Safer Paint Strippers
Alternatives to traditional, harsh paint strippers are making furniture refinishing easier on the lungs
Once upon a time, the only way to remove paint from an old piece of furniture was to use a fast-working chemical stripper containing methylene chloride (sometimes called dichloromethane or DCM), which can only be used outside or in areas with proper ventilation because of their harsh fumes and high VOC content. Not anymore. Though chemical strippers using safer ingredients have been on the market for more than 15 years, they're more popular than ever thanks to growing interest in green building. And there are more of these products on the market, too.
Here we highlight three options for safer strippers. Remember, even though they're less harsh than the traditional methylene chloride strippers, you should still wear safety glasses and gloves to avoid eye or skin irritation, and it's always a good idea to open a window. Also, keep in mind that these products don't work as fast as the really harsh stuff, so you may need to leave them on furniture for longer, or wrap coated furniture in wax paper or newspaper to help the stripper penetrate the finish.
Natural citrus terpenes found in oranges gives this stripper an orange-like smell. The gel form works well on chair and table legs and is biodegradable, but check with your town to see if the lead-based paint you've just stripped with it can be tossed to the curb.
•Methylpyrrolidone, or NMP, replaces methylene chloride as the active stripping ingredient.
•Leave it on for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours to remove multiple layers.
•Use it to strip latex or oil-based paints and coatings from wood, metal, and masonry.
•About $11.50 per quart
Available as a liquid or a semi-paste, Safest Strip is gentle enough to rinse down the drain. After stripping, clean the piece of furniture with water.
•Relies on gentler dibasic esters to remove paint.
•Works in 2 hours
•The semi-paste version reduces drips on vertical surfaces and can be left on for up to 30 hours.
•About $11 per quart
A mild lemon scent replaces the odor of stronger chemicals. SoyGreen's five gallon bucket of SoyGreen 6000, which will be renamed Soy-It in late January 2009, covers 250 square feet—plenty for a table or a few chairs. It's safe to use on fiberglass, so you can apply it to an exterior door. The product has been recognized for green chemistry by the EPA's Design for the Environment Program.
•Relies on soy esters to strip paint
•Can be left on up to 12 hours
•Apply it to wood, brick, stone, plaster, metal, fiberglass, graphite and steel.
•About $287 per five gallons