Chemical Stripping the Old Paint

Disclaimer : ***NOTE*** you should always follow the manufacturer's instructions, and tampering with them is extremely foolish and you under no circumstances should attempt to replicate anything that I have done below! This website is simply a documentation of what I foolishly did on my own.

On that note...

*** An Easy Way To Strip It *** [click on images to enlarge them]


They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Click on this picture to enlarge it, and take a good look at what you see. You hear all kinds of horror stories about chemically stripping a car and how messy it is. Guess what? They are right. However, I am intrinsically a lazy person, and after working on the first quarter panel and fighting through the goopy mess, I had flashback to MacGuyver, and tried to think what he would do. After paying attention to the process, reading up on the chemistry, and then doing a few test runs, I have it to the point where a messy tedious process can be simplified and cleaned up significantly. Note the green "staining" smears on the rear quarter panel that I did the old way according to the directions. The new way eliminated this and made final sanding much easier. Read on below.

Stripping Vs. Paintover

spouse This image depicts up close why I chose to go with a complete down to glass repainting instead of simply scuffing the current surface and painting over it. Notice the deep cracks in the paint caused by expansion and contraction. These cracks are not simply spider vanes, they are mini grand canyons! In addition to a solid base, I also did not want any road stones to chip away and reshow the neon green, and the build-up of additional layers would have made some of the seams a little too tight around the doors and convertible top lid. Remember, I am a lazy person, and this decision was not made lightly, I knew I was in for a lot of work.

Prep and Materiels

spouse I won't go over the details of how to remove the trim, bumpers, door assemblies, etc., just know that if you have a rusted bolt in the wrong place (like the edge bolt on the rear chrome bumpers) you are in for a real treat in frustration. This article is instead going to focus on the mechanics of what made things easier for me regarding the physical act of removing the paint and primer in order to create a pristine base. First, I picked up a "fiberglass friendly" chemical stripper. I read and followed the directions, gooped the stuff on, the paint coat would bubble and turn in to a thick snot runny goo that when I tried to scrape off would inevitably leave green paint smears on the bare fiberglass that I just scraped! Then, I would take the goop that was stuck on the end of my scraper and try to scrape it off in a discard container, end up getting it stuck all over the place including my hands, clothes, driveway, etc. Yuk. O.K., so time to think of how to do this an easier way...


spouse spouse Now, rethink. Think. Think. What I know, another benefit of the stripper was that you can clean up your tools using simply water and not caustic solvents. Hmmmm. Re-read the label on the can. Water is the inhibitor. Last time I cleaned up after the first messy session, I simply dropped my gooped up paintbrush applicator into a bucket of water. I thought that cleaning it would be a lost cause, but tried anyhow. To my surprise, the embedded goop, after being submerged in the water, turned into a pseudo dried latex consistency and literally peeled away off of the bristles. Light bulb went off... Since water is what you use to "clean up" afterward, and it neutralizes the chemical reaction, what harm could there be with neutralizing it while it is still on the car? I put on HALF of a normal application of the stripper, waited the 5 minutes, watched it bubble up, then lightly sprinkled it with a gentle flow of water from a hose. If the paint bubbles, then crackles and lifts off the surface, then you have applied too much stripper and although it will still work, it will not come off in a complete strip and will be slimy/tacky and a bit messy... but will still work. The surface expanded slightly and took on a white hazed look. instead of using the scraper, I took a razor blade to it, and my heart started racing (and not from the fumes of the stripper, though that might have contributed...) The paint and most of the primer simply curled off of the car like a banana peel. Once the razor got near the edge of where the stripper had been applied, resistance would nicely bring the blade to a halt. After that, the shavings would simply tear off more gentle that a single ply piece of toilette paper. No mess, nada, simply would drop the shavings into the garbage can, and no smell either! Once water is applied, I had about 10 to 15 minutes before the materiel would return to previous hardened state. On a side note, you should always wear gloves when working with caustic materiels, even if you have neutralized it since the bottom layers are still active. That said, take a look at my hand in the photo and notice the absence of any paint slime or primer goo...


spouse This is where the "easy" part ends and the hard part begins. However, still have it as "not messy". The above razor blade session will remove basically all of the paint, and a good deal of the primer. However, the primer that remains on the vehicle still needs to be dealt with. Repeating the above process will work "somewhat", but not fully. I would paint on a thin layer of stripper, water it down and then quickly run the razor over the surface like a spatula. Without the paint layer, the primer was pretty much on the goopy side, but very manageable. Even after this, large recessed areas and dimples in the original surface would still have primer left. To deal with these areas, I resorted to 220 grit wet/dry paper, wrap it on a kitchen sponge and with a hose trickling water wet sanded the remaining areas. One sheet of paper was sufficient to complete the driver's side door, so I will probably end up using about 10 sheets total.


spouse *Update* : Some of the old primer in the low areas was too bit of a chore to get out with the 220 grit paper, so I resorted to 3M sponges. I found that for wet sanding, the medium grade does fair on light stuff, but for the main work I resorted to the course grade. I originally thought that it would be way too agressive (feels like a concrete block when dry) but found that it was actually quite gentle on the finish when wet sanding. Left no marks, and blind touch test could not differentiate where I had used the sponge versus where I hadn't.


I am a retired 82nd Airborne soldier, so sometimes I do crazy things. In all seriousness, ALWAYS follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to use a product. Taking shortcuts or modifying them in any way could result in serious damage or death to not only your project, but you as well.