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Stripping paint

by Avian

I have, over the years, tried a lot of different chemicals to remove paint from old minis I wanted to repaint. Some worked well, others not so well, but most had some sort of problem. Either they were toxic and you had to take care not to breathe in the fumes, or they would be harmful to plastic minis, or it can be difficult to dispose of safely and without harming the enviroment. Then I heard about something called Simple Green, which worked well while being completely harmless. Now, that specific product is not available in Norway, but as I discovered that it was just a common brand of floor washing liquid, I had a go with a Norwegian equivalent, with very good results. Below is a little tutorial.


Green soap

"Grønnsåpe", or "green soap" as it is called translated to English, is great for removing paint from miniatures. It is easy to get hold of, quite cheap, does not give off any harmful fumes, works great on plastic, you don't need to wear gloves or similar when using it and it can safely be disposed of afterwards. Excellent! The only actual downside is that it doesn't dissolve enamel (i.e. oil based) paints, but I guess those are not very common amongst miniature painters.

For this demonstration I have gathered together four minis in need of a repaint - three metal goblins (well, two metal gobbos and a squig, to be precise) given to me by a friend of mine and an old plastic Night Goblin archer, chosen to show the effect on a model that is both plastic and has been varnished.

Now, green soap is just common floor washing liquid. The particular brand I use is called Krystal, but I am confident that most floor washing liquids will do the same thing. Krystal comes in both normal and pine-scented variants, but as I have no particular desire to have pine-scented miniatures, I chose the normal variant. Orc shown for scale purposes.

What you do is take the minis you want to strip, remove their bases and place them in a jar. Add enough green soap to cover the minis (you can dillute it a bit, but then it takes longer to have an effect) and let it sit for a couple of days. Remember to keep a lid on the jar, or the soap will dry out.

After a couple of days, you can remove the minis from the soap and rinse them with water. The paint should by now be quite soft and releasing its hold on the miniature. As you can see in the picture below, even the heavily varnished Night Goblin archer is letting go of the paint. You can also see that the plastic is completely unharmed by the soap.

Typically not all the paint has come off, so use a stiff brush and you should be able to get rid of most of it. I use a nail brush for this purpose (obviously I don't use it for anything else) and only a minute's work saw most of the paint come off.

If there are places you can't get to with a brush, then a needle or similar will be of good help. This can take a while longer than just using the brush, depending on how crinkly the miniature is. In my example Gobbla, with his heavily textured skin, required most extra work. Alternatively you can leave the minis in the soap a while longer.

And there you have it! All paint removed after two days with little work and no health hazard.


Why it works (and other stuff that should work)

The active ingredient in the soap is sodium hydroxide also known as lye or caustic soda, which is a common component in all traditional soaps. Caustic soda is anionic, which is to say that they mess up the ionic balance of whatever they are used on. The chemistry involved is a bit beyond me, but it appears that this makes it good for dissolving things, including paint.
Wikipedia articles: Sodium Hydroxide, Ion, Soap

Other things that should work as paint strippers:

Of things that don't dissolve paint I have tried chlorine-based cleaners only to find that the varnish dissolved but the stuff did not affect the paint any more than water does.


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