Have you ever painted your walls, and by accident, paint your light switch as well? Plan on changing the color scheme of your miniature soldier collectible? Did your child accidentally splatter paint on your reading glasses? It is a tough job – removing paint from plastic - but sometimes it needs to be done, especially if ruins the aesthetics. A lot of people have this problem, especially miniature figurine hobbyists like me.

There are different ways to remove paint from plastic, from using tools to dissolving it with chemicals. Some chemicals might deform softer kinds of plastic. Tools may scratch the surface of the plastic as well. Being a miniature hobbyist, I have tried scraping off paint, to soaking my figures in brake fluid.

a woman removes old paint in home

Below, I have compiled a list of different ways and methods to remove that unwanted paint from plastic. Some of these may prove to be tedious, but surely, all of the methods will get that paint off. There are many different types of plastic, and the methods below are applicable to most, except of course, plastics that are soft as plastic bags. Also, make sure to follow safety measures when doing the methods below.

Method 1: Using Tools ( Scraping )

What you need:

Any of the following:

  • X-acto / hobby knife
  • Plastic putty knife
  • Razor blade
  • Rags
  • Gloves for protection
  • Vegetable oil (optional)

Exacto knife set

What to do:

Using any of the tools listed above, you can start scraping off the unwanted / excess paint on the surface of the plastic. Make sure you do this lightly, in order not to scratch the surface of the plastic itself. Try scratching starting from an inconspicuous part where scratches on the surface of the plastic won’t be noticeable.

Wipe off the paint residue on the tool you are using and off the surface of the plastic with a slightly damp rag. Wiping the surface of the plastic with the damp rag slightly eases the paint off, and ensures that you are still scraping the paint, and not the plastic surface. You can also use a drop of vegetable oil instead of water to dampen a spot on the rag. Using vegetable oil may loosen up the paint of the plastic.

This method is very slow, but it gets the job done. The sharper the tool, the more effective it is. The scraping method works well with poster paints, water-soluble paints, and especially dried oil paint.

There are some kinds of plastic that are very sensitive to sharp objects, and scratching it would destroy its aesthetics. For these kinds of plastic, you may want to use a stainless steel spoon, or a hard, disposable plastic spoon instead of a sharp tool like a hobby knife. It is also good to have some lights near your work place to ensure precision when scraping off the paint.

Method 2:

Using Chemicals (softening / dissolving)

What you need:

  1. Any of the following (sorted by strength):
    • Denatured / Isopropyl Alcohol
    • All-purpose cleaners like Goo Gone or Simple Green
    • Nail polish remover / acetone
    • Turpentine
    • Any DOT3 Brake Fluid
  2. Rags or Cotton balls or Cotton buds (depending on the size or area of the paint you are removing)
  3. Gloves
  4. Goggles
  5. Face mask
  6. Old newspapers

What to do:

Before handling any of the chemicals, make sure that you will be using extra safety measures – put on your gloves, goggles, and face mask to avoid inhaling the fumes and getting unwanted burns. Work in a well-lighted and well-ventilated area.

Woman removing nail varnish with acetone

There are many other chemicals to remove paint from plastic, but the chemicals listed above are the ones that are the safest, and the ones that are commonly used. Make sure to note that these chemicals are a fire hazard, so avoid putting them near hot surfaces and electric sockets.

Lay out the old newspapers on the floor, to avoid dripping chemicals on it. Make sure you have an extra dry rag in case anything spills or drips.

Wet a small portion of the rag in the chemical you have chosen. You do not want to soak the whole rag, only a small part of it. Squeeze out any excess liquid from the rag to avoid removing paint from anything else, or damaging any other properly painted areas.

Depending on the chemical you have chosen, it may take several passes of wiping it from the surface of the plastic before you see results. Nail polish remover may not be as effective as DOT3 brake fluid, but it is definitely much safer to use.

PRO TIP: If the paint has a direction, for example, a vertical grain, you will want to wipe it with the rag horizontally, and vice versa. Always go against the grain when dissolving paint from plastic. If you don’t see any kind of paint direction, you can do circular movements when wiping it off. This ensures that the chemical remover is distributed evenly and is absorbed properly by the dried paint on the surface of the plastic.

When you start to see the paint peeling or coming off, you will want to wipe it off with a dry rag. You want to use as little of these chemicals as much as possible. Keep your workplace dry, and wipe off excess chemicals. If there is still some paint left after wiping the plastic with your dry rag, do some passes again with the chemicals, until all the excess or unwanted paint is gone from the surface of the plastic.

Softer plastics might deform with stronger chemicals, so make sure you use the weak chemicals first. If the weaker ones like denatured alcohol and acetone don’t work, then you ought to try using the stronger chemicals. These chemicals work well when it comes to acrylic and latex paints. For tougher paints, you might also want to try a combination of softening the paint with chemicals, and then scraping.

DOT3 brake fluid from Amazon

DOT3 brake fluid is used mostly by hobbyists to remove acrylic paint off of their miniature figures. In my own experience of using DOT3 brake fluid in removing paint from plastic, it actually works pretty well, given that it is specifically made for automobiles. It does not melt nor deform the plastic figures, but it might if you have softer kinds of plastic.

Hard plastics (like eyeglass frames or light switches) do not deform when using DOT3 brake fluid or using any of the other chemicals listed above. Keep in mind that DOT3 brake fluid is specially made for automobiles so you must take extra precaution when using it. Same goes for the other chemicals listed above – always take extra care when using them.

Any of the methods listed above will surely get that unwanted paint off the plastic. You can also do combinations of scraping and dissolving for better and faster results. Always take extra care when doing these methods to avoid accidents like burns, cuts, or suffocation. Keep all fire sources away, if possible, and keep these tools and chemicals where children cannot reach them. If you are still not convinced that you can do it yourself, you can always hire a professional, and they will get the job done for you.

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