Paint prep is a necessary but sometimes tedious step. Some types of paint prep are easier than others. On a piece of furniture with only a few isolated peeling patches, you can simply scrape, sand, and prime before repainting. But if you’re tackling a project that has already been painted several times—and likely shows widespread chipping, cracking, or blistering—you’ll need to remove the existing finish entirely before pressing on with your project.
You could do this manually with a hand sander and a whole lot of elbow grease (not an option with lead-based paint). Or you can use a paint stripper, which will take care of the task at hand in far less time and with far less effort on your part.
Before you set out to purchase a paint stripper for your project, know that not all are suitable for all types of paint and surfaces, and some include harsh chemical ingredients that require you to take special safety precautions. Keep reading to learn about what paint strippers are made of and how to use them safely, as well as to see our top picks:
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Paint Stripper
When shopping for a paint stripper, it’s crucial to consider a few factors, including the type of paint stripper, the materials that it works with, and how safe it is to use. Ahead, learn about these and other important characteristics of paint strippers.
Like the paint, varnishes, and lacquers they remove, paint strippers can put off VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that can be harmful to breathe in and cause nose, throat, and eye irritation. While VOCs are less of a concern when working outdoors, they can be harmful when working indoors, especially if there is limited ventilation.
Strippers with high VOCs typically use harsh chemicals in their formula. If planning to work indoors, look for a paint stripper that does not use chemicals such as methylene chloride that produce high VOCs.
There are four main types of paint strippers that function in unique ways and contain varying levels of VOC content.
Different types of paint strippers perform better on certain surfaces. Choose the paint stripper that’s best suited for the intended surface application:
While some paint strippers are less hazardous than others, all types must be applied with protective equipment. Be sure to use the following protective gear when handling whichever type you choose:
If stripping old paint in homes built pre-1978, test with a lead paint test kit. If the test is positive, you must choose a paint stripper labeled for use on lead paint (these strippers may fall into any of the four categories of paint strippers above and usually come in a paste or gel form to trap lead particles and keep them from going airborne).
When applying paint stripper, dip a disposable paint brush into the product to apply in the thickness recommended on the package instructions. Move the brush in short strokes in a single direction (on wood, move in the direction of the grain). If the product came with laminate paper squares for easier paint removal, adhere the squares to the wet stripper immediately after application.
If the paint stripper requires a neutralizing step, use the solution recommended on the package (or a solution of equal parts vinegar and water), then test the pH of the stripped surface with pH paper to ensure it has a pH of 7. For paint strippers that don’t require neutralizing, wash the stripped surface with the cleaner recommended on the packaging (usually plain water or mineral spirits).
Tips for Working With Paint Remover
In addition to application tips for the different types listed above, follow these practices for safe and effective use of any paint stripper:
Our Top Picks
The list below narrows the field to some of the best paint strippers on the market. The products below remove paint quickly and work on a variety of different coatings and materials.1Check Latest Price
The formula of this biodegradable paint stripper, which is free of methylene chloride and NMP,imparts no nasty fumes as it removes paint (even lead-based), varnish, and urethane from wood, metal, masonry, and other surfaces indoors and out.
The biodegradable paint remover can be applied by brush, roller, or sprayer. It’s successful at stripping new and decades-old paint coats from stone, metal, and other painted surfaces, all with ease.
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With a formula that’s fast acting and includes no methylene chloride or NMP, this paint stripper is one of the best options on the market. It starts working in just 30 minutes and is capable of removing up to 15 layers of paint, lacquer, varnish, and urethane from a variety of surfaces, including masonry, wood, plaster, concrete, brick, metal, and stone.
It’s tacky enough to use on vertical as well as horizontal surfaces and can be applied with a brush, putty knife, or roller. Sunnyside paint and varnish remover comes in gallon and quart sizes.
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Not only is this paint and varnish remover biodegradable and free of dangerous chemicals such as methylene chloride and NMP, it also produces no harmful fumes or foul odors. In fact, it may even freshen the air with its pleasant citrus smell. It’s effective at removing 15 or more layers of latex and oil-based paint and varnish from wood, masonry, fiberglass, tile, porcelain, and glass.
To use, apply the remover, allow it to set, then rinse off. With its gel consistency, it will stick to vertical as well as horizontal surfaces. Safe ’n Easy paint remover comes in a ½-gallon container, which covers about 20 square feet.
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This paint stripper starts working just 30 minutes after application, making it one of the fastest means of stripping paint from wood, plaster, concrete, brick, stone, and masonry. It removes up to three layers of water- or oil-based paint and varnish and is applied with a sprayer, brush, or roller.
In addition to being a fast-acting product, Sunnyside Hi-Speed Ready-Strip also produces low VOCs and uses no methylene chloride or other harsh chemicals, making it environmentally safe and leaving only a pleasant citrus aroma. Hi-Speed Ready-Strip is available in ½-gallon containers, which is enough to cover about 20 square feet, and quart-size spray bottles.
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This paint stripper’s ability to remove some of the most commonly used coatings for wood, including oil- and water-based paint, epoxies, varnishes, shellacs, and lacquers, makes it an ideal paint stripper for wood. This formula also includes no methylene chloride or NMP, which is safer for the user and the environment while also being gentler on wood. This makes it an ideal choice for stripping antique furniture.
It begins stripping paint just 15 minutes after application and will remove up to five layers. Apply by pouring the stripper onto the surface and use a scraper to remove. D Super remover paint stripper is available in 1-quart or 1-gallon cans.
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The spray bottle packaging and fast-acting formula of this paint stripper from Max Strip make it a good paint stripper for metal. The stripper sprays on, making it ideal for removing paint from cars and other surfaces that may be scratched by using a brush or scraper. The stripper also works quickly—in about 15 minutes—and is in a gel form, making it ideal for clinging to slick metal surfaces.
Max Strip produces no harsh fumes or odors and rinses away with water. In addition to paint, Max Strip also conveniently removes other materials that frequently end up on a car, including tree sap, sticker residue, and glues. It comes in 22-ounce bottles.
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Removing paint that’s soaked into the porous surface of masonry can be a challenge. This paint remover works to break the molecular bonds in paint, making it capable of lifting spray paint, aerosol paint, enamel, and other paint types from porous concrete.
Unlike other strippers that liquify paint, this formula breaks into small solid pieces that can be rinsed out of porous materials. In addition to concrete, it also works on stucco, fiberglass, brick, metal, and vinyl. It also produces low VOCs and uses no harsh chemicals. Motsenbocker’s comes in a 22-ounce spray bottle.
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Formulated with citrus terpenes and NMP, this indoor-outdoor paint and varnish stripper with a citrus scent earns high praise from DIYers who return to the product again and again for a countless variety of repair and improvement projects.
The stripper goes on with a gel-like consistency and works to loosen multiple layers of water- or oil-based paint, varnish, shellac, or epoxy from wood, metal, or masonry in less than half an hour—without corroding the painting surface.
Most users will find the Smart Strip Advanced paint remover to be the best paint stripper for most applications. It comes in a large 1-gallon container to last through several projects. Shoppers looking to be as environmentally friendly as possible and wanting to avoid harsh chemical odors should consider the Safe ’n Easy Citrus paint remover instead, which is budget-friendly and leaves a pleasant citrus fragrance.
How We Chose the Best Paint Strippers
A good paint stripper is one of the easiest ways to remove paint and varnish to prep an old piece of furniture or other material for refinishing or painting. When gathering our top picks for paint stripper, we paid attention to what types of coatings each product will remove as well as its compatibility with metal, wood, plastic, and other types of materials. Our list of recommendations features a wide range of products to suit a variety of requirements, from the ability to remove multiple paint layers to avoiding harsh chemical odors for sensitive indoor applications.
We also made sure to consider the active ingredients used in the strippers we recommend. As such, we chose mostly green products that don’t use harsh chemicals such as methylene chloride or NMP, which are toxic to humans and harmful to the environment.
If you have questions about how to use paint stripper or dispose of it when you’re done, then read on for answers to these and other commonly asked questions about these products.
Paint stripper will not ruin clothes. In fact, some paint strippers can be used to remove paint from clothing.
While paint stripper does not have an expiration date, it’s a good idea to keep it tightly sealed when not in use to prevent contaminants from getting into the container.
Sunnyside’s Hi-Speed Ready-Strip is one of the fastest-acting paint strippers on the market, removing paint in as little as 30 minutes.
Don’t throw paint stripper in your trash can. Due to the chemicals used in paint strippers, most municipalities require paint strippers to be disposed of at a hazardous collection facility.