Act Quickly. Here is how to remove spray paint without damaging your things:
Graffiti? You need to act quickly if it is recent: paint it with any oil you have around, such as cooking oil, then scrub and wash. Grab some graffiti remover for next time as it’s much easier to work with.
Magic: how to easily remove spray paint
Removing spray paint? Check out the go-to graffiti remover: Motsenbocker’s Lift Off is the spray paint remover to use without damaging what’s underneath. Apply two thick coats to the spray paint and wait a while for them to work.
If you have a pressure washer, this comes next. If not, gather some rags, brushes, etc., while the solution soaks. The pressure washer you will have for life costs less than you think and has all kinds of uses beyond washing the car. This Sun Joe is the top of the line, but you can get a lesser one for less.
Blast that graffiti away. Be sure to get the rotating tip if you plan to wash your deck or other wood: it keeps the pressure from damaging the wood.
A stiff brush helps the work too. You need a natural fiber brush: nylon type bristles will be dissolved! This one is a natural fiber that the solvent cannot harm, and it has a hole for a paint pole or broomstick, Hilda.
A great all-purpose marker/paint remover is Goof Off Professional.
Watch a customer review video use of Goof-Off remover…(speakers off!): she has the toughest of all: concrete, and she’s very honest. It does work out for her after repeated treatments. A non-porous surface (like vinyl) would be quicker.
For delicate surfaces, use fine steel wool and for other surfaces, you can use a wire brush: get a good one—the bristles fall right out of budget ones).
1. Home remedy: start with cooking oils
We tested the internet’s idea: Borax? Baking Soda? Soap and water? Lame. Maybe if the paint is still wet/soft, but it’s a longshot.
Most spray paints are oil-based. Remember, ‘like-dissolves-like” from school? Try different oils. Let soak and remove with water pressure or stiff brush.
The main solvent for most spray paints is either paint thinner, lacquer thinner, or acetone. These work for removal but can also smear the paint. These are all very flammable: keep out of reach of children and do not breathe the fumes: (please wear a respirator: read about the best respirator …it’s not expensive and it’s a life-saver).* Every home should have a respirator. The Zombie Apocolypse is coming too.
Acetone: Found in this nail polish remover. It cleans so many things. Keep it around away from the kids). We clean our electric saw blades and much more. Drip a little on a coarse rag and apply to the paint that way. It evaporates so quickly that you will have to keep wetting it. Wear a respirator!
Lacquer Thinner: Nasty stuff, but it melts most paints. Careful: it will also melt many types of plastic etc. Extremely flammable. Use as Acetone, above.
Brake Cleaner? Yes. If the lacquer thinner doesn’t work or works too slowly, try brake cleaner in a spray can. This one is “moderate VOC” which means it’s dangerous.
ALWAYS: Use toxins outdoors or in a very well ventilated area, use eye protection, and nitrile gloves (these last forever), and that respirator. Don’t be macho.
Full face respirator shown comes with the chemical cartridge and over that paper to make it live a long time. The paper filters can be changed and the chemical cartridges will last years and years: keep in air-tight plastic bags. These are complicated things but I simplified it for you.
That old paint stripper you have in the garage? Now illegal. Read about the new law of the EPA.
2. How to remove spray paint in every situation:
Latex? Read about latex and water-based paint removal (spray or not).
Spray paint: Use both solvents and elbow grease. (We list some paint removal tools below the list.)
Always test a spot first: for example, alcohol dissolves dried latex paint, and thinners can stain. If nothing works, go nuclear (see below this list). Don’t know the type of paint? Read how to I.D. paint at the bottom. How to take off spray paint:
- How to remove spray paint from skin/hands: Read a separate post on getting spray paint off skin.
- How to remove spray paint from car/autobody: Don’t use gasoline or rubbing compound! It will make things worse. Start with the least aggressive method: A safe start is cooking oil: try any and all before spending any money. Butter Wet Wax has a unique palm oil (and no abrasives) that breaks down spray paint. It’s a liquid: apply liberally with a soft cloth.
- No good? Jump to a rubbing compound. Yes, this will remove paint, but most modern cars have a thick clear coat (never need wax.)
- Still no? Last resort is a cutting compound (an intense rubbing compound). Get the wax that comes with. Still no? Sorry, call the autobody guy.
- How to remove spray paint from glass: First test: wipe with acetone or alcohol. If it gets gooey, it’s latex. First, let’s assume it’s water-based. Soak the glass/paint with water. Use a rag or sponge and keep it wet for maybe 15 minutes. It absorbs and softens. Then with a razor tool scraper or something like that, start scraping. Whether latex or oil, you’ll get some of it. A sharp razor will go much faster than a dull one. Hold the razor in a pair of vice grips if you have them. It should not scratch the glass, but be careful: you can get cut very badly if you go too fast or push very hard then slip. I always have a complete first aid kit: this is the government site on how to put it together: good reading.
- How to remove spray paint from metal (autobody is above): Go to the nuclear option below, or…
- If you want to strip paint from iron, steel etc, pull out a heat gun. Don’t start a fire with this thing, which you can easily do, so be careful. After those suggestions, a normal paint stripper is your thing. If you want to protect painted metal, follow the how-to for cars, above. To grind paint off metal use a drill attachment from 3M.
- How to remove spray paint and all oil-based paint from clothes/fabric: Try to flake off all you can with a fingernail, knife etc. Lay fabric flat on top of a board (as for food prep). Wet with cooking oil (olive, corn…). Let the oil soak for at least 5-10 minutes. Test how it’s working. It should get softer. Scrape what you can with a tool that won’t cut the fabric. You can discard the rag, or wash separately in a bucket before laundering. Oil did not work? Do the same with the paint’s solvent: water, acetone, lacquer thinner etc. Some solvents will ruin fabrics, so do a test spot first (then wash before doing more to see if there is a stain). A gentle oil-based paint remover is Motsenbockers Lift Off. Launder as usual.
- How to remove all paints from carpet: follow fabric just above. Key point: get it wet with solvent and then read on here. For oil-based spray paint, you might follow this advice. A wet-dry shop vac is very good for carpet spills. The vac shown is a larger one with a stronger motor. I once spilled a bucket on a carpet (actually I can recall doing that more than once *embarrassing*). Here is what I learned: Pour solvent (for latex it’s water, for removing spray paint use lacquer thinner or just cooking oil if you don’t have any thinners. Wet with solvent, suck it up. Repeat. It will come out cleaner than the rest of the carpet.
- How to remove spray paint from concrete/brick/stone: Be patient. This is difficult because if the surface is unsealed, the paint will be absorbed. Start with paint stripper. See what you can do on your own: Start with a wire brush (linked above) to remove what you can, or try making a paste out of TSP and something absorbent like flour. Let dry. Next, move on to water pressure. A pressure washer is a tool you want to have for life: mine is so well made, I cannot kill it. Not working? Try lacquer thinner. Use the comment box below if nothing works.
- How to remove spray paint from wood: the go-to product, Goof Off Remover pictured above. Apply twice, let soak, then blast with water pressure or brush and bucket.
- How to remove paint from vinyl siding: the same as wood, above…but easier. Do test your solvent to make sure it does not harm the vinyl.
- How to remove spray paint from a house without harming paint: the same as vinyl and wood above.
- What removes spray paint from plastic? We have a post for removing all kinds of paint from plastic. It’s tricky because plastic also dissolves!
Water-based (latex) paint? Read how to remove latex paint.
Need to paint over a big mess? Read about primers and the number of coats for all situations.
Wiping Tip: You can get a lot more pressure as you rub/scrape paint to remove it if you cover a stiff scraper with a rag: you get more pressure than with your finger, yet don’t create scratches. As your rag gets soiled, move it to expose clean cloth, and repeat. See my video at the very bottom.
Other main tip: If you can handle a great tool at under a hundred bucks, grab the pressure washer of your dreams (pictured at the top of this page) that you will never regret buying.
We prep for re-painting with a variable speed grinder (shown): this removes the paint along with some of the substrate, but it’s not catastrophic and leaves you a fresh start. Use it with the paint removal pad (also shown).
Don’t use a HIGH speed grinder: it melts paint…not in the good way.
There are other ways of getting nasty. Stripping paint from metal and wood could be a combination of methods including a drill attachment. Attach it to any drill: it conforms to curved surfaces on fiberboard, wood, metal, plastic, etc.
But the grinder above is best. This grinder can use other types of pads and wheel cutters too.
STAY SAFE: Read about respirators: I simplified that complex world of respirators: wear one, please. Always know where it is when you need it.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments and we’ll get right back to you. Thanks.
* Did you ever read the label of a can of spray paint? The worst toxic agent is Toluene. Ick. Read the research on why you need to wear your respirator when near these awful organic solvents. Read my post simplifying the complexity of respirator filters and masks linked just above.
Example: “Contains TOLUENE, XYLENE AND ACETONE. Vapor harmful. May affect the brain or nervous system causing dizziness, headache or nausea. Causes eye, skin, nose and throat irritation.”
How to I.D. Paint
Dip a cloth or even a paper towel into a small amount of acetone (or rubbing alcohol which works slower). If the paint turns gooey, it is a latex-based paint and you can proceed by painting over the surface with any type of paint. If it’s oil, just hit it with medium sandpaper first to create bonding. If you don’t, it will flake off with just a fingernail…then you are removing all the paint and starting over, like John and Yoko.
How to Touch-Up Paint In 4 Steps (mostly deals with walls, but gives some tips)
How to Get Spray Paint Off Skin (with Home Remedy)
How to Remove Paint from Plastic (Without Damage)
How to Remove Latex Paint: Dry or Wet (Painter’s Rag Trick)
Finally done? Wash skin over and over with lots of soap to get any chemicals off your skin.