How to Remove Paint from Plastic (Without Damage)

You can damage many types of plastic with solvents like acetone, etc., so start with low-impact solvents and then move on to the harder stuff, like Bob Dylan.

First, a simple test if you are not sure what kind of paint it is, then we show how to remove paint from plastic: both latex and oil. You probably have what you need at home already.

The go-to product (something we should all have around the house) is Motsenbocker’s for latex paint and for oil paints (both shown). Mr. Motsenbocker, is there anything you can’t do? How to know what paint you have it key.


Is your paint latex or oil-based? Test it:

Latex will become gooey when exposed to certain solvents.* Acetone is the best way to tell if dried paint is latex (most nail polish removers have acetone), but rubbing alcohol will also dissolve latex, just more slowly. Video of me doing this test is at the very bottom.

How to Remove Paint from Plastic (Without Damage):
  • Put on some gloves.
  • Rub acetone or alcohol on the paint in a test spot and keep it wet for a few minutes. Don’t get acetone on the plastic (it may melt).
  • Not gumming up? It’s oil.
  • Gummy? Latex.
  • The video at the very bottom shows what it looks like.

Latex?

If latex, go to the post just about removing latex paint: you are the lucky ones.

Oil-based (alkyd)?

1. Is it still wet? Keep it wet! Apply the paint’s known solvent right away if you can. Not sure about the solvent? Start with paint thinner (mineral spirits). Lighter fluid and gasoline will work too.

  • Wear gloves!
  • As you wipe, the thin residue will dry fast: don’t let it: keep it wet with paint thinner or even cooking oil until you can get the full clean-up going.
  • Don’t use a cloth with much dye—it leaves a mark!). Other solvents listed below.
  • Wash hands very well if it touched your skin:
  • Don’t be a cowboy, John McClane…Yippee-Kie-Yay it slowly seeps into your blood.

2. Has it dried up? Let’s start with what we have around the house, then we’ll look at some solvents and paint removers (and stock up for next time). That old paint remover is now illegal for good reason. Read the Washington Post about new law from the EPA, or you can it on the EPA’s website.

• Always do a test spot for each method to see if the solvent harms the plastic (or any surface) underneath.

  1. Use a tool to scrape off what you can: choose a tool that won’t scratch the substrate.
  2. Tru cooking oils, motor oils, WD-40, etc, — these work best if the paint has only recently dried. It will just soften paint for easier removal.
  3. This eco-safe stripper claims it can remove 30 coats of paint at once: we have used strippers like this and it works, but slowly. Keep it thick and wet to keep it working.
  4. Motsenbockers’ Lift off for oil-based paints linked above is an old standard.
  5. Citrus based gel paint removers (shown here) do work, but slower (and safer).
  6. Shocker: eucalyptus oil worked! We add this to laundry to kill dust mites etc. Oh, how we love this stuff. Me-love-you-long-time. Pricey.

    〉〉 From here down
    , wear gloves, eye protection, & respirator! The complex world of respirators is simplified here.
  7. Paint thinner — let soak, then remove with a tool. We prefer odorless thinner, ah.
  8. Alcohol— will not work for oil-based paints, but will for latex.
  9. Nail polish remover, linked above. It’s just acetone— let soak, then remove with a tool. This is likely to damage the plastic.
  10. Acetone — let soak, then remove with a tool (use the link in #9). This will damage most kinds of plastic.
  11. Lacquer thinner: very flammable! — let soak then remove with a tool. Warning: this can melt plastics.
  12. Old-fashioned paint remover: nasty but effective. I’d not use this unless the above methods fail.
  13. Heat GunGo ahead, make my day. Fun to use? Sure but…keep it moving to avoid melting the plastic. Really made for removing paint from metal, but this is your .45 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, Clint.

We have listed scrapers and all the basic painting tools in one place.

SOLVENTS: Most of these are toxic so you will need to wash your hands well if you touch it. Don’t delay.

 


Important Safety Warning: How to remove paint from plastic if the paint contains Lead

Before removing old paint, make sure it contains no lead. Did you hear that it causes irreversible damage to the brain, liver, and kidney? With this kit, you can take 5 samples, send them into the EPA approved lab and the cost of the lab is included in the purchase. I’ve looked at other kits that have hidden fees.

Removing lead paint? Wear the respirator on this page with the purple, circular filter: the 3M 2097, Organic Vapor Relief. Take that lead and transmute it into gold: pays for itself.

How to remove paint from plastic or from anything, if any lead paint is present: wear a good respirator mask: read about my respirator: it’s cheap insurance. Also…

Read from the EPA about what professionals are required in “abatement projects in pre-1978 target housing and child-occupied facilities to be certified and follow specific work practices.”

I ruined a collector’s item once because I guessed at how to remove paint from plastic: it turned a G.I. Joe bald. I hope this all helps.

Respirator to wear when using solvents to remove paint
3M respirator filters for using paint remover

Finally, done? Wash skin over and over with lots of soap to get any chemicals off.

Did we forget something? Let us know in the comments if you have some concerns or insight as to how to remove paint from plastic or how to remove paint from anything of any kind. Thanks!


How to Touch-Up Paint In 4 Steps (mostly deals with walls, but gives some tips)
How to Remove Spray Paint (From All Kinds of Surfaces)
How to Get Spray Paint Off Skin (with Home Remedy)
How to Remove Latex Paint: Dry or Wet (Painter’s Rag Trick)

 

The first of 2 videos below show the tests we ran.

24 thoughts on “How to Remove Paint from Plastic (Without Damage)”

  1. I can not say thank you enough for this post. TOTALLY SAVED ME. I got metal primer on a bubba keg I was commissioned to do and I thought I was gonna have to rebuy it … I had already tried acetone… scrubbing everything … but sure enough little bit of mineral spirits fixed her right up. Thank you thank you thank you!!!

    Reply
    • Hi. What kind of paint? Do the test with acetone: if it gets gooey, it’s latex. Use water and slowly work it. If it does not get gooey, it’s oil-based or some other base. Try paint thinner, oils, etc. Let me know if not working.
      b

      Reply
  2. Used Rustoleum x2 bonds to plastic (Supposedly ) well it did that most of the plastic in my daughters car by not to the door panels which I think mite have a thin vinyl coating. But anyway way it won’t dry it’s sticky and tacky. I need to get this crap off. How Thank u

    Reply
    • Dios Mio. It’s a mess but you’ll need to use a plastic scraper or something that won’t harm the surface and get all you can…go little by little.
      Then use the solvent for the X2 which I read is mineral spirits.
      But my question is why that did not dry. Did you apply very thick coat? Multiple thin coats is recommended.
      Can you send a pic or video of the goop? Good luck in any case.
      B

      Reply
  3. Same problem as Mr Fowler.I painted door molding for a nissan.company said the material was printable,it has been 10 days with it sitting in front of a fan in the spare room.sticky and tacky.used rust-klein x2 flat black.can I remove it and what should I use to repaint. Sorry spell check changed some words hope you can figure out what I meant.

    Reply
    • Yes, wipe, and use solutions, probably paint thinner/mineral spirits…whatever it takes. Sand the surface and start over. That is in the best case.
      My guess is that it did not dry because the paint is bad: mixed badly. Look online and see if there are any others? Or perhaps you mean that it dried, but did not bond. That is more likely I think. Plastic is not known for accepting paint, but if you sand or use a de-glosser, and then the right primer (I’d suggest STIX), you can paint.
      Whatever you do, apply in test spots, wait to see if there is bonding. If yes, have at it.
      Book muck.
      ha ha…good luck
      b

      Reply
    • Use a plastic knife to get all you can, then use a paint remover. If the plastic knife is too flimsy, try a metal putty knife… but this may scratch the tub.
      Put any paint remover you try on and lay plastic over the goop so it won’t dry out. After several hours, the paint may just come off easily.
      Good luck!

      Reply
  4. Hi Brad,

    I have a rental home and the tenant painted over the oil based painted kitchen cabinets with latex. I am having some success getting the paint off using Goof Off, but I wondered if there was a better product to try? Goal is to remove the latex and not damage the oil base under it. I don’t want to have to sand down the entire kitchen and repaint if I can avoid it.

    Reply
    • Ooo. Too bad. Even when I was asked to do quick bad work like this (when someone was selling or renting), I talked the customer out of it. It’s just wrong to put latex over oil without proper prep. And today, there are great primers for bonding that did not exist a decade ago.

      I’m wondering why you want to protect the oil-based paint underneath. What did that paint ever do for you? ha ha. Really though, if you want to get through this quickly, use a real paint remover and oil paint be damned!

      Then you can do a final LIGHT sanding and priming and use any paint you like.
      But in any case, you are doing the job right: you have to get that latex off.

      But I’d step up to the citrIs remover (shown above) and if that is too slow, the go to nuclear war with the old-fashioned toxic paint remover.
      I added the nasty paint remover above: right under the Citris Strip.

      Reply
  5. Question, recently purchased 2 composite wood patio doors in white we wanted brown and not able to get selected door choice, in error we painted both brown using oil based paint and they look terrible. have since decided we would like to strip the paint back to white as original. What is suggested to use with out ruining the finish ?

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Eek! Use ‘old fashioned’ paint stripper on this page above but… warning it’s a long haul to remove the paint. Here’s an idea. One coat of Prime Lock after a light sanding, then 2 coats of white. You will have 5 coats and it will look a little globby, but sand between coats and keep your coats thin.
      Read about Prime Lock here.
      Best of luck!
      PS, you can always call a pro for advice…they give free estimates and we know that often people just want the info to DIY. But sometimes we get the work too!
      B

      Reply
    • You could strip with a paint stripper, probably not a citrus one as they are slow and weak but safe. The toxic ones are terrible and great !But I would prime with PRIME LOCK from Ben Moore after sanding the entire thing.Then sand the primer, then 2 coats of your paint, with a light sand in between coats.You need 2 more no matter which way you go and this way instead of stripping you just are doing 3 coats not 2.But the final door will be thick with paint and not look like a factory spray job. If you want that, strip it and put thin coats on or spray.I just published two articles on a sprayer that would be perfect for that. Anyway, best of luck!

      Brad
      HVLP sprayers
      Handheld airless.

      Reply
  6. Hi Brad
    I have plastic toy that was made in 2003 from ABS.
    I recently purchased it but noticed the previous owner applied a coat of spraypaint (not sure what kind but my guesses are it was a Tamiya acrylic spray paint as they were popular for these toys).

    I am trying to remove this layer of paint by the previous owner (it’s a turquoise colour) back to the original manufactured plastic which was a navy colour. I want to remove that turquoise spray paint coat without damaging the original plastic and without affecting the manufacture paint colour.

    Can you recommend a solution to achieve this please?

    I am based in UK and it seems everyone has different ideas and half the products are not available in UK. Also I dont want to waste money on products that do not work lol.

    Reply
  7. What would you use to remove paint from a wafer light without damaging or affecting long term? Will the paint remover affect the coloring long term? There is paint on wafer trim and light surface it self.

    Reply
    • Hi. Just as this post above reports, that’s all I can offer. Just start with the least invasive, like oil, then citrus etc. Do tests in spots to see the effect.
      If all goes wrong you can paint what you damage.
      Good luck, sorry I cannot be of more help without doing the testing myself.
      B

      Reply
  8. Brad, I have a club car golf cart with a plastic type of roof maybe polymer. The top side has been painted with a 2 stage base coat & clear coat . I want to remove it.
    Secondly the underneath has been painted with a single stage paint. 50% of the paint on both surfaces has released it self just from the sun exposure. How do I remove the remainder of the paint.

    Reply
    • I’d start with the least toxic, least invasive solutions listed on this page above.
      Try to get some chips off and test them directly with various soutions.
      Hard to say what that paint is, but in any case, when you find something that dissolves it, test carefully if it de-glosses or melts the roofing.
      Do all you can by muscle!
      Good luck!

      Reply

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