Paint Stripping: A comparison

So I came back from the UK with these:

Blood Angels in box

They’re my boyfriend’s old Blood Angels from when he was a teenager along with a couple of other interesting bits (Eversor Assassin and Rogue Trader era Inquisitor). I need to strip them of any old paint and undercoat and tidy them up before I can repaint them for him. They’re not an urgent job, just something to potter along with when I need a break from my Wolves but I’d like to do it well, which is why I need to figure out the best way to strip them. Now metal is fairly easy to strip but there are quite a lot of old plastic arms and banner poles mixed in with the metal so I decided to do an experiment to compare different ways of stripping miniatures.

I’ve tried to keep this experiment as fair as possible, but my bathroom is not a chemistry lab and I don’t have things like ultrasonic baths or a collection of measuring beakers and “stripped” is not a definite term. I’m also conscious that not all brands are equal and not everything that I use is available everywhere else. Conversely, I cannot get the classic stripping media Dettol and Simple Green (well, not without travelling to a specialist shop in another city) so I’ve had to miss them off my list. Therefore this experiment is far from comprehensive. I am also going to put up a couple of warnings and disclaimers before I go any further:

 Disclaimer!

The data given below are for the brands/varieties of products that I have used. I cannot guarantee that every brand will work the same way. This article is just a guide. Before using any medium to strip your miniatures please, please do a test piece first! I do not take any responsibility for any damage or destruction of models due to use of the information on this page or for the use of any products in a way not intended by the manufacturer.

 Warning!

Read the instructions on the bottle before use! Some of the products used below are irritants and/or produce fumes. Always work in a well ventilated environment and keep any solvents out of the reach of children and animals. Protective clothing such as gloves and goggles may also be advisable.

For this experiment I decided to test the effect of the following five solvents on plastic, Finecast resin and Forgeworld resin:

  1.  Control: water
  2. Acetone-free nail polish: I used Etos Nagellak Remover zonder aceton
  3. Brush Cleaner: Revell Aqua Color Clean
  4. Brush Cleaner: 4Art Penseelreiniger: Sunflower oil based brush cleaner for oil paints
  5. Foaming Kitchen Spray: C1000 Keuken Powerreiniger Lemon: I know that traditionally Fairy Power Spray is used but having discovered that normal kitchen spray is good at cleaning paint residue from the sink I wanted to see if it worked to clean models. There are lots and lots of generic degreasers out there so I recommend shopping around to see what’s best for you.

I prepared the test samples by spraying with Chaos Black undercoat and coating with a layer of Citadel Layer paint.

To run the experiment I simply soaked the test pieces in the solvent and periodically tested them by scrubbing gently with an old toothbrush.

In the table below I have put the results of the experiment along with the cost per litre, whether the cleaner is reusable and any notes.

stripper results table

* Cost per litre in euros calculated 19/05/13 for the products used.

† Converted from cost in Pounds Sterling

Discussion

The cleaners used above were all suitable for plastic, Finecast and Forgeworld resin. Surprisingly, the two resins were far easier to clean than plastic, possibly because they do not hold the primer so well. From the results I recommend picking the cleaner for the job. The nail polish remover and the Revell Aqua Color Clean brush cleaner worked the fastest of the cleaners used, however they do produce a lot of fumes. They also evaporate quickly. Indeed, the Aqua Color Clean is so volatile that it evaporates faster than it can be used, particularly in a shallow dish. For this reason, as well as the cost issue, I prefer to use nail polish remover out of these two solvents. For single models or situations when quick cleaning is required I would say that nail polish remover is probably the most effective. However, I would recommend testing it out first as not all nail polish removers can be used on plastic models (as I know from experience).

The only cleaner to not produce fumes is the oil based brush cleaner, which is also the most reusable of the cleaners used. Its performance is similar to that of the cleaning spray. For cleaning large numbers of models or regular stripping of miniatures, these two cleaners are probably most effective, especially as, since the cleaners are non volatile, the models can be left to soak quite happily. Cleaning Spray is also the cheapest option, particularly as it’s an everyday household product that you may already have at home.

Conclusions

So, hopefully this article gives a few different ways to strip plastic, Finecast and Forgeworld resin. There are several things to consider:

How much are you going to strip? If you only have one model to strip, I’d recommend the nail polish remover as it’s quick and relatively cheap (you need 20ml rather than a litre of the stuff). For a lot of models, the kitchen spray or the oil based brush cleaner are probably more economical, while for somebody who regularly buys things off Ebay or Bring and Buy stalls, a tub of the reusable oil based brush cleaner might be most practical.

Where are you going to work? The nail polish remover and the Aqua Color Clean require well ventilated areas. If you don’t have a well ventilated space to work in, I’d steer clear from working with these.

How fast do you need it done? 24 hours before you need the model painted, based and sitting on the gaming table is far, far too late to worry about using kitchen spray.

What can you get? I was trying hard to get Dettol for this experiment but I wasn’t prepared to travel to the next city to get it. Kitchen sprays are fairly easy to get from the supermarket, and, in the UK and The Netherlands at least, you should be able to get nail polish remover there too. If you can’t get hold of a product easily, you’re probably better off looking at one of the many alternatives.

This article doesn’t show every method for stripping miniatures but hopefully it gives you an idea about how to choose your stripping medium. Whatever you use, do try a test model first and good luck!

L.o.F.

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3 responses to “Paint Stripping: A comparison

  1. Stripping paint off your models
    I recently picked up some 2nd’s at a Buy, Sway & Sell day, but half of them were covered with a gloss coat of some sort and the others were so thickly covered with the new GW paint the details were lost under the paint. Also the new GW paints seem to be harder to remove than the previous GW paints, but my system works on them.
    I use Methylated Spirits (that’s what it is called in Australia) to strip old paint and it is reasonably cheap, good at the job and reusable. However this time on the models with the gloss finish the ‘metho’ did zip, it just took the dust off them! Another modeller from our group suggested I use a generic “Non Caustic” oven cleaner (just because it’s called non caustic is no reason to not take precautions, two sets of disposable gloves and goggles), so I thought I would give the stuff a try.
    I put the models on a baking tray from the bottom of the oven (it needed a clean) and sprayed my models, the oven cleaner is a foam so I quickly had a winter scene with lots of 40k snowmen, I left the models sit for an hour or so, gloved up and had a go at them with an old toothbrush,
    The gloss cover came straight off as did most of the paint but some remained, so I dropped these less than clean, now less their gloss protection models in a plastic tub of ‘metho’ once all the models had been scrubbed I put the lid on the tub of metho and sat it in the plugged kitchen sink and turned on the hot water tap, you want the tub to just start to float. I like to warm the metho this way and it seems to work better and it softens any superglue joins that may be on the models.
    After a few minutes you will need to remove the lid (should be airtight) and vent the pressure, it’s not much but you can see the plastic start to bulge. I usually add more hot water to the sink about this time and then have a cup of tea.
    You can leave the models in the metho for a few hours or a week, it won’t hurt them. Glove up again as metho will strip the oils from your skin and within a week your fingers will be cracked, split and bleeding, Glove Up!
    I like to use a roto tool with a nylon brush on a flexible lead set at low revs for the final clean but a toothbrush will work just a good, A trick with the metho is to not let the model dry out so I take one from the tub and put it in a bowl of fresh clean metho. I scrub the models while they are under the metho and the paint just floats off. The models come out as clean as when the left the mould but some have a dark stain, probably from the GW Chaos Black undercoat. I don’t mind this stain as it looks a little dusty and I find that I don’t have to undercoat the model just spray my first coat on and it sticks.
    My way of cleaning models is a little more involved but it works and it works well, I don’t have to worry about buying the right bottle of nail cleaner so that my models won’t melt, or brake cleaner (which can also melt your models) metho is far cheaper than Simple Green and it is way, way easier to strain and reuse and I don’t strain mine until it is filthy!
    If I am stripping the now scarce metal models I switch to a bronze brush on my roto-tool as I find that gives a polished finished to the metal that I like, Also with older models cleaning this way won’t bring out (Lead Cancer) little white dots that appear on older painted models a year or so after you clean and repaint them, especially if you have used commercial paint stripper (it is really nasty stuff). The white dots are lead salts coming out of the metal caused by a reaction with the paint stripper, Even if you wash the models it happens, but buffing with a bronze brush in a metho bath and a rinse in warm water seems to stop the process and five years later I am yet to see the white dots appear on my models.
    Well that’s how I do things.

    • I like the idea of combining the oven cleaning with the paint stripping! 🙂
      There are as many ways of stripping paint from models as there are modellers stripping paint. I’ve spotted the black stain too and I’m pretty certain that it’s the undercoat.
      One thing with Meths is the fumes. I’m a materials physicist and I’ve done a bit of sample synthesis. Ethanol (one of the main ingredients of Meths) is widely used for cleaning etc. In one lab they got rid of all of the ethanol though because it’s dangerous for unborn children and this includes the fumes. They’re not particularly nice for anyone actually! If you’re using Meths make sure that you’re outside or have really good ventilation.
      Of course, if it works for you then stick with it.
      L.o.F.

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