By Gene Austin
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’m not worried about lead paint because the piece isn’t that old. I’d like to use the fastest stripper possible, but also a safe one. Can you help? — Jack
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. For more information, visit www.epa.gov and type Methylene Chloride Hazards in the search space; scroll down to the article headed Methylene Chloride Technology.
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 of paint. A “safe” stripper might take several days, or longer, to soften a layer of paint so it can be scraped off. A meth-chloride stripper can soften several layers of paint in an hour or less. 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 protect the skin on your arms with long sleeves. It is also important to use a respirator-type mask containing filters that can help protect 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 safer or safest 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.
QUICK TIP: Reader Bruce Davis says he had good results cleaning fungus from an asphalt roof with a product called Wet and Forget, which must be one of the safest and simplest to use of all roof cleaners. For more details, prices, store locations and so forth, use a search engine and the words Wet and Forget Outdoor. Wet and Forget is simply sprayed on the roof and allowed to work — no scrubbing, rinsing or other steps. It is also said to be free of bleach and lye. Plants still need some protection. Davis said “it can take a few months before you see results, but it does seem to be effective.” Any do-it-yourselfers who attempts roof cleaning with any product should keep in mind that roof work, especially wet roof work, is dangerous, and should not be attempted without proper safety equipment including a body harness to prevent falls.