I have, over the years, tried a lot of different chemicals to remove paint from old minis I wanted to repaint. Some worked well, others not so well, but most had some sort of problem. Either they were toxic and you had to take care not to breathe in the fumes, or they would be harmful to plastic minis, or it can be difficult to dispose of safely and without harming the enviroment. Then I heard about something called Simple Green, which worked well while being completely harmless. Now, that specific product is not available in Norway, but as I discovered that it was just a common brand of floor washing liquid, I had a go with a Norwegian equivalent, with very good results. Below is a little tutorial.
"Grønnsåpe", or "green soap" as it is called translated to English, is great for removing paint from miniatures. It is easy to get hold of, quite cheap, does not give off any harmful fumes, works great on plastic, you don't need to wear gloves or similar when using it and it can safely be disposed of afterwards. Excellent! The only actual downside is that it doesn't dissolve enamel (i.e. oil based) paints, but I guess those are not very common amongst miniature painters.
For this demonstration I have gathered together four minis in need of a repaint - three metal goblins (well, two metal gobbos and a squig, to be precise) given to me by a friend of mine and an old plastic Night Goblin archer, chosen to show the effect on a model that is both plastic and has been varnished.
Now, green soap is just common floor washing liquid. The particular brand I use is called Krystal, but I am confident that most floor washing liquids will do the same thing. Krystal comes in both normal and pine-scented variants, but as I have no particular desire to have pine-scented miniatures, I chose the normal variant. Orc shown for scale purposes.
What you do is take the minis you want to strip, remove their bases and place them in a jar. Add enough green soap to cover the minis (you can dillute it a bit, but then it takes longer to have an effect) and let it sit for a couple of days. Remember to keep a lid on the jar, or the soap will dry out.
After a couple of days, you can remove the minis from the soap and rinse them with water. The paint should by now be quite soft and releasing its hold on the miniature. As you can see in the picture below, even the heavily varnished Night Goblin archer is letting go of the paint. You can also see that the plastic is completely unharmed by the soap.
Typically not all the paint has come off, so use a stiff brush and you should be able to get rid of most of it. I use a nail brush for this purpose (obviously I don't use it for anything else) and only a minute's work saw most of the paint come off.
If there are places you can't get to with a brush, then a needle or similar will be of good help. This can take a while longer than just using the brush, depending on how crinkly the miniature is. In my example Gobbla, with his heavily textured skin, required most extra work. Alternatively you can leave the minis in the soap a while longer.
And there you have it! All paint removed after two days with little work and no health hazard.
Why it works (and other stuff that should work)
The active ingredient in the soap is sodium hydroxide also known as lye or caustic soda,
which is a common component in all traditional soaps.
Caustic soda is anionic, which is to say that they mess up the ionic balance of whatever
they are used on. The chemistry involved is a bit beyond me, but it appears that this
makes it good for dissolving things, including paint.
Wikipedia articles: Sodium Hydroxide, Ion, Soap
Other things that should work as paint strippers:
- Other soaps - Any soap containing caustic soda (traditionally, all soaps contained this) should work as a paint remover and I would think that a lot of others work as well. As mentioned above, the product called Simple Green is widely praised. I have not been able to find out the exact contents of it, but I would guess it is some sort of anionic chemical(s).
- Oven cleaners - Sodium hydroxide is also the active ingredient in most oven cleaners, so things like Mr. Muscle, Easy-Off, etc, should also work more or less the same way in paint removal. Supposedly they smell horrible, though.
- Antiseptics - Antiseptic soaps, such as Dettol, are sometimes also anionic, though in these cases the goal is to kill germs by disrupting their cell membrane potentials. This has the happy bieffect of making them good for stripping paint!
- Acetone - I have tried to use acetone for removing paints and would not recommend it.
It is hazardous to breathe in the fumes, you need to wear gloves when working with it, it is not
exactly cheap and it is not safe to dispose of. Additionally it will eventually dissolve plastics.
And it doesn't even work particularly well. On the bright side, it can dissolve superglue (if that
is something you desire).
Wikipedia article: Acetone
- Nail varnish remover - This often contains (or even consists of) acetone (see above).
- Brake fluid - This contains various chemicals that dissolve paint, though sometimes also plastic. As brake fluid is a common name for a variety of substances whose common property is what they do to brakes, their effect on things that are not breaks can be variable. However, most brake fluids carry a warning that it can dissolve the paint on your car if you spill some, which is a good thing when dissolving paint is what you are looking for in the first place. Brake fluid tends to be toxic in much the same way as Acetone is, so you need to take care when using it and it is not easy to dispose of safely. I have not tried this myself and I don't intend to.
- Alcohol - When I was a young lad, I tried to use white spirit to remove paint from models. It did not work particularly well, was hazardous and damaged plastic models, so I soon dropped the idea.
Of things that don't dissolve paint I have tried chlorine-based cleaners only to find that the varnish dissolved but the stuff did not affect the paint any more than water does.
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