Do you still have old miniatures lying around since your first paint job? Or did you buy second hand miniatures and want to give them your own style? Then you should strip them from the old paint!
In the following article, I put together how to strip miniatures from that old pesky paint.
Basically, there are 2 methods you can use for getting paint off your miniatures:
1. Use a chemical solvent
2. Use an ultrasonic cleaner.
I will explain both methods in this article, starting with the chemical process.
Even if some tips for solvents are region-specific, I still included them. Just so this is relevant no matter where you are.
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How to strip miniatures off paint with chemicals
What you need to strip paint from minatures:
- You need a miniature with some old paint that you want to strip. Duh!
- You will also need some sort of container. Plastic take-out boxes are one option. Using an old marmalade- or pickle jar is another option. The container definitely needs some sort of lid, because most solvents are volatile (and smell pretty bad).
- Having a second container for rinsing the miniature is optional, but useful. This container does not need to have a lid.
- You will also need one or two old toothbrushes. They are used for scrubbing the loose paint off. Hard toothbrushes are preferred over softer ones.
- You should stack up on some toothpicks to get hard to reach spots. Pipe cleaners can do the job as well – but use the real pipe cleaners, not the ones for funny arts & crafts-projects.
- Paper towels or old newspaper scraps are a nice way to cover your working area. This also prevents ruining your table with spilt solvent or splashed paint. An old but clean cloth or towel can be a good thing, too. You can use that to clean everything in the end.
The area you are working in should be well-ventilated. An open window can help with that. Because of the chemical fumes, you might want to take it outside or into your garage, though.
Your equipment should also be stored somewhere well-ventilated, but safe. This place should not be reachable for children.
In best case, it should even be fireproof, because most of the cleaning chemicals are highly flammable.
Step by Step stripping your miniature of paint with solvent:
First of all, make sure what material your miniature or model is made of.
The following instructions work nicely for most metal and plastic figurines. They also work for resin, but some solvents might attack the resin. This might lead to missing details or the material turning soft and mushy. So yeah, resin is a bit different and annoying.
If possible, you might want to detach the plastic bases from the mini before you start.. Some chemicals can also damage the base or make it go soft.
If you want to make sure everything goes well, try to find a throw-away model to practice. This way, you can test out if your precious miniatures can stand the treatment you are about to give them.
Fill your jar or box with your chemical paint remover. Gently place your miniature into the jar and close the lid. Let the miniature soak for a while.
Depending on the solvent the process might take some time between three hours up to a day. You can leave your miniature in for longer, but this might cause some damage to it. Stronger chemicals might start doing damage after about six hours already. Always keep an eye on the process to make sure no harm is caused.
You can see that everything worked nicely when the paint turns into a loose and soft slime. Give your miniature a nice scrub with your toothbrush. If necessary, use the pipe cleaner or toothpick to get paint out of some nasty corners or fine details.
You should dunk anything still containing paint into the container with a solvent. Applying water might cause everything to turn into a goopy mess, depending on the chemical compounds. Once every trace of paint-solution is off the miniature, you can let it dry for a bit. Most solvents are volatile and quickly dry on their own.
When you are sure that most of the solvent is gone, you can rinse your miniature under tap water. You could also use a container with clean water for the final washing step. If you want to, you can now polish your model with a clean cloth.
Once you are done, lock the lid of your jar with chemicals again. You can reuse the solvent for other miniatures. Depending on the chemical compounds, it might last you a couple of years!
If not everything comes off in the first try, that’s okay. You can just repeat the above steps until (mostly) everything is clean.
For example, it takes a lot of time if the paint is old or has a lot of undercoats. Old crappy primer can be incredibly hard to get off.
Especially old enamel paint is hard to remove. Paint on the glued seams actually bonds to the glue and cannot be dissolved. You need to scrape that off, for example with a file or a toothpick.
There are also cases in which you might never really get the paint off. Then there is only one thing you can do:
Accept it and try to paint it over. Or you know, try another stripping solution.
You might also experience that old miniatures have been glued together with all kinds of weird glue.
What solvents / liquids to use when stripping and removing paints from miniatures
There is a huge variety of fluids, cleaners, and other things you can use. Sadly, it also really depends on the country you live in what sort of chemical or cleaner you can get your hands on.
I put together a list with things I used myself or got recommended by others.
Keep in mind: Everything that works fast also has the possibility of dissolving your miniature. Anything that will not attack your miniature, will take at least a couple of hours.
Just to make sure: I write about my personal experiences with those solvents. I do not assume any liability for problems caused by working with any of the chemicals mentioned below.
Some of the items below are regions specific, others you can get in most of the world.
- Simple Green (US-product) / Biostrip (UK-product): very gentle on the miniature, because it is water based. The chemical is not as aggressive – just stick your miniature into it, get it out an hour later and finally brush all the paint off.
- Cleaners based on Pine Oil, like Pine Sol or Pino clean: A lot of people have some good experience with this. But there still is a risk that it might melt off your paint. If you go with this, dilute it first.
- Acetone / Nail polish remover: First of all: Not all nailpolish remover contains acetone nowadays. Look for signs like “acetone-free” on the bottle. Also, acetone might damage your miniature if you leave it in for too long. Be careful with this stuff!
- Dettol handsoap (contains Chloroxylenol): depending who you ask: 3 hours, 24-48 hours. The smell might stick to the miniature for quite a while. Also keep in mind to not mix with water, because it will turn into a gooey, icky mess.
- Isopropyl alcohol: Basically the main ingredient of any disinfection solution, like Sterillium. It works well to get paint off of miniatures.
- Methylated alcohol: Works great, but also has a downside. This type of alcohol is strong enough to dissolve your miniature. Do not leave the figurine soaking in methylated alcohol. Some products also leave a slightly greasy residue behind. I use this with a Q-tip to get little paint blotches off of the miniatures – or my working surface.
- Other cleaners: Super Clean, Fairy Power Spray, contact cleaner
My best experiences is with Isopropyl alcohol. You can get it all over the world, no damage to your miniatures or glue and it simply works on most paints. Oh yeah, and no weird smell on the minis (but it smells quite a lot while you do it).
If you got some weird paints on your minis (bought them second hand or whatever) you might have to try something a bit rougher.
What solvents NOT to use when stripping paints of miniatures
In general, you should avoid using toxic cleaners. For example, you can find recommendations online for brake fluid. I do NOT recommend this. Some people use it, because the paint comes off rather easily. The problem is that this stuff is quite aggressive, so it will sooner or later eat up your miniature, and probably damage your hands as well.
Advice on being careful when stripping miniatures with chemicals
There are a couple of things you should keep in mind when working with various chemicals:
- All of those are “real” chemicals, even if you use them for your daily housecleaning routine. Do not expose yourself to them for too long. Some chemicals might dehydrate your skin. If needed, use gloves and mouth protection. Keep all your materials away from children. Remember: if you can smell or feel the solvent, it is probably doing something bad to you.
- Some solvents can actually go through gloves, like acetone or isopropyl alcohol. It makes no difference if you use latex or nitrile in those cases. Be careful and also check if you are allergic to latex before wearing the gloves too long.
- Never wear gloves longer than two to three hours a day. That also means that you should not work on stripping miniatures more than a couple of hours per day.
- Most of those chemicals are highly flammable, like isopropyl alcohol. Keep them away from fire. Always read the safety instructions and hazard precautions.
- Take a look on how to safely dispose of the used chemicals. Most chemicals should NEVER go down the drain. You can find information online or sometimes on the packaging of the product.
Another method: Removing paint from miniatures with an ultrasonic bath
Ultrasonic baths are little devices often used for cleaning jewellery or eyeglasses. You can read more about ultrasonic cleaning here.
You put your dirty things in the little tub filled with water, close the lid, and start a program. After a while, all the jewellery is clean.
This method also works for miniatures! It is very good for getting the rather loose but hard to reach parts of a miniature clean.
If you think that fiddling around with miniatures, ultrasonic cleaners can be a great solution. But you can get pretty much the same results with chemicals, but ultrasonic cleaner is easier.
You still need to scrub your miniatures off with a toothbrush afterwards. The ultrasonic bath is just quicker than chemical solutions.
Another plus: No fumes can cause skin or lung irritations! Just be careful not to do too many cycles at once: Cheap devices can build up quite some heat. This might cause damage to your miniature.
Always check the manual before using your bath. Place your miniatures into the water of the tub and start a cycle.
Repeat for about three to five cycles – or more if necessary. If you want to, you can add light dish washing soap into the device. Most manuals recommend using plain water, because anything else might damage the ultrasonic bath or leave traces in the tub.
In my opinion, using an ultrasonic bath is nice if you have one already. I think it might not be necessary to buy one just for stripping miniatures.
The ultrasonic bath can be quite expensive, but if you are going to use it for other things they might be worth a purchase. I know a lot of people really love them for cleaning out their airbrush, so if you are going down the airbrush route an ultrasonic cleaner might be a perfect purchase for you.
I also use it for cleaning my glasses, which is amazingly good (but also a bit weird…).
Here is a link to my favourite ultrasonic cleaner. It varies with you can get in different countries, so I just direct you to a great option depending on your location.