Published on September 26th, 2012 | by Gearhead Diva0
Strip Paint From Your Car the Easy Way
If you’ve got an older project vehicle that you’re working on, chances are it needs at least new paint, if not some body repairs. While it’s true that all you really need to do is scuff the old paint and then paint over it with your new color, if you’re one of those like me, you want to make sure you apply the best paint job possible. And that means stripping the old paint down to bare metal. Besides, without stripping the old paint, you can’t see if some hack before you slopped a pound of body filler into dents and creases, or if they repaired them correctly. So, let’s see what it takes to strip that old paint and get to the bare metal underneath.
You have several options when it comes to removing paint but we’ll be focusing on using a chemical stripper followed by sanding. This is the most popular method for do-it-yourselfers because it’s the least expensive and doesn’t require specialized equipment or working environments. Media blasting and dipping are other excellent alternatives but are more expensive methods because the car has to be taken to a shop and disassembled.
Tools You’ll Need
- Heavy duty rubber or vinyl gloves (paint stripper is caustic and can burn your skin)
- Face mask (chemical reaction fumes are also toxic)
- Eye protection (preferably a mask, but glasses will work)
- Plastic garbage bags (cut open at seams to cover more area)
- Old towels or clean rags
1. Remove Body Panels Being Worked On
The professionals will normally remove the body panels from the car when they’re prepping them for paint. That way they can be sure to get all of the old paint off. It also makes getting to the backside for body work much easier. However, you can skip this step if you prefer.
2. Don the Protective Equipment
No skimping here. Put on the face mask. It needs to cover your mouth and nose. If you have access to a full face shield, you won’t need the mask as much, although it will help cut down the noxious odors from the paint stripper. Next, put on the eye protection. And finally, don the rubber or vinyl gloves.
3. Apply the Stripper
If you’re not going to paint the whole car, this is where you should mask off the areas you won’t be stripping paint from. Mask off any trim and weather stripping near the work area because the stripper will permanently damage these items if it comes in contact with them. If you’re not removing your body panels, mask the edges of your seams with tape because you don’t want the chemical stripper to seep into the folds between panels. Eventually, the chemicals that get stuck there will seep out and ruin your new paint job. The paint remaining near the seams can be later be removed with an abrasive wheel or by sanding.
With the masking done, take some sandpaper and scuff up the paint surface. This will allow the stripper to penetrate the paint more efficiently. Open the paint stripper and pour some on the first panel you’re going to do. I prefer to start with either the hood or the trunk and work my way down. This way I can keep pouring the stripper on a fairly level surface and move it where I need it.
You need to apply the stripper liberally. Make sure the area being stripped is well coated. Make a good-sized puddle of stripper and spread it around with the paint brush. A nice soft-bristled brush is best.
4. Cover and Let Sit
Here’s where the garbage bags come into play. Slice them open on two sides so they’ll cover the largest area possible. Cover the areas of the car or panel(s) that you’ve applied the stripper to. This helps keep the stripper from evaporating (letting it do its job better) and also keeps the noxious fumes down as much as possible. Let it set for about fifteen to twenty minutes, at least. Check the label on the can for the manufacturer’s recommendation.
5. Remove the Plastic and Scrape
After the “soak time” has elapsed, it’s time to begin the actual stripping. Use the putty knife to scrape the loosened and jellied paint off the panels. Don’t worry if every bit of the old paint doesn’t come up. You’ll get that in a later step. Use one of the garbage bags to put the paint scrapings on before throwing it away. Remove the gloves and mask, carefully.
6. Rinse and Dry
Once you’ve removed as much of the paint as the stripper was able to loosen, rinse the areas well with cold, fresh water. Rinse it twice, then dry it with the towels or clean rags. Some strippers require a neutralizer so be sure to read the instructions. You should have some small to medium areas with just primer, with maybe some small flecks of the color left, and, hopefully, larger areas of fairly bare metal. At this point, you’ll also discover areas of body filler and maybe some rust that needs to be removed. If you find another layer of color from a previous paint job you may choose to do 2 applications of stripper.
7. Wire Wheel Down Excess Paint
Mount the wire wheel into the chuck on the drill motor. Hold the drill firmly, get it spinning and use the wire wheel to remove the final bits and pieces of stubborn paint. Some of the primer may be a little difficult to get up, but keep at it, it’ll come up with a little effort. Keep the eye protection on for this step, as pieces of paint and the wire wheel can fly in any direction. Take special care not to gouge the metal. A wire wheel comes in handy for tackling thick layers of paint and rust or to remove paint from the edges of panels that you previously masked but it can also scratch up your sheet metal if you hold it in one spot for too long.
8. Sand the Bare Metal
Once you’re pretty much down to bare metal, use a DA sander or sanding blocks for a smooth bare metal finish with 150-grit sandpaper. Remember not to hold your DA sander in one spot for too long to minimize heat build up. Clean the dust and grit off the metal with one of the towels or rags.
9. Prime, Prime, Prime
Even though the body panels on your car are most likely a type of stainless steel, you need to get at least a thin coat of primer on every inch that you’re not going to be doing any welding or other type of body work on as quickly as you can. This is because it only takes about 30 minutes for rust to start forming, even though you won’t see it. It’ll be there, and it will more than likely end up causing paint adhesion problems. So, prime it, quickly. THEN do the necessary bodywork on the other areas. And, once you’re done with the body work, sand those areas, wipe them, and then immediately prime them.
For most midsize cars, this whole process should take just a few hours, depending on how thick your paint layers are. Take breaks if your arms get tired because at this point you’re setting up the foundation for the rest of your paint job. It’s best if you can do this in a well-ventilated garage or, even better, an open carport. This keeps the sun off you and the car, yet allows the fumes to dissipate.