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How to Clean Paint Off Any Surface

In some cases, paint stains may seem to be a permanent problem, but fear not—small splatters and large coatings are easier to remove than you’d think! From sanding to scraping to specialty products, there are many methods to try if your first attempt at cleaning old paint is unsuccessful.

Listed below you’ll find tactics to tackle paint according to the type of surface it’s stuck on.


Dried paint can be removed from metal by one of three processes: chemical, heat, or sanding. Sanding is a quick and easy solution, but if you’re working with a piece that’s small or delicate, try the next options. When using chemical strippers on metal, paint remover is available in various forms: liquid, aerosol, or paste.

This method is ideal for smaller target areas. Simply apply your product of choice, let it settle for at least five minutes, and then wipe or chisel the residue off.

A heat gun could also get the job done; at about six inches away from the surface, hold the tool over the paint and wait until is begins to blister. Next, take a paint scraper and remove the paint. Allow the metal to cool back down to room temperature and then clean it with a cloth.


Apply hot water and a small amount of dish soap to paint that’s dried on carpeting. Allow the solution to soak in for a few minutes, as this will help soften up the paint. Next, use a scraper or knife to pick away at the paint, adding more solution if needed. If this doesn’t remove all the residue, use a handheld steamer on the stain and scrape it away as it lifts.


Just as with metal, paint can be removed from wood via: chemical strippers, heat, or sanding. If opting for chemicals, apply the product and let it set for a few minutes. Gently scrape it away with a putty knife or paint scraper (tip: thicken the stripper by coating it with sawdust for easier removal). If removing paint from a large surface, scrub it with abrasive pads or a nylon brush until it’s bare. Heat guns remove paint from wood as well. Since this material is extremely flammable, it is crucial to be extra cautious. Point the tool a few inches away from the desired area until the paint begins to blister. Stop immediately at the sign of any smoke. Next, scrape off old paint with a putty knife or paint scraper and wipe the surface clean.


Plastic is another material to be careful with, as commercial paint removers may melt the surface or object. Use a plastic scraper or putty knife to gently scrape away paint (tip: vegetable oil can be used to soften up the paint). Denatured alcohol or acetone will work on tougher areas but be sure to spot test beforehand. Upon completion, clean the plastic with warm water and soap.


Loosen up paint that’s dried onto a concrete floor by scraping at it with a stiff brush. Dispose loose debris and then apply a chemical stripper. Unlike with metal or wood that only requires chemical strippers to set for a few minutes, it’s recommended that you leave it on the concrete for an hour or more. Brush and wipe away residue.


Leather is of the most difficult materials to clean paint off of. Very gently, try rubbing off the paint with a damp cloth. If you’re lucky enough, this may be all you need to soften the product and you can then scrape it away. If at first unsuccessful, apply baby or cooking oil and dab the spot until it’s gone. Once the stain is gone, clean the surface immediately with leather cleaner or a soapy cloth to avoid damage from the oil. If all else fails, apply the same method with acetone, just be sure to spot test first.