers, as thin layers dry too quickly.
Vinegar can also be used to remove paint from brick. However, vinegar must have time to soak into the paint, so this can be more time-consuming on vertical surfaces like fireplace surrounds that require multiple applications with a spray bottle.
Test the paint with the putty knife to assess its degree of solidity. The paint should be a thick, goopy layer, soft all the way down to the surface and easily removable with the putty knife. Scrape away the paint and deposit the remains in the trash bag.
Apply Second Coat of Stripper
Some paint will remain after stripping off the initial layer of paint. Apply a second coat of stripper and let it sit for about 4 hours, or for the amount of time suggested on the product label.
Remove Remaining Paint
Scrape off the second coat of paint with the putty knife. Immediately rub the brick with the steel wool or the steel-bristle brush to remove the rest of the paint.
Tips for Removing Paint From Brick
- If the paint stripper is drying too fast, tape a sheet of plastic over the area to slow down the drying process.
- Don't skimp when applying the paint stripper: Thicker layers are better than thin layers.
- Stripping paint is hard work, so budget your time and avoid working too long during each session.
- Keep an eye on paint stripper set times. Waiting too little time doesn't allow enough time for the stripper to work, and waiting too long means that the paint may solidify again.
- Work in small sections. When finished with a section, move onto the next one.
When to Call a Professional
For large-scale painted brick, it's often best to call a contractor for removal. Call in a professional abatement company if the paint on the brick tests positive for lead.
Can you restore brick after it's been painted?
Does paint thinner ruin brick?
Paint stripper is a better option than paint thinner for brick. Paint thinner can be used when adding paint to brick—rather than removing it—to touch up spots while the paint is still drying or freshly dried.
Does painting brick devalue a home?
"Get The Facts: Methylene Chloride." Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, Toxic-Free Future.
"Air Quality Requirements For Paint Stripping And Surface Coating Operations." Air Quality Division Business Assistance Program, State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
"What You Should Know About Using Paint Strippers." U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2013.