Q. I want to remove several layers of paint from a large chest of drawers so I can stain and finish it to match other furniture. I’d like to use the fastest stripper possible, but also a safe one. Can you help?
A. Unfortunately, in paint stripping, fast and safe seldom come in the same package.
The fastest-acting paint strippers, such as Savogran’s Strypeeze, contain methylene chloride, a very toxic chemical. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, meth-chloride inhalation affects the central nervous system, causing problems with vision, talking and moving about, but the effects are generally reversible if the chemical is used only for a short time. Long-term exposure can cause serious, permanent damage.
The so-called safe strippers, such as 3M’s Safest Stripper, will remove paint, but they work very slowly and sometimes need repeated applications to remove multiple layers.
You can use a meth-chloride stripper with reasonable safety if you take proper precautions. Your first step should be to read the instructions and cautions on the label. It is always best to use meth-chloride strippers outdoors where the fumes have a better chance to dissipate. You should wear eye protection, gloves and long sleeves. It is also important to use a respirator-type mask containing filters that can help keep fumes from reaching your lungs.
“Safe” strippers have far fewer hazards, and some can be used indoors in well-ventilated areas. However, never use any stripper without reading the directions and cautions on the container. Sometimes, using plastic sheets to cover a slow-acting stripper while it works will help prevent evaporation.
There are a number of paint strippers that don’t use words like “safe” in the name but do not contain meth chloride and are relatively safe. These include Peel Away’s Smart Strip, sold at some paint stores including Sherwin Williams, and Citristrip, which has a pleasant citrus odor. Strippers like these do not act as fast as meth-chloride products but are a good choice for do-it-yourselfers.