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How To Remove Paint From Metal

Bring new life to metal by stripping old, stuck-on paint using one of these easy-to-follow methods.

Mauro Henrique, Metal Paint Removal Colleen McQuaid

Removing paint from metal isn’t difficult, but it can be tedious and potentially dangerous. Thankfully, there are many ways to strip paint from metal—including safe and eco-friendly ones—that will have your object looking as good as it did before someone decided to take a paintbrush to it. So, what’s the best paint remover for metal? A lot of it depends on the item. Consider the options below, before tackling your next project.

Methods for Removing Paint from Metal

Paint Scraper

Remove Paint from Metal, Paint Scraper, Putty Knife Alamy

This handheld tool, with a plastic or metal blade similar to a putty knife, can remove paint with just a little elbow grease. If you are working with a softer metal like brass, choose a plastic blade over a metal one to make sure you don’t damage or scratch the metal’s surface. Scrapers come in various sizes; choose one that’s comfortable to hold and well-suited for the job (a wide blade for flatter, wider surfaces and a narrower blade for smaller, harder-to-reach areas).

Ideal For: Flat surfaces and small jobs where the paint flakes and comes off easily, without the need for chemicals.

Heat Gun

Heat guns “melt” the paint, causing it to pull away from the metal surface. Start on the lowest setting and hold the heat gun a few inches away from the surface, moving it back and forth slightly. Warning: High heat can warp metal. Begin slowly and avoid overheating the area. Once the paint begins to bubble or pull up from the surface, scrape it off using a putty knife or paint scraper. If the paint doesn’t bubble, slowly increase temperature until it does. Make sure to use heat-resistant gloves and do not touch the metal piece until it has thoroughly cooled.

Ideal For: Targeting small areas and for projects where you plan to work in small sections.

Angle Grinder with Strip Disk

A quick and easy, albeit noisy and dusty method is to attach a strip disk to your angle grinder and let the handheld machine do the (dirty) work. Strip disks come in various abrasive materials, so look for one that is designed to remove paint from metal and won’t cause damage to the surface.

Ideal For: Stronger metal pieces like steel, beams, pipes, fences, metal furniture, and larger, flat surfaces.

Baking Soda (or Vinegar) & Heat

A natural way to remove paint from metal surfaces is to combine baking soda and water or white vinegar and water over a heat source. You can do this on your stovetop with a disposable pot or pan. For every quart of water, add 1/4 cup of baking soda or vinegar and bring the water to a boil. Add the item to the pan and let it boil for about 15 minutes or until the paint falls off. While wearing heat-protective gloves, use tongs to remove the metal pieces. Scrape off any remaining paint with a putty knife or hard-bristle brush.

Ideal For: Smaller metal pieces like hardware and hinges.

Paint Stripper

Paint strippers come in different forms, including a low-odor version made from soybeans, but the steps are the same. Pour the stripper into a container and, using a chip brush, apply a thick layer to the object, allowing the chemical to react with the paint and bubble (anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight). With a rag or scraper, wipe and remove the liquid, along with the unwanted paint, repeating as necessary. Work in a well-ventilated area and remove any potentially flammable items before using this method.

Ideal For: Outdoor projects, large pieces, spray paint on metal, and items with hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.

Paint Removal Tips

  • Avoid using coarse sandpaper or wire-bristled brushes on metal; otherwise you may damage or pit the surface.
  • Old toothbrushes come in handy when attacking hard-to-reach corners or crevices.
  • Follow the paint stripper’s instructions and adhere to the recommended time of for leaving the chemical on the painted metal—layers of stuck-on paint are hard to penetrate and breaking through those bonds can take time.
  • After all the paint has been removed from the item, wipe down and clean the metal with mineral spirits and a clean rag.
  • Dispose of the paint, any chemicals, and materials properly.

Safety Tips and Tools

When removing paint from any surface, employ the following safety measures:

  1. Work in a well-ventilated area (outside, if possible) and remove all flammable objects when working with a chemical paint stripper or angle grinder.
  2. If you suspect that the paint on your metal piece contains lead (a likely possibility if the paint was applied before1980), test an area with a lead detecting swab. If the test comes back positive, protect yourself adequately and choose a removal method that allows you to wipe away the unwanted paint and discard it immediately, rather than creating dust and airborne particles by grinding or dry scraping. Or, safer yet, call in a professional to remove the paint.

Tools You’ll Need to Remove Paint from Metal