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stripping paint off of plaster

I have a condo built in the 1920'S. The living room has an ornate and very handsome mantlepiece that appears to be cast plaster. As you can guess, there is also 90 years of bad paint jobs over the plaster which blurs some nice details. I am reluctant to use strippers because of the damage I fear they will cause to the plaster. Any ideas out there?

Re: stripping paint off of plaster

I am doing the same thing on plaster corbels and plaster ceiling moulding with a grape/acorn motif. It's been painted so many times it's gunky and you can hardly tell what some of the carvings are. Here's what's working for me.

Buy 3M Safe Strip. It will not burn your skin, has no odor, and thus far has not harmed my plaster. I apply it VERY liberally so that the surface is covered thickly in the white goop. Then I cover it with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out. Let it sit 1-2 days. Come back and it will have blisted off the paint and in my case, left the plaster completely unharmed. One thing I noticed...it does a great job of getting all the layers of latex off, but the bottom layer is lead paint and it usually doesn't work too great on that. If you use scrapers and dental picks, you end up putting grooves in the plaster which will show when you paint it. I'd get down to that base layer of paint - assuming yours is lead too - and leave it and paint over that.

Re: stripping paint off of plaster

Here is a picture of my dad helping me out on this project. That is all plaster decoration.

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