Straight after walking through those hallowed doors, you can’t help but stare. After jostling through the crowds, all transfixed upon the objects of their desires, you finally make it to the section to find the one thing you’re here for.
A fellow beside you looks nervous. His face tells a tale of hope that his wife doesn’t know he’s here for the third time this week, spending all their hard-earned savings. Another behind you grins gleefully, sausage grasped tightly in his hand. You focus your attention back in front of you. Finally, it’s your turn! Time to hand over a wad of cash for the one who’ll go the distance and get the job done properly. But just how do you choose the perfect stripper to fulfil your fantasy?
Well, my friend it’s easier said than done. But we’ve got you covered with some key tips on what to look for in a safe and suitable stripper. Oh, and by stripper, we mean paint stripper, of course!
If you’re not careful, your search for that ideal stripper during a trip to the hardware store on a Saturday morning to pick up DIY reno supplies to remove the awful paint currently adorning your walls, car or furniture can be fraught with danger. Some paint stripper compounds can be downright hazardous, with short term exposure linked to a myriad of nasty respiratory and neurological effects, and more serious consequences for high-risk individuals such as pregnant women. In some cases, exposure to chemical strippers may even be fatal.
The ingredients in industrial paint strippers are chosen specifically because they are highly effective, removing paint from surfaces in mere minutes and reducing the exposure of factory workers to large quantities of less effective paint solvents.
However, when it comes to home DIY reno jobs, these industrial-strength compounds can be doing a real number on your health, particularly when used in locations with poor ventilation or whilst wearing inappropriate PPE.
Ideally you want a stripper that will do the job and be free from hazardous ingredients. Rather than immediately selecting the fastest acting or most heavy-duty product, take a moment to consider the type of coating you are trying to remove then choose the mildest possible means to remove the coating.
Once you have chosen your stripper, give it time to work. Make sure you leave the stripper on for the required amount of time and only use the recommended tools to remove the stripper. Trying to cut corners here often means you’ll have to re-apply, which increases your exposure to the hazardous chemicals in your stripper.
Bear in mind that safer products often need to be left on for a longer duration in order to achieve the same results as those containing harsher substances. Plan your renovation to allow for these longer activation times.
To ensure you’re using the safest and most suitable stripper for your job, keep a sharp eye on the ingredients list of your paint stripper and try to avoid paint removers that contain either of these two nasty compounds:
N-Methylpyrrolidone (also known as NMP or 1-methyl-2-pyrrolidone)
This stuff is commonly used as a solvent in paint strippers, as well as in some adhesives, pesticides and cleaners. It has been classified as teratogenic based on evidence linking it to miscarriages and other foetal developmental issues.
Despite marketing messages on the packaging and instructions toting N-Methylpyrrolidone-containing products as ‘natural’, ‘low VOC’ or ‘low fumes’, ‘safe for indoor use’, etc., this chemical is a Schedule 6 poison in Australia and products containing it still need to be used carefully. Even when wearing PPE, be aware that NMP can be absorbed through skin and via inhalation and toxic fumes linger for a few weeks post-application. So, if you must use it, in addition to wearing the appropriate PPE, ensure that the area is very well-ventilated and off limits to people at high-risk, such as pregnant women or those trying to conceive.
Methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane or DCM
DCM is a solvent that is best avoided where possible. Like NMP, it is commonly used in paint strippers and adhesive products.
Dichloromethane exposure can cause chemical burns, drowsiness, dizziness and respiratory issues including irritation. Methylene chloride has also been linked to conditions such as cancer, cognitive impairment, asphyxiation and death.
To minimise the effects of methylene chloride, proper respiratory protection and good ventilation are vital. Ensure that the area is off limits to children, pregnant women, and others at increased risk. Be aware that fumes from products containing dichloromethane can linger for some time after it has been applied.
Some of the toxic substances used in paint removers have been banned for use in consumer products in parts of the globe such as the US and EU and were phased out of products sold by many retailers even prior to the bans. However, some can still be found in paint and adhesive removers readily available from hardware stores in Australia and elsewhere. So, it’s important to read the labels before selecting a stripper to take home.
Although the use of a chemical paint stripper is sometimes unavoidable, paints and other coatings can also be removed from surfaces by different means.
Although sanding helps you to avoid exposure to the hazardous substances found in paint strippers, sanding a surface brings other risks with it including respiratory issues from airborne particles, and increased risk of fire in the vicinity. So, before you start scouring away, make sure you are wearing appropriate respiratory protection and the area is well-ventilated. Check that the coating you are removing does not contain hazardous chemicals (e.g., old paint that contains lead) and take appropriate precautions. Try to restrict the spread of sanding dust to the immediate area and ensure that you can remove it safely, such as by using a vacuum cleaner to capture dust as you go.
Another option depending on the coating and the item you’re removing it from is to ‘wet sand’ it. This will minimise dust. Alternatively, you could take the item along to a commercial or specialist business, such as those offering sandblasting, as they have safer, purpose-built facilities to remove paints and other coatings.
Give it a scrape
Simply cracking out a scraper could be enough to remove old, peeling paint and lacquer. Before you begin, check to see whether the coating contains hazardous ingredients (such as lead) that may require extra precautions. Minimise any dust or airborne particles, particularly those from weathered paint and keep any scrapings contained for easy and appropriate disposal.
Remove with heat
A heat gun, infrared device, steamer, or even a plain old hair dryer can be surprisingly good at removing some paints and adhesives. They may even make the coating easier to scrape off and remove than some paint strippers will. Do check that your coating won’t release any hazardous fumes when heated. Some coatings for example may release hazardous isocyanates. Also, ensure that heat or steam will not damage the surface beneath the coating. Heat guns, for example, can leave scorch marks or even set fire to some substances, particularly if left in one place for long periods of time.
Some jobs such as the stripping of larger areas, particularly indoor areas with poor ventilation, should be left to the experts. Professionals and those using paint strippers in workplace settings have a more intimate knowledge of the substances they’re working with and the safety precautions that must be taken. They should have read the SDS and conducted risk assessments amongst other things to ensure safer use of such substances. Plus, they have specialist, purpose-built facilities such as dip tanks or sandblasting booths and will have access to high-level good quality industrial PPE such as full body suits with oxygen attached.
Chemwatch is here to help
If you have any questions about the safety, storage and labelling of your chemicals, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. Our friendly staff draw on expert knowledge gained over many years of experience to offer the latest industry information and advice on how to stay safe and comply with chemical regulations.