The Paint Stripper Test

By Scott Sidler June 5, 2017

the paint stripper testWe are working on an exterior restoration project right now where the client wants to remove all the original paint from the siding and trim. So that means chemical paint strippers because infrared is too slow and hand scraping is too exhausting for a whole building.

Dumond was nice enough to send us one of their test kits that comes with 4 different types of paint stripper so we can find the right product for the job. Every coating responds differently to chemical paint stripper and we wanted to find the product that would remove the paint the most effectively before we start work on thousands of square feet of drop siding.

So, I thought what better time to do yet another test of different products my readers might find useful. I documented the process and results below so you can find the right chemical paint stripper for your job. Let’s get started!

Safety First

Paint strippers are no joke to mess with so you always want to be safe when handling them. Put down a drop cloth to keep any drips from damaging the floors or spilling into the dirt. Also be sure you are wearing safety glasses and chemical resistant gloves. Ordinary nitrile or latex gloves can be dissolved by certain strippers so you’ll want to use chemical resistant gloves if you aren’t sure. All the products we tested are biodegradable and ordinary latex gloves were sufficient.

Existing Conditions

The siding we were working with was long leaf pine novelty drop siding that was installed in the mid 1880s. It had approximately 6-8 layers of paint on the surface, some of which had chipped off in places and you could see bare wood that had only received one layer from the most recent paint job. The paint surface was moderately dirty and I setup my test patches under the front porch wall. The weather during the test was in the low 90s during the day and mid 70s at night with very high humidity and a rain storm during the night. The test patches were in a covered area so the rain wasn’t directly a factor.

The Products

I tested four products for this post all made by Dumond. Here’s the description of each product from the manufacturer’s website.

Smart Strip

This is an eco-friendly 100% biodegradable, water-based, and odor-free paint stripper that is extremely effective in removing multiple layers of architectural and industrial coatings from virtually all interior and exterior surfaces. Removing paint from wood, brick, metal, concrete, stone, plaster, and most fiberglass and plastics does not require caustic, toxic chemicals.

Smart Strip PRO

A water-based paint removal product that delivers the superior performance professionals require when removing even the most difficult coatings. Multiple coats of varnish, oil-based, water-based, lead-based, acrylic, urethane, epoxy, and elastomeric paints are no match for Smart Strip PRO. It removes paint from an interior or exterior surface, such as wood, brick, stone, concrete, plaster, metal, fiberglass, plastic, glass, etc.,

PeelAway 1

The PeelAway 1 system is excellent for removing paint from inside intricately carved areas and is highly recommended for historic restorations and other projects involving lead-based paint abatement. It can remove more than 30 coats of paint from a wide range of surfaces, including, wood, brick, concrete, stone, stucco, plaster, cast iron, steel, marble, and fiberglass and is also biodegradable.

PeelAway 7

PeelAway 7 can be safely used on virtually all interior and exterior surfaces. It can remove most varieties of architectural paints, varnishes, and high-performance coatings such as epoxies, urethanes, acrylics, elastomerics, chlorinated rubber, aluminum, mastics, and automotive or marine bottom finishes.

The Application

how to apply paint stripperNone of these paint strippers were difficult to apply but they each had their quirks. For the application I used a new disposable 2″ chip brush for each stripper to make sure there was no mixing of the products. Each section was also covered with Dumond’s Laminated Paper after application which covers the stripper and keeps it from drying out so that it can be more effective.

Smart Strip

Application was fine. It stuck to the vertical surface without issue and applied like whipped cream or thin sour cream. It was a little difficult to get a layer much thicker than the recommended 1/8″ because it wanted to move around on the surface with my brush though.

Smart Strip PRO

Very much the same feel and consistency of the Smart Strip though it had an appearance of curdled milk. Getting an 1/8″ layer with the chip brush was challenging as well since it moved around like the Smart Strip.

Peel Away 1

This product was more of a light grey paste which made it very easy to get a nice thick coat as recommended. It smoothed out and applied very similarly to premixed joint compound and was wonderful to apply.

Peel Away 7

Almost identical application experience to the Peel Away 1 except that this stripper has a beige color to it. The different color against the white siding made it really easy to see if I had a consistent layer or there were some holidays which was really helpful. But that would only really matter if I was stripping white paint. Overall application was almost identical to Peel Away 1.

The Results

I let the paint stripper do its magic for about 20 hrs which was on the long side of the 6-24 hrs recommended by Dumond to make sure we had good penetration through all the layers of paint. I first peeled the paper off which came off without removing any paint on any of the test patches then grabbed my steel triangle pull scraper and set about gently scraping the surface.

Smart Strip

Smart Strip
Smart Strip

The Smart Strip removed about 95% of the surface paint pretty easily but there was still some paint remaining deep in the wood grain. For a repaint this isn’t an issue at all since the surface was now free of all the coatings. It did cause the wood to darken and “fur up” which would require sanding before priming and painting later.

Smart Strip Pro

Smart Strip PRO
Smart Strip PRO

I was surprised at how spotty this was compared to the regular Smart Strip but in this scenario the Smart Strip PRO would definitely be a poor choice. It removed maybe 70% of the paint and resulted in a very mottled surface. It also required more effort to scrape the paint off. I was not impressed.

Peel Away 1

Peel Away 1
Peel Away 1

This came off like a dream! And just like the name it literally peeled off which was a nice change from the gooey way the Smart Strip patches came off. Almost 100% of the paint was gone and it required the least effort to scrape. Just like the previous 2 strippers it did darken the wood and cause it to “fur up” which is just an added step in the restoration process later, but as far as stripping paint this one was a rock star!

Peel Away 7

Peel Away 7
Peel Away 7

Another winner here though not quite as dramatic as the Peel Away 1. It still removed about 95% of the paint but unlike the Smart Strip it came off a little easier and in bigger chunks. I did notice that the upper section came off better than the middle which may have had something to do with some inconsistencies in my application thickness so I think with some tweaking I’d probably get closer to the Peel Away 1 results.

Final Thoughts

Chemical paint stripperAll of these products are biodegradable and relatively gentle compared to the old school paint strippers that will burn your head off which is a great modern feature. And the only one which requires neutralizing is the Peel Away 1 which can be neutralized with either Dumond’s Citrilize neutralizer or white vinegar. The others simply need to be washed clean with water.

If I’m going to use a chemical stripper then it better get rid of all the paint otherwise, in my opinion, it’s not worth to mess and hassle. For this project we’ll definitely be using the Peel Away 1 and what’s even better is that Dumond was nice enough to donate all the paint stripper we’ll need for the project since the work is being done for a non-profit historic museum. My restoration company is donating some of the labor to the project as well so soon this amazing piece of history will be back to her former splendor.

I hope this test has helped you make some decisions on using paint strippers on your next project. There is definitely a place for them and while using them appropriately is important it is even more important to use the right product for the job.┬áIf you’ve got some paint stripping to do grab one of these test kits and get to work. You won’t be disappointed!

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11 thoughts on “The Paint Stripper Test”

  1. We are restoring a 1910 Craftsman Bungalow and the red Corsicana Whiteselle brick used on the exterior and interior fireplace, as well as the staircase walls, has been painted white. The concrete toppers have been painted blue. We would like to have the original brick back and were wondering how your tested products worked on brick and concrete. How would you remove the paint after the setting time? Do any of the products have to be neutralized after use or is this only for wood products? Thanks

  2. I know this was a post about chemical paint strippers but I wanted your opinion on the mechanical strippers out there.
    I know of at least on that while pricey (500 bucks) looks like it would do a good job to me but I am just an amature with a 1920’s Craftsman Bungalo that needs a full paint job

  3. My experience with Peel Away 1 was not as delightful as yours. I thought it softened the wood and made it easier to disfigure on scraping (maybe my poor technique). I also disliked the rinse necessary for all of them, and was uncomfortable knowing “how much rinsing is enough” before painting again.
    While infrared heat may be slower in some respects, one avoids weakening the wood fibers or needing the step of rinsing and waiting to dry.
    I have read it recommended to never use a heat gun unless it is a surface already caulked and sealed with no opportunity for hot air to blow into crevasses. i know one family whose house had a major fire that way. I had a very minor incident that way that was visible and tended to.
    I am still working on the ideal infra red source.

    1. And as mentioned above as a problem for heat guns and blow torches, with infra red one should be able to get the paint softened without reaching temps that vaporize the lead.

      A point that was made by a fellow in Minneapolis is that it is easy to make the mistake of applying heat, back off while scraping, apply heat again, etc., when one really wants to try to maintain the heat source in working distance from the paint surface as much as possible. That allows not only for more consistent direct heat, but allows heat to transfer laterally in the paint and start to soften where you haven’t even pointed the IR yet.

  4. I stripped the paint off my 1908 bungalow a few summers ago. I was planning on using a heat gun, but a friend recommended using a propane torch. It sounds a little scary, but it worked great. You move the flame over a small section until the paint bubbles, then scrape it away. It actually went pretty fast, there’s no waiting for stripper to do it’s job. I even managed to do this without burning the house down! (A hose was kept handy and ready, but I never had to use it).

    1. A torch is the old school method and is quite effective except for a couple potential issues. The intense heat causes the lead in the paint to vaporize causing extremely high absorption which no mask can filter out. It could make you quite ill. Also the heat can fester for days before igniting a house fire in the walls. I’ve seen it happen in my area! Hose or not your never ready when the fir breaks out in the middle of the night. I don’t recommend open flame at all for these reasons.

      1. I guess I lucked out!

        Hopefully, I won’t succumb to lead poisoning, but more likely the tile I ripped out of the kitchen will kill me from asbestos. Oh, well. It was a good run!

  5. Do you think the furring could be reduced by reducing the time of application? I’m interested in stripping an old dining room set which has some intricate carving and Peel Away 1 sounds amazing, but sanding those details would be difficult.

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