Are you looking to make a change with your car’s paint job on a DIY budget? Ever wondered what it would take to strip car paint at home?
Many of us have seen the professional acid baths and air blasting techniques used by expert car paint removers. Expert service usually demands high costs. What if you want to ditch the high-end stripping car paint prices and do it yourself at home?
We’ll primarily be covering mechanical techniques in this article. However, we will briefly touch on some alternative strippers, including chemical paint removal.
Common Car Paint Stripping Methods
When you’re planning to strip a car’s paint job, it’s a good idea to research the method that best suits your experience and the kind of car you have. A classic Camaro and an old Ford pickup require different paints and different types of attention to the paint.
If you’ve never stripped paint before--let alone automobile paint--then we recommend calling your local car detailers for advice. But you don’t need a Ph.D. in car mechanics to strip paint yourself. Below is a summary of common paint stripping car paint techniques.
Chemical Paint Stripping
A few decades ago, chemical strippers for automobiles were the go-to method. But EPA safety regulations have “stripped” certain chemical compounds like Methylene Chloride from old, effective strippers.
Chemical stripping isn’t the preferred DIY way to remove car paint unless you have experience and the proper setup. It’s damaging to fiberglass and plastic car parts. It’s also hard to regulate the amount of solution you apply to the paint surface. These difficulties add up and make it quite challenging for one person (amateur or car guru) to use chemical strippers.
It's best to leave chemical stripping to the professionals...
Also called “media blasting,” this technique requires several high-powered tools to complete. Yes, sandblasting and air blasting are some of the quickest ways to remove car paint, but it takes a lot of expertise to master.
A relative newcomer to our list, acid dipping is almost exclusively performed in professional shops. Unless you have experience with dipping procedures, it’s best to leave it to the pros.
On the plus side, acid dipping is excellent for rust removal and often gives your car a phosphate layer that keeps rust away for decades. However, this process demands a serious deconstruction of your vehicle before dipping. A good solution, albeit not DIY.
Mechanical Paint Stripping
Now we have come to the best method for paint removal at home. Mechanical strippers come in several forms. You’ll ordinarily use an angle grinding tool with a woven and/or coated abrasive medium (sandpaper-like discs or sanding drums) to get the job done.
Let’s dive into mechanical paint stripping techniques to do at home.
How to Strip Car Paint at Home or in The Garage
Stripping car paint is a fun, easy, but potentially dangerous activity. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to reduce any chance of a mistake in the process. Read on below.
Suit Up and Get Ventilated
Since you will be handling power tools in an environment full of paint particulates, ventilation safety is the first thing to check. Put on goggles, a dust mask, or a respirator, and cover your hands with heavy work gloves.
One benefit to sanding car paint is that you can do it anywhere there’s space and an outlet. But you should choose your work area carefully. Outside is the best choice, followed by a large garage with a wide-open door. The goal is to reduce paint debris build-up in a small space.
Angle Grinder Attachments
Next, it’s time to collect your tools. There are abrasives products to choose from, but DIY paint removal is often done with an angle grinder fairly easily. Look for a 4.5” model. You might have one in your toolbox already. A typical 4.5” grinder will work.
So, which discs are the best for stripping car paint at home?
These are the most abrasive discs to use. We reserve abrasive wire wheels for older, beat-up cars with stubborn paint jobs. They come in two varieties: straight and twisted bristles. Twisted bristles are more abrasive and aggressive, but they can connect to electric drills for added versatility.
Plastic Strip-It Discs
These discs provide a safer sanding experience. They don’t kick up hazardous metal wires or sand particles like sandpaper. Paint stripper wheels are a good alternative to sandpaper. They are designed to remove paint and rust, while keeping the underlying metal safe from scratches.
Sandpaper--the most popular disc material to strip car paint at home. It’s cheap and fairly simple to use sanding discs for paint stripping. You’ll want to select a range of grits for paint removal ranging from 40-grit to 400-grit.
Other Paint Stripping Tools
If you don’t have an angle grinder on hand, or prefer to use another method, we also have the following options. The instructions below are geared more towards using an angle grinder, but you can sub in either of these as well.
Auto body workers and car renovators are huge fans of linear grinders like the Eastwood® Contour SCT and other surface finishing tools. With a 4.5” wide drum, it will cover a much larger surface area making contact with the abrasive surface. There are a variety of sanding drums to choose from as well:
- Wire brush drums - Available in either nylon wire or steel, these will quickly rip the paint, rust, and bondo off of your car.
- Paint stripping drums - Made of similar material as the angle grinder strip discs, these open web drums are designed to remove paint while keeping the metal underneath intact.
- Interleaf Flap Wheel Drum - These drums perform two tasks at once. The sandpaper flaps are abrasive enough to grind away at the paint while the non-woven sections smooth and prepare the metal surface for the next stages of finishing.
On the other end of the spectrum is old school sand paper. This is the least expensive, but most time consuming option. The good news is that you can skip the gym for a few days because you’re going to give your forearms and shoulders a better workout than they’ve ever gotten.
Start Sanding on Flat Surfaces
Select your 40-grit sandpaper disc first. Or, use the most abrasive Strip-It disc if you’re using that product. Begin stripping away paint on the large, flat parts of the car like the hood and truck. Press the angle grinder evenly as you slowly cross the vehicle.
Finish With Detailing
Once you’ve stripped all the large areas of the car, open the doors, trunk, and hood. Use the same 40-grit paper to strip all the paint hiding between door angles and in tight spots.
Don’t forget to run a damp cloth over the car after every sanding pass. Fine paint debris can stick to the car’s metal surface after the stripping, ruining future paint jobs.
Repeat Sanding and Wash
The 40-grit sandpaper will remove the most visible outer layer of paint. But it’s a good idea to sand the car over at least two more times with finer sandpaper grits. We recommend using 120-grit for the second pass and 220-400 for the third.
The more passes you make with the sander, the more invisible oxidation you remove. In other words, the more, the better.
Finally, clean your car well after you’ve removed the last layer of oxidation. Soap, water, the works. If you’re in a rush, mineral spirits work as well as water, and it dries in a minute.
With that, you should now be ready to repaint your car!