Good painters remove or cover door hardware before they paint. The other kind of painter just slops it over any exposed metal and ruins the door's appearance. Fortunately, any knob, escutcheon plate, or hinge can easily be made to shine again without the need for noxious chemicals, expensive tools, or uncomfortable gear.
The secret to restoring metal's gleam is simple: A long, hot, sudsy soak in a crockpot. This method, advocated by Brad Kittel, owner of Discovery Architectural Antiques, in Gonzales, Texas, uses nothing more than water, a bit of liquid detergent, and heat to break the paint bond. More often than not, you can slide all the cooked paint layers off with your fingers. A scrubbing with a nylon brush removes the stubborn bits. (Wire brushes or power tools are much too aggressive for this kind of work.)
A beeswax furniture polish after stripping, or a nonabrasive polish like Flitz or Maas can restore the sheen to solid brass or thickly plated hardware. And the next time the door needs painting, do yourself a favor—take the hardware off before the painter shows up.
Cut the paint
Protect the surrounding paint from damage by carefully scoring the perimeter of each escutcheon plate with a utility knife. Loosen the set screw holding the knob to its spindle and slide out the pieces.
Remove the plates
Carve out paint buildup in the screw slots with the knife. Back out the screws, but don't apply a lot of pressure or you can slip and gouge the metal. Pry off the escutcheons.
Heat and soak
Place the hardware in the crockpot. Cover with water, add a couple of tablespoons of liquid laundry detergent, and turn the heat to medium. Put on the lid and let the contents of the pot cook all night. The next day, the paint will be soft and ready to fall off the metal.
TIP: Use plastic tongs to remove hardware from the crockpot without scratching it.
Chemical soak (if needed)
While hot water is amazingly effective at removing paint from metal, it needs some time to work. But if time is something you're running short of, then a chemical stripper will hasten the process. Fast-acting methylene chloride will do the job in less than an hour; a less volatile, less toxic stripper needs several hours.
TIP: Whichever chemical you use, be sure to protect skin and eyes and always work outdoors.
Remove hardware from the crockpot (or chemical soak) with tongs and push off any remaining paint with a toothbrush or nylon bristle brush. (A wire brush can scratch the surface.) The paint hardens quickly once it's out of the pot; dip the pieces back in the hot water to help loosen any stubborn spots.
Protect the metal with beeswax polish, rubbed out with a soft cloth. You can spray on a lacquer finish instead, but if it ever chips or wears off, the metal will have to be chemically stripped.
Apply a new coat of wax polish about every six months.