Model Paint (and decal) Removal

A reader named Nick noted that getting undesired paint off one’s models or model parts is always a challenge, and I replied with some theory and happy memories. Well, I made a bit of a study of the subject in the last several days and here’s the results: Science In The Public Interest!

1) Testors E.L.O. – Easy Lift Off. This product, available in metal tins from Your Friendly Local Hobby Shop (YFLHS(tm)), is sold as a remover of paint and decals, leaving the underlying plastic ready for a rinse and repainting. I tried it on Testor’s own Spray Paint and some Gunze Sangyo water-based paint, some months old, on a test model. It worked just fine- the paint to be removed wrinkles and detaches from the underlying plastic, you wipe it off, the plastic parts are un-harmed and ready to go. This is a thicker product that the old pale green liquid, which I’m told (at YFLHS) isn’t available any more. Can’t see how it could be reused, but the advantage of thick is that you can brush it on and it stays put. Vertical as well as horizontal surfaces. Working time for this on recently painted stuff (less than 1 year old) was about 5 minutes, maybe less. Very quick.

I also tried ELO on a very old brushed-on coat of glossy white on a previously owned and partially painted model that I’ve had for at least a decade (and is likely to have been sold in the 1970s-) the Revell Boeing 2707-200 SST, 1/200. Five minutes of brushing regular paint thinnner around on the white paint hadn’t had much effect, and five minutes of brushing ELO around on a larger area didn’t have much effect either. But I left the ELO and went to work and when I came back, the old paint looked wrinkled and ready to come off. This was slightly deceptive, more ELO rubbed over the wrinkled paint didn’t notably loosen it, but the larger area I treated on this second go-’round was also wrinkled the day after I treated it.

I didn’t have time to to spread the ELO and wait for the paint to soften, but not let the ELO dry, so I tried picking at the wrinkled paint with my thumb nail and pretty soon I’d removed most of it. I’m confident a further treatment will take off the rest. In the interests of science I tried scraping at the untreated paint on the other side of the model. I wasn’t completely disappointed to see that picking at the dry, untreated, paint had no effect on it. The picking only removes paint that’s been treated with the remover. Its good stuff and it works very well. I recomend it, and I’m sure glad I’m not going to have to sand off all that old brush-paint. Pix soon. The areas picked clean after one treatment came very clean, showing just bare plastic. (Fingernails are softer than typical model kit plastic). Some light discoloration was present on areas I’d treated twice and rubbed vigorously, but I expect this to lift when I do the final clean-up. There was no apparent damage to the plastic on any place I’d removed paint.

Regular paint thinner. I’ve removed recently applied oil-based enamels with paint thinner- certainly things painted the day or the week before come clean easily. Further back in time, the old paint becomes harder to remove and if its old enough, even soaking the part for days in a jar full of thinner may not do the trick (and may make the plastic brittle). As noted above, I tried brushing paint thinner around on my decades-old brush-painted surface and saw no response. It certainly leaves your brush very clean, however. And, maybe, took a little of the shine off the brushed paint. I once decided to strip the big AA-6 APEX missles from Hasegawa’s MiG-25 Foxbat kit, and put them in a jar with paint thinner, and the prolonged exposure embrittled the wings and fins before it loosened the uneven white spray paint and red brushed oil-based enamel I was trying to remove. Result? My MiG-25 never carried any armament, in the 25+ years I had it. A pacifist, or an accurate scale model of Lt. Belenko’s MiG as he flew it to Japan- he had no weapons on the aircraft when he escaped the Soviet Union.

Windex or other amonia and water surface cleaners. I discovered that Windex softened and removed Gunze Sangyo acrylic paint on a Blue Angels build up of Revell’s 1/48 F/A-18A kit. (Monogram made the better kit, btw…) With oil enamel, I sometimes used Windex to clean off dust and finger prints before masking and painting, and so I tried on the F/A-18, before masking and spraying the yellow wing and tail surface tips. UNFORTUNATELY, the paper towel I was using dragged and quickly showed I was removing paint!!! So I stopped.

I’ve used Windex to remove Gunze Sangyo paint from time to time in the succeeding 20 years, and to check it, I stripped part of a horizontal stabalizer on a model built at a party that hangs from my basement ceiling. Encore’s molding of the old Frog Spitfire Mk I, nice, but too many rivets, main gear legs too short and no ‘gull wing’ or other subtle stuff.. Painted purple and dark blue, with metalic blue trim, I was able to swish the tail in a small container of Windex and after the Windex took on the color of the paint, I wiped the paint off with a paper towel. Works great

As noted earlier, Windex or other water + ammonia based products strip Future floor wax in seconds. I had a practical example today when I stripped the Future off a door decal on the Dragon 1/400 A340 I’m trying to get finished for AI2008- I’d put the door on the wrong place and the wrong side of the plane, so needed to pull it up and put it in the right place on the other side. I’d Futured it perhaps a week ago, after it dried for a day or two. Windex stripped the Future promptly, and gentle prodding with a soft brush eventually lifted the decal, using plenty of Windex and some time to soak.

Tamiya acrylic Thinner. I’m going to try this smelly stuff on some old Tamiya paint, which I’m sure it will remove because I’ve done it before. I’ll also try it on Gunze Sangyo and PollyScale.

Denatured Alcohol. I’ve been told this will lift Polly Scale- time to try it, and try it on other paints as well.

Is this fun or what? Updated 6/17/08


15 responses to “Model Paint (and decal) Removal

  1. Interesting stuff Bill. I’ve had some success using neat brake fluid (always wearing gloves as this is poisonous!).
    Good results with enamels after 5-10 minutes immersion or coating. Removal by an old toothbrush. Not sure about suitability for acrylics. Use plenty cold water in removal.
    process and avoid splashing as much as possible.
    Mr Muscle oven cleaner aerosol is quite effective too and the same precautions apply.

  2. Hi Paul,
    Thank you. Thats a good recipe. YES to gloves, for sure, and cold water rinsing and no splashing!!

    I have heard that brake-fluid will strip both paint and ‘chrome’ (aluminum) plating from styrene plastic. And that oven cleaner will also do the deed.

    If you’re on a budget, brake fluid is probably the cheapest, oven cleaner next cheapest. I’m pretty sure cold water will clean off the oven cleaner, not sure about the brake fluid. I’d take a pass with luke warm water and some dish detergent (hand wash stuff) after either.

    A series of older VWs, a VW-Porsche 914 and a Triumph Herald in my younger days gave me all the brake fluid experience I wanted, so the milder chemistry of the dedicated hobby product, at a slightly higher cost, appeals strongly to me.

    Happy Modelling!

  3. For paint removel I used “BRASSO METAL POLISH very succesfull. A.h.W

    • Hi AH,
      Thanks, always good to hear what actually works for people. If you don’t mind, some questions:
      Oil-based paint, water based or both?
      Is the Brasso’s solvent dissolving the paint (no rubbing required) ?
      Is the very fine abrasive wearing it off (rubbing required)?
      Or a combination (some dissolves and colors the Brasso before you rub, but rubbing is required to get down to clean plastic)?
      Thanks! I’ve got some Brasso, and I’ll give it a try myself next time I’m fooling around with paint stripping!


  4. ah.wakkeramans

    Mr Bill.The plastic model, I painted it with TAMIYA paint spray fore plastics. I used two colours’: Tamiya TS_19/metallic bleu ,and Tamiya TS_29/semi gloss black.You have to rub with tisseus or toothbrush or something like that.The surface of the model keeps his gloss.I think it is not the fastest way, but for your model the safest.Lets say….take time and you will be satisfied about the results.TS_29 give the most work because its stubborn .TS_19 less. Greetings from overhere A.H Wakkermans

  5. ah.wakkeramans

    attachment: Even I used modelengine fuel with 16% nitrometaan and methanol and 16% oil. Bey bey.

  6. Don M Marchini

    Painting a P-51D “Big Beautiful Doll”, It calls for Chromate Yellow” and “Chromate Green”…All I could find in testors is Zinc Chromate, which seems like the appropiate yellow. Is this corrrect? How do I find the green, and not can I mix it some how? Thanks.

    • I recall seeing P-51s with a more-yellow chromate on the wing spar, that is, the back edge of the main wheel wells, and more-green chromate elsewhere in the gear wells. In the Testor’s Acryl line there are a Yellow and a Green Chromate. Neither is “Interior Green”, which was never a pre-mixed color, but simply a target that green zinc chromate was supposed to be tinted to match.

      Testor’s offer the following in their Acryl line: 1 or 2
      Interior Green FS 34151 – Acryl SKU 4736 – n=1
      Yellow Zinc Chromate (no FS #) Acryl SKU 4851 – n=2
      Green Zinc Chromate (no FS #) Acryl SKU 4852 – n=1
      Other interior colors:
      RAF Interior Gray/Green (Fuel/hydraulic fluid proof) Acryl SKU 4850
      Panzer Interior Buff Acryl SKU 4805
      Interior Green FS 34151 – (oil) enamel SKU 1715

      Green Zinc Chromate (no FS #) (oil) enamel SKU 1734

      The Testor’s oil enamel paints do not include RAF Interior Gray Green,
      Yellow Zinc Chromate or Panzer Interior Buff. They don’t offer a spray can
      version of any of these shades.

      Tamiya’s Acrylic line includes nothing claimed to match Zinc Chromate,
      although XF4 Yellow Green looks like a usable yellow zinc chromate shade to me.
      XF71 (IJN) Cockpit Gray Green is probably the best current match to
      the gray-green used in MItsubishi Zeros for the Imperial Japanese Navy.
      There is no straight match for RAF interior Gray Green or US Interior Green.

      Neither their TS nor AS line of spray paints include any of these colors.

      I’ll research more later, and I”ve got a Tamiya Mustang ‘D’ kit, I’ll see if they
      list different mixes for the aft wall of the main gear well (Main spar) vs the rest.

      Its not beyond the realm of possibility that real zinc chromate is a faintly
      greenish yellow, and the medium green tint we know as Green Zinc Chromate
      is just a light mix of black and Zinc Chromate- Yellow + black = olive, after all.

      Happy modeling!


  7. bill i have a cox airplane i need to remove some old decals.what do you suggest? Thanks Tom

  8. Hi Tom,
    I’m familiar with a number of different Cox airplanes. Some looked painted-on, some appeared to be water-slide decals, some were stickers. The difference between ‘decal’ and ‘sticker’, in my mind, is that a decal is thin and can slide, to some extent, on the surface its being applied to, until the solvent (usually water) evaporates; while a sticker is thicker, applied dry and can’t be slid around during application. The glue on a sticker is ‘pressure sensitive’ rather than solvent based. The word “Decal” is often used for both styles.

    How to remove markings depends on what they’re made of and what they’re applied to. If you’ve got a solid plastic Cox airplane, the P-39, P-40, P-51, F4U Corsair, Cessna 152/172, Ju-87 Stuka, etc, and a waterslide decal, I’d start with warm, soapy, water and an old tooth brush. If that really doesn’t do it, perhaps Testor’s E.L.O. would help

    A waterslide decal on a plastic plane might have a fuel-proof coating, you’re beyond my experience. Years ago I remember a friend’s brother had an F4U Corsair that was “Chromed” (vaccuum-sputtered aluminum) that fuel residue had partially lifted, but I can’t remember whether it had decals, stickers or nothing left…

    With painted-on or decals (thin, solvent based) you can always rub or sand-off the markings. Start with a really light abrasive- toothpaste. Light wet-dry sandpaper (I’ve used 600 to 2000) with water have worked for me. The lightest abrasive that works is best, obviously.

    Commercial polishing products like Simichrome, Turtle Wax White Polish and the different varieties of Brasso have solvents other than water, so you need to test a small amount in an obscure place before doing the top of the wing…

    If the Cox airplane has stickers, and their glue has absorbed some fuel residue, that could be a sticky nightmare. Any stickers should be peeled up if at all possible. Try peeling from every side and in every direction. Use a plastic putty knife or something else sharp but soft (fingernails…) to peel. I *have* used baby-oil to lift price-tags and other stickery stuff, it might be a good tool to soften the sticky glue and/or clean it off. Whenever possible, peeling is WAY better than trying to dissolve the glue. Sticker glue isn’t something you want to thin and then rub around on anything… ick!

    If your plane is styrofoam or other foam plastic

  9. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  10. would you have any ideas on how to repairing water damaged water slide decals for plastic model airplanes.

    • Hi Dutch,
      Decals on paper backing sheet or on a model?
      Brand? Damage looks like?
      Top coated?

      A vast number of 2nd hand decal sheets, kits, and modern, better than old days, decals are available. From eBay and specialists.
      Can you describe the model, the decals and the damage?) I might have the marking you’re looking for, or saw one somewhere.


  11. The model is a scale 1/44 plastic kit of a Lockheed Eltra. The front cockpit black shade decal: folded up and couldn’t unfold. Right fuselage decal from the tail to the front—–as decals gets closer to the front it gets very narrow—–again decal rolled up and couldn’t get it to unfold. Same thing happened with the Capital logo rolled up and couldn’t unfold it. Finally gave up!! Dutch

    • Yikes! I’ve unrolled decals using tweezers, paint brush handles, fingers and the occasional hobby knife tip. Usually had to unroll in deep water- 1/4 inch aka 6mm and then slip it onto a piece of damp decal backing paper. A very little white glue or Future floor wax will replace the decal glue that gets washed awak.

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