Removing Exterior Paint or Stain

There are a number of ways to effectively remove old coatings and your particular job may require a combination of approaches to get the results you want. Review the methods explained here and see which ones best suit your project.

Wire Brushing

A stiff metal hand brush works well on brick, stucco and other masonry. Used vertically it is also effective removing paint from wood shakes. Power wire brushing can be used on stubborn areas, but must be done with extreme care. Wear goggles or face mask for eye protection, leather or cloth work gloves to protect the skin, and limit dust intake with a protective mask or respirator.


This is a traditional effective approach for many flat surfaces from smooth masonry and hardboard to wood and ferrous metal.


Areas that have been scraped should be smoothed with sanding. A power sanding tool like an electric belt sander is an option when the substrate is wood or steel. Do not attempt to power sand masonry, hardboard, aluminum or plastic materials.

Power Washing

A high pressure plain water stream is effective in lifting old, loose paint. Never use harsh cleansers or bleach since they can infiltrate the substrates and inhibit paint performance. Hold the spray tip 6" to 8" from the surface. To prevent damage, spray at a horizontal or downward angle only, an upward angle may drive water behind siding and even lift siding off. Power washing is not recommended for soft woods like cedar and redwood.

Heat Gun

Old coatings such as paint and varnish can be removed with a heat gun, but special care is required for safety. A drop cloth should be placed on the ground under the entire work area and must be kept damp by periodic misting with a garden hose. Also lightly spray the area of the building where the coating is to be removed. As the old coating bubbles up and softens, carefully remove it with a putty knife. Place the hot softened coating into a metal container for disposal. Wear goggles or face mask for eye protection; use chemical resistant gloves, long sleeve shirt and long pants to protect the skin; and protect breathing with a respirator designed for use with heat gun paint removal. This article is brought to you courtesy of the Paint Quality Institute.

Chemical Removal

Strong solvent-based removers work well on most oil-based and latex paints, primers, stains, and varnishes. Apply a heavy coat to a small area, about 2-4 square feet at a time, using a low-end natural bristle paint brush. Give it plenty of time to work as recommended by the manufacturer. Carefully remove the softened coatings using a putty knife or wooden blade and scrape the material into a cardboard carton. Reapply more stripper if needed and then clean the surface with wadded up paper toweling. Do not use steel wool because it can discolor the treated surface. Use these chemical removers only on small vertical and horizontal face-up areas, such as trim and moldings.

Do not use on face-down surfaces such as porch ceilings. Before using these products, clear the area of children and pets.

Cover floors and steps and remove plants, rugs and furniture. Dispose of all refuse after the job, carefully following manufacturer instructions. Wear goggles or face mask for eye protection; use chemical resistant gloves, long sleeve shirt and long pants to protect the skin; and protect breathing with a respirator designed for use with chemical solvents. There are low odor alternatives to the strong solvent removers, but they may take much longer, especially if the old coatings are thick and old.




Painting tips & tricks of the day

Doing clean touch ups
During light painting jobs, put a "Zip Lock" type sandwich bag in a plastic margarine tub and fold the bag edges over the rim. Pour the paint into the bag of your "paint tray" and once the job is over, remove the bag and seal it, or throw it away.


Giving old wood a fresh look
Exterior wood siding can be painted, or stripped and painted. Strip paint using a torch by burning the old paint and scraping it lightly being careful not to damage the wood. Clean the surface with trisodium phosphate (TSP), which you can find in the paint department of your local home renovation centre. Repair siding where needed and caulk. If you are repainting in the same colour, apply the finishing coat after the wood is dry. If you are changing colours, apply a primer coat followed by the new colour, using exterior paint (an oil based primer will be necessary if going from oil to latex). Avoid painting in full sun, at sunset, in the early morning, in the rain or in the wind. To keep bugs from sticking to the fresh paint, simply add two tablespoons of citronella to the paint.


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