Strip Ease: How to Remove Paint, Safely


So you let the 10-year-old choose her own, low VOC wall paint. Your therapist tells you to be compassionate with yourself. You didn’t know it would turn out to be the most powerful pink shade on the swatch sheet. “It must be very hard for you.”

Hard doesn’t describe it. It’s not like an insufferable PG-13 movie you can return to the rental bin after one painful viewing. That touch of pink swatch in the corner didn’t seem so offensive, but suddenly the bedroom has morphed into a giant Razzle candy that refuses to turn into gum, lose its flavor, and go away. You’ve tried taming the raspberry beast with chocolate browns and cloudy blues, anything and everything to soften the pounding headache from walls that pulsate as they suck you into the pink abyss. Sorry, Lola. The Razzle may dazzle your 4th grade pals, but it has begun to frazzle your middle-aged mom. It’s time to strip.

Luckily for me, I have the best interior painter in San Francisco (let’s just call him Michael B.) who shops at the best paint resource in the Bay Area, Creative Paint on Geary Avenue, and knows that removing poor paint choices safely calls for new products that won’t add environmental insult to injury. Here are a few of those products you, too, should obtain for stripping without the toxins:

Zinsser Paint & Finish Remover with Soyzol (R)zinsser-paint-and-finish-remover

Considered one of the best alternatives to traditional paint removers, this formula from Zinsser takes off more than five layers of latex and oil-based paint and most finishes from wood, metal and vinyl in less than one hour. The soybean derivative Soyzol replaces the usual flammable solvents, caustics or methylene chloride-based strippers. It has a mild odor and is a biodegradable, renewable resource. It’s a better way to go for you or your house painter.


Home Strip

A good choice for removing finishes from furniture, Home Strip┞¢ is a water-based, low VOC paint stripper that is completely safe to the user and the environment. No need for ventilation and no need to work outside. It will safely removelead-based paints, oil-based paints, solvent-based paints, stains, varnishes and certain plastic coatings.


The Speedheater Method TM

The Speedheater Method from Sweden is based on Infrared Technology to soften paint quickly, making it easy to scrape off. It’s effective for removing exterior house paint and lead-based paints (outlawed in the U.S in 1978), and is a great preparation for cleaning up the old layers and starting completely fresh – avoiding cracking of new paint from the residue left behind.

Design Tip: While it’s not always affordable to completely strip off old paint before starting anew, it is highly recommended, as paint layers can become too thick over time and peppered with various penetrative cracks. It also helps to better define detailed trim work and mouldings that are lost under too many layers of paint.

Design Tip: Don’t just swatch a small corner when testing a daring color. Cover enough wall to know if you truly can live with the shade. And do rethink pink!

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7 thoughts on “Strip Ease: How to Remove Paint, Safely

  1. Just tried the Zinsser soy based stripper on an exterior entry deck painted with Valspar porch/deck paint. Left the stripper on for over an hour, and scraped and scraped and scraped, and only got off one thin layer off. I can’t possibly recommend it. I’ve used another enviro-friendly product available in New England in 2003-2004, but can’t find it anymore. It WORKED, really well on a large deck…..

  2. I have a question I hope someone may be able to help me with. I have recently moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina and rented a cute apartment that had just been renovated. To my dismay the first time I spent a couple of hours in it taking measurements and imagining where the furniture would go, both me and my young daughter starting coughing and ended up with irritated throats and chests for at least 24 hours afterwards. I realized that there was a double source of indoor pollution: the floors had been refinished with non water based finish and all the walls had been painted with oil based enamel. I have signed a lease for two years which will be impossble to cancel.

    I assume I could deal with the vapors from the floors by having them refinished with an imported water based formula (Bona brand) that is available in this market which apparently is less toxic, but I am not sure how to deal with the walls. I have read that oil based paints can emit VOCs for over a year, even after the odor is gone. Any suggestions? Would having the walls sanded and repainted with a water based latex paint help? Would the sanding process remove the chemicals that are now polluting the air in this apartment so badly? Any othyer ideas? I would certainly appreciate any expert advice!!

  3. Also, Zinsser has a variety of good products (this was just one) for removing wall paints, oil-based, milk paints, and deglossers to better prep for new, fresh paint.

  4. Too much paint build up on walls is not good, and we have painted many shades at our home. To get the cleanest after too much build up, it is recommended by most high-end interior painters to start new and sand. The stripping is best for lead paints and tremendous build up and for wood surfaces, furniture, etc.

  5. I have worked in the paint business for over 30 years. I have sold, mixed, matched, given council, and always looked for, pursued and tried cutting edge products. I am well acquainted with this product and as truly wonderful as it may be, I must ask what seems an obvious question. “Why are you stripping paint off the walls for heavens sake?” Did I miss the point? This is a very costly and time consuming thing on such a large scale. Not to mention that when finished stripping, you have to sand, prime and repaint when you are done. Why in the world would you recommend stripping over repainting a more favorable color. I have always given my customers a confidence boost by reminding them….”It is only paint, we can always repaint if you hate it.” This product wasn’t intended for such large area removal unless you are trying to strip a wall of painted brick or wood or the like. An unfortunate paint chip color gone bad on the wall should be treated with a better color solution, Not a stripper. It seems to me like recommending growing a lemon tree if you want to make lemonade. You can do it that way…but why would you? I love your articles and website. I am sorry on this rare occasion I can’t see your point of view.

  6. Grat timing on article as I’m wanting to try a bold color on my walls and afraid of it being Sara’s Kool Aid Turquoise.

    1 question though, none of these products specifically said it was for walls. Even the Zinsser product says wood, metal and vinyl. Is this the product you recommned?

  7. It’s not just 10-year-olds. I had a fateful experience with Tiffany Blue that really was more accurately described as Kool Aid Turquoise one year. I loved it and loved it and loved it and then one day I woke up and was appalled.


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