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Old-House Online » Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories, & More » Repairs & How To » How To Strip Hardware

How To Strip Hardware

Reclaim the fine details on old hardware with these 5 easy steps for stripping off decades' worth of paint buildup. By the OHJ Editorial Staff | Photos by Andy Olenick

    Many old pieces of hardware—whether hooks, hinges, or escutcheons—are adorned in the kind of delicate detailing that would turn their modern, big-box counterparts green with envy. But after decades of being “freshened up” by yet another coat of paint, even the most elaborate hardware will lose many of its fine-tuned details. To bring them back, you’ll need to remove the old layers of paint weighing them down. Follow these steps to get the job done.

    Step 1

    Most of the Eastlake-style patterning on this Victorian-era handrail support has disappeared beneath paint buildup. To remove the paint, assemble the following tools: paint stripper, paintbrush, wire or heavy-duty nylon brush, nylon scrubbing pad, pick, paint tray, and mineral spirits.

    Hardware with paint buildup

    Step 2

    Wearing protective rubber gloves (latex won’t hold up), use the paintbrush to liberally apply the stripping agent. Next, set the pieces on newspaper or cardboard and let them sit for at least one hour, and up to 24 hours for pieces with excessive paint buildup. Always work in a well-ventilated room, and if you suspect your hardware harbors lead paint, follow lead-safe practices.

    Applying chemical stripper to the hardware

    Step 3

    When the paint begins to pucker, it’s ready to be worked off. Use the wire or nylon brush to scrub away the paint; dipping both hardware and brush into mineral spirits (in the paint tray) helps expedite removal. After the bulky buildup dissipates, dip the scrubbing pad in the mineral spirits and rub it over the surface several times. (If paint remains, you may need to apply the stripper and repeat the process a second time.)

    Brushing off the paint stripper

    Step 4

    Use the pick (or another sharp object) to clean out small crevices in the finer details. Work in small sections until you’ve scraped away all the paint to uncover the most delicate patterns.

    Scraping paint from fine details

    Step 5

    With all of the original details now visible, the finished, stripped hook appears good as new. It’s ready to be carefully painted again (a single time), or left alone and reinstalled, taking its proper place as a supporting old-house player.

    Restored hardware after

    Published in: Old-House Journal June/July 2012


    Rita M December 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    For all metal parts, the easiest way to clean them is just to boil them in water, in an old pot. No chemical necessary.

    Sherry December 5, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    I usually put the hardware in boiling soapy water, turn off the heat and let it sit for 30 min. or more and the paint comes right off. Unfortunately the finish sometimes comes off to. I have used a lot of SoyGel paint stripper with just nitrile gloves to keep my hands cleaner and no extra ventilation is needed. It actually smells good.

    Dan Miller December 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    It is ironic because I tried boiling them in water for the first time today at the suggestion of a friend. I ahve been soaking them in stripper for 30 years. The hot water worked very, very well. Far easier and cleaner than stripper. The key to cleaning them up is a large wire wheel on a motor. It polishes the metal nicely. If you have brass add another step of polishing them on a cloth wheel with jewelers rouge.

    Octavia Graystone December 5, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    I agree with Rita and Sherry; there’s no need for toxic chemicals. I’ve stripped countless pieces of hardware in my crock pot.

    Angel Corrales January 29, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    I agree with the NO CHEMICALS!. I run a window restoration company in Florida. We have several crock pots lined up for hardware stripping. NO need for chemicals. Chemicals remove any possible finish coat that is still there, under the paint, after 80-100 yrs. Crock pot also uses lets energy and it gradually heats water and the hardware. Be very careful of dropping cast iron hardware in boiling water- it could crack or complete break.

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