This post contains affiliate links.
The Process of Stripping minis
The actual process of stripping paint from minis is straightforward and easy.
Fill your container with your chemical of choice
I have a list of different chemicals that I have used below.
Place your minis inside
Let the mini soak in the container of the fluid for a while. The more paint on the mini the longer it needs to soak in order to get through the paint.
After soaking the mini give it a good brushing
Get the mini out of the fluid and then use your toothbrush to give it a good scrub to remove as much paint as possible.
Repeat as necessary
Sometimes you will need to repeat the soaking and scrubbing process a few times to get through all of the layers, sometimes it goes pretty fast.
Rinse mini thoroughly
I like to rinse any residue from the cleaners off of the minis before I get ready to paint it. This helps me to feel like there isn’t anything that is going to get in the way of the new fresh paint job.
Set mini to dry
Give the minis plenty of time to dry I prefer to set them out on a towel. Once they are dried, check to see if there are any spots on the model that are either sticky or slick, this could be a place where the chemical cleaners didn’t get fully rinsed from the mini and you should repeat your rinse and dry steps.
Clean up your mess
After you are finished, take a couple of minutes to clean up the area where you stripped the paint. This is just to make your spouse or roommate(s) happy. A well organized hobby area is great for creativity and lets you get going at any time.
Differences in stripping plastic, metal, resin and finecast models
Different types of materials will react differently with different chemicals that we use to strip paint from models, this may or may not be obvious to you. the older metal minis are the most resilient and have the least amount of adverse reactions of the minis I have stripped.
Generally, metal minis will be just fine in any of the recommended stripping fluids on this page for extended periods of time without the worry of harming the details of your models. They are also the best models for using an ultrasonic cleaner for stripping.
Plastic models, including fine cast, are also generally going to be ok with the recommended stripping fluids on this page, however, you will need to take it a little easier with how hard you press with your toothbrush or other stripping tools. It is better to go over them longer than to press your luck with damaging fine details in the stripping process.
Resin models and minis are the most reactive. Resin, especially the resin that you use in 3D printers tends to be fairly soft and easy to damage. Take particular care when working with resin models and parts. Avoid soaking times longer than a week.
Ultrasonic cleaners are useful tools for stripping mins. I have an article that goes into detail on the process that I follow when I use mine that you can read here.
Should you strip paint from minis
If you are new to the hobby, you might be asking something like, is this really necessary? Can’t you just paint over the old paint? we paint layers all the time in this hobby, are a few more really going to make a big difference?
There are a lot of reasons that you might want to strip the paint from a mini and start over. For me, I don’t always strip the paint in order to start over. It is more a factor of how much paint is already on the mini, how much fine detail is present, and is any of it getting lost by the paint thickness? A lot of newer painters don’t properly thin their paint and doubling up on that much paint can really start to be noticeable.
One of the most common reasons to strip paint is that you have found a good deal on a poorly painted lot of minis on a site like eBay or bartertown. I have purchased minis on both sites with mixed results. When you get those minis out of the box, they can sometimes have so much paint that the model is hardly recognizable, and painting over the top just isn’t an option in that case.
Or perhaps you want to revisit some of the models from when you first got started before you knew better. Sometimes I start a project, set it aside for whatever reason and when I pick it back up, months or years later, I wonder what I was thinking with the horrible decisions I made.
No matter the reason for doing it, you are on this page because you have now come to the decision that you want to learn to strip the paint from your minis and do it safely without damaging the minis or your health. My preferences are for stripping chemicals that are safe for the environment and your home. You can certainly find others that recommend some of the chemicals that I say to avoid, and in the end, it will just be your choice.
Disclaimer: I am not a chemist. This is my personal understanding and I never mix chemicals. I recommend against mixing any of these chemicals together. Chemicals can be volatile or react if used inappropriately, some are more volatile than others. It is important to read the labels on any chemical that you use to strip your minis. It is important to treat them with the respect and safety equipment that they deserve in order to protect you and those you live with. These are the safety measures that I recommend at a minimum.
Wear Gloves When Using Checmicals
A good pair of disposable gloves can prevent you from having skin irritation at the least and chemical burns at worst. Some of these chemicals might say that they are safe for the skin, but everyone’s skin is different and may react even if they are mild chemicals. Make sure you know what the gloves are made from. Many disposable gloves are made from latex that can cause serious reactions for some. I personally look for nitrile gloves because they have fewer interactions with people.
Wear a Mask When Around These Chemicals
A good ventilator mask can help to mitigate the risks of inhalation of fumes. For this, you need more than just a dust mask, those are designed for large particles like dust. I use a mask that is rated to remove chemicals from the air.
Strip Your Minis in a Well Ventilated Area
Even when using common household cleaners to strip your minis, it is important to do so in a safe way. The simplest way to reduce the risks is also one of the most effective, open a window. Even a slight breeze flowing through the room can dramatically reduce the amount of a chemical that is in the air. Read the labels, if it recommends good ventilation follow the direction, you will be glad you did.
Minimize The Time You Are Exposed to These Chemicals
A snuggly fitting lid for the container that you use to soak your minis is very important. It will help to keep the chemicals inside the container, and not floating around the room.
Work in batches, don’t try to strip your entire backlog in one afternoon.
Keep Chemicals Out of Reach of Children and Pets
I wish that this went without saying, but there are warning labels on cleaning products for a reason. Some people just don’t think about it until it has been pointed out to them.
ELO by Testors (Best Results)
ELO (easy lift-off) is by far the best paint remover for models and miniatures that I have found. It has been specifically designed to remove paint and decals from model surfaces. It works well on all types of paint and has really fast results. I can strip an entire model in just a few minutes with a little bit of this and an old toothbrush.
Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive solution on my list. Depending on where you get it you will pay between $10 and $15 US for an 8oz (236 ml) container. You don’t strip models every day so this little bit could last you quite a while. I keep it on hand and use it on the stubborn models that don’t want to come clean by other means.
LA’S Totally Awesome (good results)
LA’s Totally Awesome is the best value for your money. In my experience, it works the best of the fluids that are not specifically formulated for stripping paint from minis and models. You get enough to strip a ton of minis. For most people, a gallon jug will last for years if you only use it for stripping paint. It is non-toxic and can start stripping minis after just a short soaking period.
Castrol super clean / Purple power (good results)
Castrol Super Clean is another really good product for stripping paint from models and minis. I also use it to clean the oil and grease from my garage floor with great success. It is a strong cleaner that does well with stripping paint from your models.
Pretty Good Products
Simple green concentrated formula (fair results)
Simple Green was my go-to model stripping fluid for a long time.
The most important thing for Simple green is that it needs to be the concentrated formula. The pre-diluted formula will clean your models and make them smell nice, but won’t really touch the paint job. Most of the spray bottles that you see on the store shelves are the pre-diluted version. I have only found the concentrated version at my local hardware store or online in gallon-sized bottles.
Isopropyl alcohol (not rubbing alcohol) effective on acrylic paint but not other paint
I use isopropyl alcohol with my resin 3d printer to clean the prints before I cure them. If you leave resin in it too long it will definitely go soft on you. Isopropyl alcohol works on water-based acrylic paint just fine, but it doesn’t work so well on other types of paint.
One of the main drawbacks to using isopropyl alcohol is the price, It is much more expensive than some of the cleaning products that we commonly use to strip minis.
These products are chemicals that I often see people using but I have never used myself
- Fairy Power Spray (UK) / Dawn power dissolver (US)
- Biostrip 20
- Methylated spirits (Denatured alcohol) don’t use on resin. It works well on acrylic paints but not others
- Pinesol be careful, it can melt plastic
Useful Items For Stripping Minis
Container to Soak Minis
I use small disposable containers that hold about a liter of fluid. I can fit several minis at a time in the container without worrying about them fitting. Any container with a removable lid will work, but I like to keep to inexpensive plastic.
Nitrile gloves are very useful to protect yourself from over-exposure to chemicals.
I like to clean the minis over an old towel to keep the mess to a minimum. don’t break the bank here. Anything that is cheap will work as long as it is absorbent. The link here is to a bundle of towels just like the ones that I use.
Old Tooth Brush
The bristles on the toothbrush will help to remove paint from the majority of your model quickly, which has been softened up by your chemical of choice. Sometimes you will just need a little bit of elbow grease to get the job done. Just recycle your old toothbrush, no need to go out and get one specifically for this.
Pipe cleaners are a great way to get into the small areas that you can’t reach with a toothbrush. They help to remove paint so that you can get a smooth primer layer as you get going on the new paint job. I like to use actual pipe brushes with synthetic bristles rather than the pipe cleaners that you used for crafts when you were in grade school. This set works great and doesn’t cost too much.
Disposable paper towels are a good thing to have around on your hobby desk to clean things up. They go a long way when you are stripping paint as it can get a little messy sometimes.
Sometimes you have a small bit of paint that is more stubborn than the rest. This happens more often in the detailed areas of your model where primer or multiple paint layers on poorly painted models have really built up. In these instances, a wooden toothpick can really come in handy for getting into those little places and scraping away the layers without being too harsh like metal would be. The wood will bend and break before doing too much damage, unlike metal picks will.
You most likely have a set of files that you use during assembly to remove mold lines and the like. I have found that quite often, the models that were painted poorly were usually put together poorly as well. That goes for the ones I put together as well as the ones I find on eBay. Generally, when we were starting out we didn’t take the time to really clean up the models as well put them together. This is a chance to go over the model and freshen it up by getting rid of any mold lines that were missed in the initial assembly process.
Hobby Razor Knife
This is a good all-around tool to use whenever you are hobbying. You can use it to remove mold lines, scrape those tiny bits of paint, remove old basing materials, or start modifying a mini to suit your needs. It is certainly a tool that you already have so you shouldn’t need to go out and find a new one just for stripping paint.
Avoid Toxic Chemicals
As a general rule, I avoid using anything that isn’t safe to pour down my kitchen sink. This is where I will depart from some of the other forums and websites that recommend things like brake fluid.
Brake Fluid (very caustic):
Brake fluid will absolutely remove paint, and it will do it quickly. My dad was a mechanic, so growing up I got a lot of exposure to working on cars. To this day I still do the vast majority of maintenance on my own vehicles. Once when changing my brake pads I accidentally dripped a few small drops of brake fluid onto the painted surface of my firewall. It ruined the finish quicker than I could grab a rag and wipe it up.
One of the major problems with using brake fluid is how caustic it is. Left for too long it will cause pitting on metal models and dissolve plastic and resin models. Most automotive fluids are unsafe for the environment and used fluids should be taken to authorized disposal centers. Brake fluid is definitely on the list of fluids that need proper disposal and is not safe to go down the drain.
drain cleaner (caustic)
This one kind of gets around my rule with being safe to pour down the drain, since that is exactly what it is designed to do. However, it is also designed to dissolve the items that are clogging your drain, and the directions usually say not to let it sit in your drain for extended periods of time. Corrosive chemicals like this can remove fine details on your models quickly without really having any warning.
Oven Cleaner (caustic, toxic if inhaled)
I have seen this recommended on several different forums that I have read over the years. Sure it might work just fine with metal minis, but I just like to avoid these types of chemicals that are toxic.
I wish that I had never seen this recommended out there, but unfortunately, I have seen it in more than one forum. Yes, gasoline is a solvent, yes, it will dissolve some paints. But, It will also dissolve some models especially resin ones. Just don’t do it the risks of using gasoline, even in well ventilated outdoor areas just isn’t with the risk in my opinion.