I have old (~1950) metal painted cabinets. I'd like to strip them to the nice shiny stainless steel underneath the paint. I've read the EPA guidelines for lead paint removal. My question is what is the best method for removal.

  • I've done a test patch with a small hand-held circular sander.
  • I think there may be chemical methods
  • I can buy/rent a portable sand-blaster

What are the pro/cons of these methods? Are there other techniques?

  • Have you had the paint tested yet? – Comintern Aug 14 '14 at 22:51
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    The original paint type, substrate material, surface treatment are all going to have significant influences on how well the paint comes off. I can't say what will work, but I can say you should avoid standard silica sand blast/paper so as not to scratch up the metal. There are lots of blast media out there (walnut shell, plastic) that are effective at removing paint but leave the metal shiny and smooth. – Paul Aug 14 '14 at 22:51
  • It is rather unlikely the cabinets are stainless steel if they were originally painted...even later painting makes it less likely they are stainless because stainless steel is not particularly amenable to ordinary paints. Electrostatic systems are a good option for repainting steel. Companies specializing in this can often work onsite with very limited disruption or mess owing to the advantages of electro-static painting. – user23752 Aug 14 '14 at 23:02
  • I think you are right it might just be steel, not stainless steel. But it is still beautiful "raw", and I'd like to remove the paint. I've never heard of electro-static. Is that a removal or adhesive? I'll bing it now... - Aha! We'll probably re-paint some of the cabinets, but the lower ones look good as steel, so electro-static doesn't help here... – mankoff Aug 14 '14 at 23:15
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    You'll still want to paint them with a clear coat varnish or polyurethane to prevent oxidation. – Arluin Aug 15 '14 at 16:47

Sanding will leave irregular sworls all over the cabinets. Blasting will leave that shiny metal with a matte finish. Chemicals may or may not be rough on your lungs & hands & the carpet in the living room.

Although it falls under "chemicals", try brake fluid first. Really. It's very effective as a paint remover, and its fumes and dermal effects are negligible, and it doesn't evaporate off quickly like commercially-available paint strippers do. It'll still make a mess on that carpet, though, so do it outdoors.

Sanding... unless you WET-sand, which is unlikely (and dangerous) with an ordinary handheld sander but reasonable with a pneumatic sander... will go through abrasive disks (assuming disks) rapidly; the paint will tend to clog the abrasive long before the abrasive is effectively "worn out".

Blasting... goes through a LOT of blasting media (NEVER USE BEACH SAND!) in a hurry, and requires a pretty healthy compressor. NEVER use any "white" sand in a sandblaster - it WILL give you a case of silicosis, which is a permanent condition much like emphysema.

There ARE some "safe" non-brake-fluid paint strippers out there on the market - they're worth exploring. I know of none that will strip ALL paints, though - there are some paints that steadfastly resist any chemical stripper, forcing you to resort to mechanical means (or question your goals).


A good quality methylene chloride chemical stripper should do the trick: messy, toxic, carcinogen, but very effective. Follow directions (ventilation, respirator, protective clothing).

Use wet/dry sandpaper to remove lingering paint then buff with an electric buffer. It will come out nice. Then you can polish with car wax to protect and prevent surface rust or apply a clear coat (not water-based if it is carbon steel as opposed to S.S.).

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