Friday, February 23, 2018

What You Should Know About Using Paint Strippers


Paint strippers contain chemicals that loosen paint from surfaces. These chemicals can harm you or cause cancer or even death if they are not used properly. Since many are absorbed readily through the skin or are inhaled easily, some paint stripping chemicals can irritate the skin and eyes or cause headaches, drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, or loss of coordination. Some chemicals may cause developmental or reproductive problems, or damage the liver, kidney, or brain. Others catch fire easily.

More consumers are choosing to complete do-it-yourself (DIY) projects in their homes. Using paint strippers in confined spaces, can potentially expose you to dangerous chemicals through inhalation and dermal absorption. Proper knowledge/handling of paint strippers will reduce your exposure to these chemicals lessening your health risks and environmental impact.



Most paint strippers are solvent-based. Solvents dissolve the bond between the substrate and paint. Solvents also can dissolve other materials, including the latex or rubber of common household or dish washing gloves. Some solvents will irritate or burn the skin, while some cause serious health effects even if contact does not immediately cause pain. In addition, many solvents evaporate quickly, and they can be easily inhaled. Inhalation of these solvents can produce health effects immediately or years after exposure.

It is especially important to use paint strippers that contain solvents either outdoors or in an indoor area with strong fresh air movement (e.g., with a fan). Some paint strippers contain  solvents that do not evaporate quickly. When using these strippers indoors, be sure to open windows and doors to provide fresh air movement in and out of the work site. You should always follow the manufacturer's instructions and safety precautions. Use the amount of stripper recommended by the manufacturer to avoid buildup of harmful fumes. The different types of solvent-based paint strippers and their potential hazards and safety precautions include:

A. Methylene chloride (also called dichloromethane, or DCM) Methylene chloride is the most commonly used chemical in paint strippers. Methylene chloride products come in two varieties: nonflammable and flammable. The flammable paint strippers have less methylene chloride then the nonflammable paint strippers, but they have other flammable chemicals, including acetone, toluene, or methanol.

Methylene chloride causes cancer in laboratory animals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) consider methylene chloride to be a potential cause of cancer in humans. Methylene chloride evaporates quickly, and you can inhale it easily. Breathing high levels of methylene chloride over short periods of time can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, and lungs. It can also cause dizziness, headache, lack of coordination, and death in cases of high exposure and poor or no ventilation. High exposures to methylene chloride for long periods can also cause liver and kidney damage. The human body can change some inhaled methylene chloride to carbon monoxide (CO). CO lowers the blood's ability to carry oxygen. This may cause problems for people with heart, lung, or blood disease who use methylene chloride paint strippers indoors without fresh air and cross ventilation.

DIY use of methylene chloride-based paint strippers has increased resulting in an increase in deaths. If work must be done indoors under low ventilation conditions, consider having the work done professionally instead of attempting it yourself or consider a safer removal method. 

B. Acetone, toluene, and methanol 
Acetone, toluene, and methanol are chemicals that are commonly used together in paint strippers, and they evaporate quickly and are very flammable. Breathing high levels of these chemicals can cause a variety of effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, and headache. Breathing high levels of toluene may harm unborn children, and breathing very high levels for a long period may cause brain damage. Toluene and methanol are poisonous if swallowed.

To avoid fire and health problems, avoid using products that contain these chemicals. Non-flammable safer removal options are available.

C. N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP)
Excessive contact with NMP may cause skin swelling, blistering, and burns. These skin reactions may not appear until sometime after exposure. NMP is readily absorbed through the skin and may cause health problems. Adverse health effects in the developing fetus have been noted in laboratory animals exposed to some of the chemicals in paint strippers. Therefore, women of child-bearing age who work with or use paint strippers on a regular basis, such as at work, should take special precautionary measures to decrease their risk from dermal/or and inhalation exposure.

Some paint strippers have a citrus smell or make "environmentally friendly" claims. However, these paint strippers may also be hazardous, despite these claims, and they may contain NMP.


A. Caustic alkalis
Caustic reacts with the paint coating and loosen it from the surface. One of the chemicals in this type of stripper is sodium hydroxide (lye). Some people do not use caustic alkalis because caustic products can darken wood and raise the grain.

Caustic alkalis can cause severe burns to skin and eyes even with short contact. Caustic alkalis are also highly toxic if swallowed.


A. Dimethyl Esters (also known as Dibasic Esters, DBE, and DMEs*)
DBEs are readily biodegradable, low odor, low VOC strippers and are excellent solvent substitutes in many parts cleaning and stripping applications. Commercial acceptance and use of dimethyl esters and dibasic esters continues to increase due to their positive economic, environmental and performance characteristics.

Dimethyl esters and dibasic esters can be used replace more conventional and increasingly regulated removal materials and industrial solvents, including, but not limited to:

  • N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP)
  • MEK
  • methylene chloride
  • isophorone
  • certain glycol ethers and their acetates
  • acetone
  • toluene
  • methanol
  • cresylic acid
  • caustic alkalis

With a preferable environmental, health and safety profile DBEs are considered a “greener” or environmentally preferable and safer product due to several safety and regulatory attributes, including:


  • Low VOC 
  • Readily Biodegradable
  • Not included CERCLA/SARA hazardous substances list
  • Not considered a hazardous waste under RCRA 
  • Not included on the CWA list of hazardous substances
  • Used in EPA Safer Choice formulations


  • Not considered a carcinogen or reproductive toxin
  • Low levels of toxicity
  • Low Odor
  • Main components not subject to Proposition 65
  • Included on EPA list of safer chemicals for use in Safer Choice formulations


  • Non Flammable
  • Non Corrosive
  • Non Hazardous DOT
  • High Flash Point
  • High Boiling Point
  • Slowly Evaporation Rate


Paint strippers contain different chemicals, and the potential hazards are different for various products. Its important to remember each product has specific safety precautions. However, there are some general safety steps to keep in mind when using any paint stripper. If you use paint strippers frequently, it is particularly important that you follow these steps:

1. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety precautions on the label. Do not assume you already know how to use the product. The hazards may be different from one product to another, and the ingredients in individual products often change over time. The label tells you what actions you should take to reduce hazards and the first aid measures to use.

2. Wear chemical-resistant gloves appropriate to the type of stripper being used. Examples include gloves made with butyl rubber or neoprene. See the manufacturer's instructions or a material safety data sheet (MSDS) on your product to determine the appropriate glove type. Also, ask your local store what type of gloves to choose for your product. Common kitchen latex gloves do not provide enough protection. Replace gloves often to decrease dermal exposure risk.

3. Avoid getting the paint stripper on your skin or in your eyes. Wear protective clothing and goggles appropriate for the project and type of stripper.

4. Only use paint strippers outdoors never indoors unless stripper states it safe to do so. If you must use them indoors, cross-ventilate by opening all doors and windows. Never use any paint stripper in a poorly ventilated area. Make sure there is fresh air movement throughout the room. Ventilate the area before, during, and after applying it and when stripping by using a fan that is blowing air away from you and to the outside. A fan is particularly important for nonflammable products that evaporate quickly, such as methylene chloride. However, electrical sparks from fans may increase the chance of flammable paint stripper fumes catching fire. If work must be done indoors under low ventilation conditions, consider having the work done professionally instead of attempting it yourself.

5. Do not use flammable paint strippers near any source of sparks, flame, or high heat. Do not work near gas stoves, kerosene heaters, gas or electric water heaters, gas or electric clothes dryers, gas or electric furnaces, gas or electric space heaters, sanders, buffers, or other electric hand tools. Open flames, cigarettes, matches, lighters, pilot lights, or electric sparks can cause the chemicals in paint strippers to suddenly catch fire.

7. Only strip paint with chemicals that are marketed as paint strippers. Never use gasoline, lighter fluid, or kerosene to strip paint.

8. Dispose of paint strippers according to the instructions on the label. If you have any questions, ask your local environmental sanitation department about proper disposal. 

When it comes to paint stripping knowledge is power always know exactly what your working with from the removal product to the material you are stripping. Using some basic safety precautions that start at the time of purchasing the stripper and finish with the proper disposal of removed materials will ensure your safety and low environmental impact.

Learn more about safer stripping choices from EZ Strip here

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