Stripping Paint


The techniques below should be tested on a scrap piece of material like that which the miniature is made of. Use at your own risk. Please try to be safe and environmentally conscious in your handling and disposal of the materials used. I have only used these techniques for the thin water-based acrylic paints common to the miniatures and modelling hobbies.

Some good sources for info:

I have tried

Simple Green

I finally tried it. I found the best technique to be this:

  1. Immerse a mini in Simple Green*
  2. Wait 24 hours
  3. Clean with a toothbrush and water (wear gloves); a wire brush and/or pin may be helpful for getting tough spots

* - I bought a short, wide-mouthed glass jar with a metal screw top lid at the Container Store for $1.79 (March2003).

I found the paint practically sloughing off and the mini was shiny clean underneath. I did a side-by-side comparison with Pinesol. First, a picture:

Pinesol (left) vs. Simple Green (right)

Note that the one on the right (Simple Green) is much shinier. I found that I had to scrub the Pinesol mini a *lot* more and the paint in details was significantly harder to remove.

Experimental results:

  • Shorter times - I found 0.5, 2, 6, and 12 hours to be too short.
  • Scrubbing along the way - this actually made things worse, possibly because it broke up the paint and allowed it to remain entrenched in small recesses. It also resulted in a dull, mottled appearance like Pinesol. Just wait until the end to scrub.

Does it keep on cleaning? Yes. One jar of minis has already cleaned 3 Gargoyles, a Dreadnought body, and 3 Marines with no noticeable decrease in cleaning power.

Is it hard to find? Not at all. I have found it everywhere I buy normal household cleaning products as well as other stores, e.g. Bed, Bath, & Beyond; Linens & Things; and hardware/DIY stores.

What about plastic minis? I have not tried them yet, but according to reports on Faust's pages, Simple Green does not damage plastic minis.

What about glue? I know that it did not seem to damage my 5-minute epoxy bonds or superglue in general. Example: I stripped Gargoyles that had epoxy wings joints and CA glue arm joints. Out of 14 Gargoyle minis, single wing came off two of them, and those minis had required unusually vigorous scrubbing. None of the arm joints came loose.

Brake Fluid with Metal and Plastic Minis

Currently, I would recommend Simple Green over this. Simple Green is non-toxic and readily disposable. It also seems to work better.

  1. Buy some brake fluid
  2. Select a container that you can seal and that will hold the fluid in a way that immerses your minis efficiently. Generally, this would be a wide dish for minis that can lay reasonably flat.
  3. Lay the minis in the container
  4. Pour in enough brake fluid to cover them completely
  5. Wait overnight (at least)
  6. Remove the minis and scrub them with a soapy toothbrush (be sure its one that you don't plan to use for dental hygiene ever again).
  7. Lots of water, soap, and scrubbing are needed.
  8. Some stubborn pieces may respond to gentle removal with an Xacto knife. Be careful!

Heavy paint - It seems that this will remove about three or four layers of paint. I cleaned off two layers of paint with almost no trace remaining, but another mini that I was using to test color schemes did not come clean, but it had as many as six layers of paint on it. Repeating the whole process will get more paint off, so you might want to try that first. I have used a wire brush with flexible bristles to good effect. There is the risk of fine scratches with hard scrubbing, but they are not very dramatic and may enhance a battle-weary appearance. I would not use a stiff bristle metal brush, like those used in auto shops for heavy rust removal, as it would likely gouge the miniature too much, and I would be careful testing any wire brush on a piece of sprue before using it on a plastic model.

Plastic minis - A friend of mine has good luck using this for plastic miniatures. He reports no damage, just some discoloration; but then you are planning to paint over it anyway, right? Test this process by immersing a piece of spare sprue that the miniature/model came on before you endanger your miniature/model.

Multiple uses - I have used the same small amount of brake fluid to strip over a half dozen miniatures and I am still going.

Ultrasonic bath w/ metal minis

I used a Cole-Parmer one pint ultrasonic bath on some minis. I had a mini that was very heavily coated in primer and brake fluid had still left a lot of paint behind. Rather than repeat, I just used the ultrasonic bath. I found it somewhat effective. The nooks and crannies were not cleaned as well, but overall the miniature got quite clean within hours and I had not generated the same toxic waste that brake fluid does.

Currently, I would recommend a 24-hour soak in Simple Green over this process.

Not all minis are created equal - Some older metal miniatures, and some new ones, may have poor casting. If you feel a gritty grinding sensation when you bend the miniature then this is probably the case. Such miniatures may exhibit noticeable pitting with sonication for many hours. I had one miniature that did, although all of the other miniatures were sonicated for over twice as long without being visibly damaged. In these cases, you might want to stick with brake fluid and brushing.

Pinesol w/ plastic and metal minis

It works reasonably well. You need to soak overnight (ideally 24 hours or more) and scrub them thoroughly with a stiff toothbrush, soap, and water afterwards. Use Pinesol, not a look alike brand, as it has a higher percentage of the solvent in it; and do not dilute it. This is one of the least toxic approaches and thus has some merit. I have only tried it for overnight soaks.

I recommend Simple Green over Pinesol.

Warning: one person has reported that after five days of soaking plastic mini pieces melted completely into a pile of goo. While that is an unusually long time, it does suggest that the Pinesol is attacking the plastic somewhat aggressively, so you might want to use one of the other methods for plastic minis.


Questions? Comments? Please let me know via my questions/comments form!