Techniques > Briefs > Exterior Paint >

Selecting the Appropriate/Safest Method to Remove Paint

After having presented the "hierarchy" of exterior paint surface conditions — from a mild condition such as mildewing which simply requires cleaning prior to repainting to serious conditions such as peeling and alligatoring which require total paint removal — one important thought bears repeating: if a paint problem has been identified that warrants either limited or total paint removal, the gentlest method possible for the particular wooden element of the historic building should be selected from the many available methods.


The treatments recommended — based upon field testing as well as on-site monitoring of Department of Interior grant-in-aid and certification of rehabilitation projects — are therefore those which take three overriding issues into consideration:

  1. the continued protection and preservation of the historic exterior woodwork;
  2. the retention of the sequence of historic paint layers; and
  3. the health and safety of those individuals performing the paint removal.

By applying these criteria, it will be seen that no paint removal method is without its drawbacks and all recommendations are qualified in varying degrees.

Methods for Removing Paint

After a particular exterior paint surface condition has been identified, the next step in planning for repainting — if paint removal is required — is selecting an appropriate method for such removal.

The method or methods selected should be suitable for the specific paint problem as well as the particular wooden element of the building. Methods for paint removal can be divided into three categories (frequently, however, a combination of the three methods is used). Each method is defined below, then discussed further and specific recommendations made:

Abrasive [hand; mechanical] — "Abrading" the painted surface by manual and/or mechanical means such as scraping and sanding. Generally used for surface preparation and limited paint removal.

Thermal — Softening and raising the paint layers by applying heat followed by scraping and sanding. Generally used for total paint removal.

Chemical — Softening of the paint layers with chemical strippers followed by scraping and sanding. Generally used for total paint removal.