Modellers paint stripping guide

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There is no doubt if you ask 10 people how to strip the paint from a model you are just as likely get 10 different answers, not that any are necessarily wrong as many methods are used and have differing degrees of success.

I have been stripping and restoring many types of models made from diecast and plastic for 15 years and have a few tried and tested methods I prefer and are set out in detail below.


I keep a good stock of various materials in stock but most work is carried out with two of them the others will be explained later.

Stripping metal including diecast

In the past I have used all kinds of paint strippers and even auto brake fluid, all of them work but can get messy but after reading about caustic soda some years ago, decided to experiment.

Depending on where you are caustic soda may be restricted or ‘cut’ with something else so unlikely to be 100% caustic soda, but by experimenting with the mix you can find what works, I started with a small container, with enoughboiling water to cover the item you are stripping and add 5 spoons of the caustic soda, now before I go on caustic soda reacts with water so please make sure you are wearing good strong gloves and eye protection as it WILL burn you skin if it splashes, second NEVER add water to the caustic soda ALWAYS add the soda to the water, it’s this reaction that helps the paint stripping.

With the water just boiled and the Caustic soda added I lower the casting in the mix on a bent welding rod small parts are hard to retrieve from the mix so I use a metal strainer for those, with bigger castings I place in the container first then add the boiled water, then the caustic.

I have since found out the caustic soda I was using was heavily ‘cut’ and now using a different brand I get from Homebase, this really does strip in a very short time with only 4 to 5 tea spoons added to the water.

I now also put the castings in the pot before I add the boiling water, this seems to help it too and generally strips the paint in seconds, not all models work, some later paints are harder to strip straight off, but everything I have tried pre 1970 has worked fine.

For more stubborn paint I use Caustic more than once, the reaction of caustic soda remains until the water cools then the effect wains after about 20 minutes, if this is the case I re-boil fresh water and start again.

Once stripped you need to lift out of the mix and neutralised in clean cold water, I use a second tub for this although a running tap is just as good, remember up to this point do not handle with bare hands as you will end up with skin burns.

For large items made of metal it’s impractical to boil huge amounts of water so I use oven cleaner, the type I use comes with a plastic bag, your casting goes inside with the oven cleaner seal the bag and shake, this is slower than caustic but does work if left a few days.

Oven cleaner I also reserve for some castings notably Hornby Dublo buildings, as they used some kind of etch primer that reacts badly to caustic treatment, as I found out so I don’t use caustic on any Hornby metal products now.

Plastic stripping

For years I have been using Fairy Power spray for small parts and works a treat, also good for removing the chrome found on many older diecast models, this is a plating on a plastic base and fairy power spray sprayed directly on the parts and left will come clean within a few hours, it works well on some paints too, it gels as you spray so clings well to shaped items such as model figures, many wargames figure I buy are second hand and have been previously painted, and a night in Fairy power spray and it cleans off easy with an old tooth brush.

90% of plastic stripping I now do with Dettol, just plain every day Dettol disinfectant.

This has many advantages, first it’s not dangerous to skin or plastic, it’s cheap and you can use again and again, in fact my dettol bath is over a year old and still using the same stuff to the same effect, it can take a few days to work it’s magic, but really worth it to see the paint lift off with a little work, I do strain mine every few jobs but that’s about it.

My standard plastic tank is about 250mm square and big enough for most jobs but for bigger item a suitable plastic tank will be required, for Dettol I have one with a lid as the smell of disinfectant can get overpowering in a small space.


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