Safely Remove Old Paint

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If you’re getting ready to refinish old furniture or repaint old window frames, you’ll probably need to remove the previous paint first.

If the existing paint was oil or latex — or it was an oil-based stain — then you’ll need to be careful. That’s because most oil and latex contains chemicals that will be released into the air once the scraping and sanding begin.

And if you plan on using a paint stripper instead of (or in addition to) sanding, you should know that most paint strippers and solvents emit strong, harmful fumes.

With that in mind, let’s talk about easy ways to safely remove paint and stain safely, without inhaling harmful chemicals and vapors.

Also read: Choosing Natural Paints For Your Home

In this article

Sanding and scraping old paint

Always protect yourself when sanding or scraping old paint.

  • Be sure to wear a high-quality respirator to block the dust.
  • Always wear safety goggles to protect your eyes and gloves to protect your hands.
  • After sanding, leave the room for several hours and close the door behind you.
  • Do not vacuum or sweep the dust once it settles. Instead, mop it with damp paper towels and discard in the trash.


LESS toxic paint strippers

As mentioned, most paint strippers emit some pretty hefty fumes. My research hasn’t uncovered any completely chemical-free alternatives. However, I did find some less toxic options that do not emit harsh fumes or contain methylene chloride.

  • Less toxic as these options may be, you still need to protect your hands, eyes, and lungs.
  • You’ll also want to protect whatever you’re working, so be sure to spot test a small and inconspicuous area to make sure the paint remover does not damage the surface.

Once the job is done, you can discard any leftover paint stripper with the regular household trash. Just be sure to leave them outside to dry before tossing them in the bin. By contrast, traditional paint strippers — the toxic versions — cannot be thrown in the regular trash. Those would need to be brought to your local hazardous waste center.

Using a heat gun to remove old paint

A heat gun will blister and peel several layers of paint at once and can release layers of chemicals into the air. So if you choose to use a heat gun to remove old paint, you must protect your lungs.

  • Always wear a chemical cartridge respirator.
  • If you are indoors, open the windows as you work.
  • Place a fan close to the open window, facing it toward the window to push fumes out of the house.

Safely remove lead paint

If you live in a home built before 1978 in the US (or before 1989 in the EU) the old paint likely contains lead. It is not advisable to remove lead paint yourself. Instead, let a professional handle the scraping and sanding, if it’s in the budget. If you must do it yourself, please follow these instructions by the EPA.

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