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, then it contains chemicals that will be released into the air once the scraping and sanding begin. And most paint strippers and solvents emit strong fumes that will add to the chemicals you may end up inhaling.

Here are a few tips on how to remove old paint and stain safely.

Sanding and scraping old paint

At the very least, be sure to wear a quality dust mask to block the dust. To kick it up a notch, spend a few extra dollars on a respirator equipped with a HEPA filter.

Always wear 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. And do not vacuum or sweep the dust once it settles. Instead, mop it with damp paper towels and discard in the trash.

Choose a non-toxic paint stripper

Most paint strippers emit some pretty hefty fumes. So if you choose to strip the paint instead of scraping and sanding — or prior to scraping and sanding — choose a non-toxic option. The label of a non-toxic paint stripper should specifically say that is biodegradable and does not contain methylene chloride.

Repurposed & recycled home goods by NewlyEven non-toxic paint strippers are caustic (otherwise they wouldn’t remove the paint), so you still need to wear rubber gloves and goggles. Once you make sure that you are protected, you’ll want to make sure the item you are working on is also protected.  Spot test a small and inconspicuous area to make sure the paint remover does not damage the surface.

Once the job it done, you may discard non-toxic paint stripper with the regular household trash. Traditional paint strippers (i.e. NOT the non-toxic versions) will need to be brought to your local hazardous waste center.

Using a heat gun to remove old paint

Please keep in mind that if you choose to use a heat gun to remove old paint, you must protect your lungs. A heat gun will blister and peel several layers of paint at once, releasing layers of chemicals into the air.

Always wear a chemical cartridge respirator as you work. And if you are indoors, open the windows as you work and use a fan. Be sure to face the fan toward the open window or door to push the fumes out of the house and avoid filling the house with harmful chemicals.

Safely remove lead paint

If you live in a home built before 1978 in the US, or before 1989 in the EU, then 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, be sure to follow these instructions by the EPA.

Good to know

  • Pregnant and nursing women should always leave the removal of old paint to someone else.
  • Pregnant and nursing women should never handle chemical paint removers or lead paint.
  • Consider repainting with natural paints as a safe and chemical-free alternative to oil or latex.
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