The Best Way to Remove Paint on Cars

April 6, 2012

The best way to remove paint from car exteriors depends on the circumstance. Compare mechanical, chemical, and manual car paint removal methods.

Car Paint Needing Removal

There is no one best way to remove paint from your car. Learning the three broad types of paint removal methods available can help you to make an informed decision as to wish is best for your situation.

  • Mechanical paint removal. Most garages get rid of paint using an automated paint remover. This can involve either high power chemical spray, or a sander which simply scuffs the paint off. Either of these choices may not be suitable for someone with a classic car, as they can seriously damage the car, and not even be very good at removing the paint before a second layer is applied. In order to get the best for your classic car, the automatic paint remover is probably not the best way to go.
  • Chemical paint removal. Chemical paint removers can be used to strip the paint off of your machine, and in fact they can be very useful if you want to take off the paint without damaging the car. You may have to remove the part of the car that you want to strip before applying the paint, or it can become very complicated, as you will have to protect the car before you proceed. In order to get the best from a chemical strip, read the instructions carefully, and then apply the stripper in a small area before you begin to use it on the rest of the car.
  • Manual paint removal. Using manual methods involves the most work, particularly for the person doing the removing. The most common, and slightly easier, method is to use sandpaper. You can also use a paint scraper to take off the layers of paint manually. This is very hard work, as much as stripping the paint from a house, but it is probably the best way if you have a classic car that might be damaged by harsher methods such as chemical strippers.

Car Paint Removal Essentials

The kind of paint removers you need depends upon whether you want to have a full car paint strip, or if you are just looking for some touch-up paint removal in order to restore your car to its former glory. Whichever method you choose, you need to have a plan about how you will proceed.

  • Prepare the car. Whether you are just removing a bit, or taking off the entire surface of the car, you need to prepare the car to ensure that the bits which you don't want to strip are protected. Cover the surface of any glass, including all windows and the side mirrors. You should also protect the chrome of your wheels, and bumpers, door stoppers and other items around the car that could be affected by the stripper. Use painter's tape to cover over these areas, as it can easily be removed once it is no longer needed.
  • Sand the car. Begin the process of removing the paint from your car by sanding it lightly. This is particularly useful where the surface of the car has been damaged and paint has been added on top of scratches or dents. Removing all of this damaged paint using a paint sander, or with sand paper, can also help you to iron out any lumps and bumps before you apply another layer of paint.
  • Remove the paint. You are now ready to remove the paint. Most paint stripper comes in spray cans, although you may want to be cautious and use a pot of stripper with a paintbrush. In order to get the best results, rub the stripper in even strokes from top to bottom, so the stripper flows downwards and away from the car. Leave the stripper for around 30 minutes.
  • Remove the stripper. Once a half hour or so has elapsed, remove the stripper. First, use a paint scraper to take off all of the paint that remains in the area, and then wipe your rag or sponge over the area. The last pieces of paint and the stripper should slide to the ground.

Car Restoration Paint Tips

  • Determine the type of paint. There are two different types of paint: metallic and flat. Metallic paint has small flecks of glitter or mica in it. Do research to find if the car you own originally came with flat or metallic paint. If you have metallic paint on the vehicle, you will want to avoid any kind of abrasive products.
  • Use a rubbing compound. If the paint on the car is heavily damaged or faded, you will most likely need to use a rubbing compound, which can be found in an auto parts store. This is a job best done by hand. You can purchase or rent a buffer, but it's easy to go through the existing paint with one of these machines, putting you at risk for having to take it in to be repainted. Work in two foot square areas, and follow the directions on the package of the compound.
  • Protect the clearcoat. Clearcoat is frequently the top coat of the painting process. While most old cars won't have a clearcoat, those that have been repainted most likely will, and it is wise to try to maintain it. Use a nonabrasive cleaning wax or polish to restore the luster. If you damage the clearcoat, it will most likely need to be re-sprayed. If it is not clear on the label if the product is safe, don't buy it. Select another that is obviously nonabrasive.
  • Complete your final touches. Once you are done polishing or applying compound to the vehicle, rinse it thoroughly and dry it with a chamois. Apply some pure carnauba wax to the vehicle, working in small sections. Make sure that the wax does not contain any abrasives, as some brands do. Polish the wax with a soft cloth. This will give your paint job a sheen that will make it look new.
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