Plastic surfaces and paint don’t normally work together straight away unless you’ve applied some kind of primer or work to it. But now you’ve made sure the paint will hold, and suddenly you have to get it off again because you’ve smudged it or it’s the wrong color.
So, this article is to teach you how to remove paint from plastic models effectively, and without damaging the plastic underneath.
The issue with removing paint from plastic models is that a lot of the solvents you can use can end up also damaging the plastic. In the end, you’re left with a much worse scenario than the one you had originally started with.
Fortunately, you can DIY a paint removal situation! Here’s how to remove paint from plastic models the right way!
What to use to remove paint from plastic models
This disinfectant is a super cheap and effective way to strip plastic models of paint.
For this, you will need a bottle of Dettol, two or three medium to hard bristle toothbrushes, a toothpick or pin, a large container, some paper towels, two rubber gloves, water, and newspaper.
You have to carry this process out in a well-ventilated room as the mixture can produce a lot of fumes.
To start, create the Dettol mixture by adding equal parts of the disinfectant to cold water. The ratio could also be 1:2 but then the model would have to sit in the solution longer, so just eyeball it as best you can!
Place the solution in a container large enough to accommodate the model and then gently put the model inside the Dettol mixture.
Most models will need about 24 hours of soaking, however, with newer models that come with the newest undercoat and paint technology, it can take up to 48 hours.
Make sure that you put gloves on when it’s time to take the models out, as theirs now a ton of random chemicals in the container that can damage your skin a little. The paint should form a layer over the model that can be flicked off easily with a toothbrush.
Spread a layer of newspaper down on the work surface and use a toothbrush to scrape the paint off.
And voila! you’ve now removed the paint from your plastic mode and have yourself a nice, clean model that you can get to work on.
Oven cleaner can be used to remove paint from plastic models in two ways. The traditional method is to spray it directly on the model like you would with cleaning an oven.
Then, you wait for the bubbles to form before wiping them off. Repeat as many times as needed before running the model underwater thoroughly to finish.
The other method is slower, but it’s also safer. Spray a bit of over cleaner onto a rag and rub it onto the area with paint. This way, you get much more control over the cleaning. After a few attempts, the paint should start coming off onto the cloth.
Be patient if it’s not removing the paint as well as you like, but eventually, the paint will start to break. Once you’ve removed enough of the paint, rinse the area with water and leave to dry.
In case you need to stop for some time, rinse the area with cold water and let the model dry. You can resume this process at any time.
It is noteworthy that for whatever reason, oven cleaner works better on a warm day, which can be both good and bad. Try this method on a cool day and it’s less likely that you will lose control over it. But you could work twice as fast on a hot day so the choice is up to you.
When the paint on your model is too stubborn, isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) will be your best friend. You can get this pretty much anywhere, from chemists to your local hardware store.
The biggest advantage of rubbing alcohol is that it helps take off paint without damaging the plastic, dissimilar to harsh paint removers.
Nevertheless, make sure you have a face mask on to protect your body from the fumes, and wear gloves to guard your skin – follow the instructions on the bottle for safe use.
Directly pour the liquid over the affected area and use a rag to scrub. Keep going at it until the paint starts to vanish. You might need to let it sit for a minute or two to start to allow the paint to soften before trying to scrub it off.
Branded Paint Remover
Paint remover or thinner is a heavy-duty choice, so be careful when using this because there’s a really good chance it’ll damage your plastic model in some way.
Consider this the last resort. Your best bet would be to mix a little of the remover with water and try to remove the paint. The concentration of the remover should be increased as you go along. Remember, you can always add more, but there’s no undo button once it’s wrecked your model kit.
Start by rinsing the plastic model with cold water to get rid of any wet paint sticking to the body. Then, mix some clean water with a bit of remover.
At the preliminary stage, don’t go higher than 20% remover because it can damage the model. Conduct a patch test on the plastic to make sure it’s safe, preferably on the base or somewhere that will be out of eyesight!
Don’t leave the mixture on for too long, though, as it can be too potent. Even if it doesn’t harm the plastic immediately, prolonged exposure can eat away at the body.
What Tools Should You Use to Help Remove the Paint from your plastic model?
There are a number of tools you would benefit from owning if you work with plastic models a lot!
There are two popular choices in this department – nitrile, and latex. Both work fine, however, constant usage of latex products can cause a skin reaction, i.e., itching and peeling of hands, so just make sure you’re keeping an eye on yourself!
You’ll need a rinse pot, a stripping pot, and a water pot to hold and clean your brushes, your miniatures, and just about everything else as you work. These can be found just about anywhere, probably even in your Tupperware drawer!
Brushes and Cleaning Implements
Get a few toothbrushes, pipe cleaners, toothpicks, cotton balls, etc. A classic toothbrush with simple bristles will do, but basically what you’re looking for are some different textures to help you remove the paint from your plastic model in either large areas or really precise areas.
Don’t make the towel an afterthought unless you want to spend hours scrubbing off paint from your walls or your table after the work is done. You just need something large enough to place on top of the work surface. The paint will likely fleck off from the brush and end up everywhere.
With the right tools and techniques, it’s super easy to remove paint from your plastic models and you can give your plastic models a new lease of life.
Peter has been building model trains for longer than he can remember. An avid fan of HO and O scale this blog is a creative outlet to allow him to dive further into other scales and aspects of the model train community and hobby.