Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Stripper Retires

After countless weeks and two and a half gallons of stripper I can finally report that the walls in the west bathroom are free of their layers of old paint. Saturday afternoon I scrapped off the last of the crud and cheerfully turned my stripping can and knife over to Tom for use on the woodwork. While the walls still need a bit of sanding and have definite character aka damage from years of use they are a beautiful color and grain that will look wonderful once refinished.

For those who ever contemplate such a task my first advice would be 'don't do it'! LOL If however, you're like us and choose to forge ahead here's a bit of what you can expect; the things the home improvement books and sites won't tell you. Stock up on pain relievers, paper towels, newspaper and old clothes. While stripping paint off walls would seem to be fairly straight forward it turns out to be murder on the back especially if you're working at it for several days and you'll be glad of those pain relievers. Many will suggest scrapping the disolved paint sludge into a can but we found it much easier and less messy to continuously clean the sludge off the scraper with a paper towel. Otherwise you tend to end up with a lot of gunk building up on the scraper that spreads back onto the wall. It's also important to keep as much of the stripping chemical and sludge off your gloves as possible and use of paper towels helps with this. Keep in mind that the sludge produced is extremely sticky and if allowed to build up on your gloves or scraper it will tear your gloves rather than come loose or worse, you'll end up with scraper, gloves and paper toweling stuck together in a wad.

Protecting the floors and anything else in the room is an absolute must. The stripping compound doesn't know the difference between old paint and say, your toilet seat, and can effectively melt both. It will eat through your flooring, countertop finish and anything else it falls on if allowed to sit more than a few seconds. And I do mean a few seconds there! I have seen it bleach out vinyl flooring in the short time it takes to cuss and climb down the ladder to clean up a spill LOL The sludge of melted paint and stripper isn't as bad for eating through things but it does stain and removal will damage the material it fell on. I found layers of the Sunday newspaper ads, the ones printed on slick and shiny paper, worked great for catching the inevitable globs of goo that slid down the wall or fell off the scraper. For this project I used approximately two and a half gallons of stripper, one and a half 12-packs of paper towels and almost a full box of rubber gloves. One of the best ideas I had was to pour the stripper solution into a clean, empty metal paint can - you can buy them at most home improvement stores - and I also stored the applicator brush in the can. For this job I used a 2-inch disposable brush and found it great for larger flat areas as well as detail work. Surprisingly enough the brush bristles didn't melt in the can.

Safety-wise you need to know that everything they tell you on the can of stripper is true. Many varieties are pretty nasty. We used Ace brand extra strength stripper after a single coat of lead abating stripper. The lead abating stripper was non-toxic and stabilized the lead but the rotten egg smell was very strong and took weeks to disapate. Because it works by breaking the bond between layers of paint it stopped working when it hit the lower layers which were old-fashioned oil based paint. Our second and third coats of stipper using the Ace brand worked much faster but I was surprised by the effects of the chemical. We all read the safety labels on products we use, or we should, but most of the time they're overkill - these warnings aren't! When they advise to work in small sections they're serious. Doing a section larger than approximately 4 foot by 4 foot will result in some serious reactions within a few hours. You can expect burning, streaming eyes, a sore throat and hoarse cough for a day or so even with good ventilation and safety gear. I found that two days of stripping followed by a day of being away from the fumes worked well. Contact of any kind between the stripper chemical and bare skin results in almost immediate burning and redness. If possible work near a source of running water or have a bucket of water near by. Rinsing the chemical off right away stops the burn immediately; the longer you delay the more chance of skin redness and irritation.

Remember also that the sludge from the melted paint is still paint, just disolved. If you get it on your clothing it is permanent in most all cases. It's possible to reduce the stain by immediately scrubbing the clothing with mineral spirits but the fumes and flamable nature of the mineral spirits makes this not such a good idea in general. Mineral spirits are also very caustic to the skin so if you try this form of removal make sure to remove the item of clothing first. I personally found that one out the hard way LOL For jeans and some types of boots/shoes you can use fine grained sandpaper to remove the dried sludge resulting in a very faint stain that blends in well. The sludge also tends to fall from the walls and ceilings so especially if you're working overhead wear fitted shirts buttoned up and head gear. Julie and I had a hysterical day weeks ago when a glob of sludge fell into my bra resulting in boob, bra, shirt and jacket being stuck together. The stuff gets everywhere so be warned! LOL If you are working in your home you also might want to set aside an old pair of shoes for use in that project only and take care to remove them before entering the rest of the house. We'd intended to replace the floor in the adjoining kitchen which is good since there's a permant track of stripper smudges now on the floor even with precautions.

Other than that, my last word on stipping is good luck, take your time and have patience - the job's worth it but it's a very long haul.

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