DIY Shouldn’t be Dangerous: How to Find Safer Paint Strippers

paint stripper, paint remover

Do-it-yourselfers buy and use a wide array of chemical products and accompanying safety equipment for their home projects. But many weekend warriors don’t know that a particular class of paint strippers containing two toxic chemicals: methylene chloride and NMP, pose major dangers even while using your typical safety equipment. Luckily, these toxic chemicals may soon be banned from the shelves of your local hardware store. Until then, consumers should aim to avoid paint removers containing methylene chloride and NMP.

A clear and present danger

paint strippers, paint removers

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to ban paint removers that contain methylene chloride and n-methyl pyrrolidone (NMP), citing the dangers they pose to DIY consumers. In 2017 alone, at least three Americans were killed from using methylene chloride-based paint strippers.  The most recent fatality was 31-year-old Joshua Atkins from Pittsburgh, who was stripping the paint off his BMX bike. His mom came home from work and found him dead in their home. And this wasn’t an isolated incident.  Methylene chloride exposure has been linked to more than 60 deaths nationwide since 1980. The chemicals can also cause cancer, harm to the nervous system and childhood development, and even death. NMP, which can be substituted for methylene chloride in paint removers, impacts fetal development and can cause miscarriage and stillbirth.

But despite these clear risks, the EPA shelved its proposed ban last year, deferring to the wishes of big chemical corporations.

Thankfully, in response to federal inaction and a national consumer campaign, big retailers have stepped up to protect consumers and workers: Walmart, Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Sherwin-Williams, AutoZone, Kelly-Moore Paints and others have publicly committed to stop selling all paint strippers containing these deadly chemicals over the next few months. Others like Ace Hardware should follow suit.

Safety gear sold at retail stores may not protect you

paint strippers

Many people assume they just need to buy a mask at the local hardware store to protect themselves from paint strippers. Unfortunately, EPA analysis revealed that commonly sold respiratory protection is not enough to protect users from exposure to dangerous levels of methylene chloride. Most retailers don’t even sell the proper safety gear, which is essentially a full body suit with a gas mask attached to an oxygen tank.  Methylene chloride vapor is heavier than air, so it concentrates low to the ground, right around the level where people stripping surfaces are breathing. Inhaling the chemical can kill within minutes.  In evaluating whether to ban methylene chloride, the EPA considered whether they could mandate safety measures, and concluded they would not be sufficient to protect consumers or workers.

Money Pit hosts Tom Kraeutler and Leslie Segrete interview Mike Shade of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families about the dangers of paint strippers containing two toxic chemicals.

Safer alternatives are readily available

Here’s the good news: there’s no need to use these harmful products, as safer alternatives are widely available.  If you are in the market for paint removal products, be sure to avoid those containing methylene chloride and NMP.  We’ve put together this list of safer products that may be available at your area hardware store.

 

BEHR Premium Wood Stain & Finish Stripper (#64)

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “… a cleaner specifically formulated to remove existing oil and latex coatings.”

Safety Data Sheet:  According to the 2016 SDS for “Wood Stain & Finish Stripper” (#64) the product contains the following ingredients in these percentages by weight:

  • 1-5% Sodium hydroxide
  • 1-5% Sodium chloride
  • 1-5% Diethylene glycol monobutyl ether

 

EZ Strip All-Purpose Remover

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “ . . . a fast acting spray gel stripper . . Remove[s] all types of paint spill and overspray, graffiti . . . and just tough sticky stuff. ” According to the MSDS, product use is “Non-toxic graffiti remover.”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2015 MSDS on the EZ Strip website, the product contains the following ingredients at these percentages:

  • 1-5% Dimethyl adipate
  • 3-7% Triethyl phosphate
  • 10-30% Dimethyl glutarate
  • 3-7% Dimethyl succinate

 

EZ Strip Professional Strength Paint & Varnish Stripper

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “Removes multiple layers of latex and oil-based paint, varnish, lacquer from wood, metal, tile, glass, stone and masonry surfaces . . . Low in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) safe for indoor or outdoor use allowing you to work in the same area you are stripping paint with no fear.”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2015 MSDS on the EZ Strip website, the product contains the following substances in these percentages:

  • 3-7% Dimethyl adipate
  • 5-10% Dimethyl succinate
  • 10-30% Dimethyl glutarate
  • 3-7% Triethyl phosphate

 

Goo Gone Latex Paint Clean Up (spray)

paint stripper, paint remover

Manufacturer description: According to the Goo Gone website it “ . . . conveniently clings to vertical surfaces, making it easy to clean spills, splatter, brushes, and more . . . Works on wet and dried latex/acrylic/enamel paint, art/craft paint, varnish, shellac, caulk.”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2016 SDS for “Goo Gone Latex Paint Clean-Up” the product contains the following ingredients in percentages by weight:

  • 7-13 % Acetone
  • 1-5% Benzyl alcohol

 

Goof Off Heavy Duty Remover (spray) 

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: According to the product overview on the Goof Off website it: “Removes the tough spots and stains ordinary household cleaners can’t!”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2015 SDS for “Heavy Duty Removers” the product contains the following substances in these concentrations:

  • 5-10% Benzenemethanol
  • 5-10% Oleic acid potassium salt
  • 1-5% Ethanol, 2-Butoxy-
  • 1-5% Diethylene glycol monobutyl ether
  • 1-5% Propylene glycol phenyl ether

 

Krud Kutter Graffiti Remover

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “ . . . removes aerosol paint, enamel, lacquers and more from most hard, soft or porous surfaces.”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2015 SDS, the product contains the following substances in percentages by weight:

  • 10-25% Benzyl alcohol
  • 10-25% Ethoxylated alcohols
  • 5-10% Dipropylene glycol monomethyl ether
  • 5-10% Alcohols, C10-16, ethoxylated, sulfates, sodium salts
  • 1-1% Ethanol
  • <0.1% C10-16 Ethoxylated Alcohols

 

Krud Kutter Tough Task Citrus Remover

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “ . . . a multi-purpose cleaner designed to remove tough stains and other stubborn substances from surfaces . . . Also works to remove dried latex paint, oil based paint splatters, caulk and wallpaper adhesive.”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2015 SDS, the product contains the following substances in percentages by weight:

  • 1-2.5% Ethoxylated Alcohols
  • 1-1% D-Limonene

 

Krud Kutter Tough Task Remover

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “ . . . a multi-purpose cleaner designed to remove tough stains and other stubborn substances from surfaces . . . Also works to remove dried latex paint, oil based paint splatters, caulk and wallpaper adhesive.”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2017 SDS, the product contains the following  substances in percentages by weight:

  • 1-2.5% Ethoxylated Alcohols
  • 1-2.5% Sodium Metasilicate

 

Motsenbocker’s LIFT OFF #5 Latex Paint Remover

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “  . . . fast, easy removal of fresh and dried latex paint and latex enamel from walls, trim, molding, floors, wood, vinyl, tile, laminate, metal, brick, concrete, and vehicles.

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2016 SDS, the product contains the following ingredients at the percentages listed:

  • 1-20% Glycol Ether
  • 1-20% Acetone
  • 1-20% organic salt

 

Motsenbocker’s LIFT OFF Paint and Varnish Remover (Trigger bottle)

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “ . . . successfully strips enamels and acrylic paints, shellacs, varnishes, stains and other solvent and waterborne coatings. It can be used on wood, metal, concrete, stone and brick, as well as fabrics, clothing and hands. It can be used on paint tools and equipment, brushes, windows, cabinets and floors.”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2016 SDS, the product contains the following ingredients at the percentages listed:

  • 1-20% Acetone (a.k.a. 2-propanone)
  • 1-20% Glycol Ether

 

Motsenbocker’s LIFT OFF Spray Paint and Graffiti Remover

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “ . . . fast and easy removal of spray paint, aerosol paint, semi-gloss, high-gloss, acrylic, enamel, and oil lacquer from vehicles, street signs, buildings, walls, floors, fiberglass, metal, tile, vinyl, plastic, brick, and concrete.”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2016 SDS, the product contains the following ingredients at the percentages listed:

  • 1-20% Glycol Ether
  • 1-20% Acetone (a.k.a. 2-propanone)

 

Rain Guard VandlClean Super Graffiti Cleaner 

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “ . . . suitable for removing graffiti from brick, cement, wood and other porous surfaces.”

Safety Data Sheet: No ingredients are disclosed in the 2016 SDS,. The SDS also reads: “THIS PRODUCT DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY SUBSTANCES KNOWN TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA TO CAUSE CANCER OR REPRODUCTIVE HARM.

 

Rust-Oleum Paint Stripper for Concrete

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “ . . . removes layers of paint, stain, sealers and epoxy coatings. Effectively removes coatings on both interior and exterior surfaces.”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2016 SDS, the product contains the following substances in these percentages by weight:

  • 25-50% Benzyl alcohol
  • 5-10% Formic acid

 

Wolman DeckStrip: Stain & Finish Remover

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “ . . . used to strip away weathered pigmented stains from exterior wood and prepare underlying surface for re-coating . . . Safer-to-use than paint strippers. . .”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2015 SDS, the product contains the following substance in this percentage by weight:

  • 5-10% Sodium Hydroxide

 

 

Wolman DeckStrip-ASR: Acrylic Stain Remover

paint stripper, paint removerManufacturer description: “ . . . easily strips hard-to-remove acrylic stain from exterior wood . . . Safer-to-use than paint strippers. . .”

Safety Data Sheet: According to the 2015 SDS, the product contains the following substances in these percentages by weight:

  • 5-10% Ethylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether
  • 5-10% Sodium Hydroxide

 

 

Note: A number of the brands listed also sell products containing methylene chloride and NMP, so be sure to look closely at the product label to ensure it’s the one listed, and not one containing methylene chloride or NMP.  This list is provided for informational purposes only; Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families does not endorse any of these products.

Additional resources on safer alternatives

 The California Department of Public Health has prepared a nice poster summarizing safer alternatives, as well as a guide on personal protective equipment to use while working with paint strippers. The same agency has also put together a more extensive guide to choosing safer paint removal products.

New safer alternatives coming to a store near you

 These aren’t the only alternatives paint strippers available.  In the last month, at least two major formulators announced plans to bring new paint strippers to market that are free of methylene chloride. These commitments  show the power of retailers to drive suppliers to innovate when consumers demand change.

The University of Massachusetts’ Toxic Use Reduction Institute has developed another safer alternative product, which has been shown to be just as effective as methylene chloride-based paint strippers in laboratory and field testing. That product should hit stores shelves later this fall.

Editor’s note: Mike Schade is the Mind the Store Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a nonprofit organization that leads a national campaign encouraging the nation’s leading retailers to transform the marketplace away from hazardous chemicals and towards safer alternatives.


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