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Commercially prepared brush and roller cleaners substantially reduce cleaning difficulty. Before these preparations are used, excess paint should be brushed or rolled from the tools. If directions are followed properly, cleaning is not a chore, and costly tools last for years.

Commercially prepared, solvent-based brush cleaners should not be used to clean wet or fresh latex or acrylic paints from brushes or rollers. Use soap and warm water or follow the paint manufacturer’s directions for cleaning fresh latex from brushes. When brushes have been rinsed thoroughly, they are ready for reuse or storage. If paint has dried or hardened in the heel of the brush, a commercial cleaner should be used.

Most brush and roller cleaners will not harm either natural or nylon bristle brushes but can harm other synthetic bristles. It is best that synthetic brushes be cleaned in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

If commercial brush and roller cleaners are not used, tools must be washed thoroughly with turpentine or the appropriate solvent (alcohol for shellac, lacquer solvents for lacquer) until clean. When thoroughly cleaned, they can be washed with soap and water and set aside for future use.


Thinning often changes paint color slightly. Therefore, all paint should be thinned at the same time to ensure that colors don’t change in the middle of a job. Most popular thinners, also used to clean tools, include mineral spirits, turpentine, alcohol and lacquer thinner.

Mineral spirits – a petroleum-distillate solvent frequently used in the manufacture and thinning of oil-based paints. Odorless mineral spirits have been refined to remove some odorous components.

Turpentine – has greater solvency than mineral spirits, causing it to work more quickly. It has a stronger odor and contains a small amount of resin. Most turpentine sold for consumer use is pure gum.

Alcohol – available in denatured, wood or methanol form. Wood and methanol alcohols are extremely toxic and should not be recommended for do-it-yourselfers. Denatured alcohol, a safe substance, is used for thinning and cleaning shellac and pigmented shellac primer. Alcohol is excellent for removing grease and oil spots, fingerprints and other smudges.

Lacquer thinner – available in many grades and degrees of solvency and speed of evaporation. Lacquer thinner is an excellent cleaner for brushes used in any paint product except shellacs. Since it leaves no residue, brushes cleaned in lacquer thinner need not be washed with soap and water. This is, however, an extremely flammable solvent. It should be used with caution.


Chemical paint and varnish removers are marketed in several forms, all formulated to dissolve or soften old finishes for easy removal.

Most removers contain a wax to help retard evaporation of solvents and may require an after-wash with mineral spirits, turpentine or commercially prepared cleaners designed for this purpose before a new coat of paint or varnish can be applied. Neither alcohol nor lacquer thinner is a good choice for use as a paint remover after-wash because the wax used in paint removers is not soluble in those solvents. Some removers are formulated so that no after-wash or neutralizing is required.

Water-wash may raise the grain of wood and may darken or even turn some woods, such as oak, black.

Precautions should be taken when handling solvents. Drinking alcoholic beverages before, during or after use of any solvents may cause undesirable effects. Also, smoking or use of open flames while using paint removers, even if nonflammable, should not be permitted. Nonflammable removers contain large quantities of chlorinated solvents, which form toxic gases when the fumes come in contact with flame or hot surfaces.

The major kinds of paint and varnish removers are:

Liquid removers – can be highly flammable. They must be used with extreme caution where any danger of sparks or fire is present. They should be used in well-ventilated areas. Usually preferred by professional furniture refinishers or antique-refinishing enthusiasts.

Semi-paste removers – although they require care, they are not as dangerous as liquid removers. Semi-paste clings to vertical and overhead surfaces and will usually remove multiple layers of paint with one application. Many have a water-wash feature which may raise the grain if used with wood such as oak. Can be either flammable or nonflammable; check labels.

Heavy-bodied nonflammable removers – creamy consistency, but not as viscous as semi-paste; flows on easier and goes further. Will usually remove multiple coats of paint or varnish as well as synthetic-based finishes. Usually water washable, so it can be rinsed off with a garden hose or wiped off with a damp rag.


In response to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) ruling on products containing methylene chloride, manufacturers have developed nontoxic paint and varnish removers.

These products, available in a semi-paste form, do not give off harmful fumes or unpleasant odors. They also are nonflammable. They remove finishes without blistering or bubbling and can be left on surfaces as long as overnight without drying or damaging wood. Hands and tools can be cleaned up in water.

Some manufacturers are combining these paint and varnish removers with their other product lines, such as sealants, putty and sandpaper to create entire refinishing systems.

Paint and Varnish Removers – Are They Safe?
Several years ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) called into question the safety of household products-including paint and varnish removers-that contain methylene chloride.
In September 1987, the CPSC issued a Statement of Enforcement Policy establishing guidelines for appropriate labeling of products containing methylene chloride.
The labeling requirements apply to products in the following classes that contain one percent or more methylene chloride: paint strippers; adhesive removers; spray shoe polishes; adhesives and glues; paint thinners; glass frosting and artificial snow; water repellents; wood stains and varnishes; spray paints; cleaning fluids and degreasers; aerosol spray paints for automobiles; automobile spray primers, and products sold as methylene chloride.
The CPSC’s enforcement policy establishes three basic principles for consumer product labeling: an indication of a potential cancer hazard, an explanation of the factors that control the degree of risk, and a description of the precautions to be taken.
Questions on the specific language to be used for a particular consumer product should be directed to the CPSC’s Division of Regulatory Management at (301) 492-6400.
SOURCE: Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 5


Refinishing systems are designed to eliminate the stripping, scraping and sanding usually identified with refinishing furniture and removing old varnish, lacquer or shellac.

Most kits use a furniture-refinishing solution to soften and loosen the old finish. These are usually applied with fine steel wool to small areas at a time. The cleaned, original finish is then lightly buffed with dry steel wool to open the wood pores.

A new finish can then be applied with a clean cloth, taking care to wipe away any excess finish solution with a dry cloth. Manufacturers offer several finishes which preserve and seal the wood; the consumer can choose a high-gloss finish or a more natural finish.

Besides refinishers, which remove old furniture finish and new finish solutions, furniture cleaners for cleaning wax buildup are available.

Organic, water-based strippers have recently emerged as a “safe” alternative to traditional chemical strippers. Water-based strippers soften varnish, and can be left on overnight without damaging the wood. They can be applied over the whole project at once, with a thick (1/8″-minimum) coat.


For exterior uses, a paint and varnish stripper containing proprietary sodium hydroxide can be painted, sprayed or rolled onto an old painted surface, and then sprayed off, along with the old finish, with a garden hose. Be cautious about protecting skin and eyes while using the product, however, because sodium hydroxide is a corrosive agent, used often in drain cleaners.

Untreated exterior wood, such as that used for decks and siding, can be restored to its original color through the same process, using the same chemical. The solution removes the weathered, gray wood cells, uncovering fresh surfaces.


Degreasers are available in solid, liquid and aerosol form. They are used to remove dirt, oil and grease from basement and garage floors, driveways, patios and sidewalks.

Many are made for concrete only and should not be used on blacktop surfaces. Contents are spread evenly over the dirty surface, water applied and surface scrubbed with a broom.

Contents should be left to penetrate the surface for best results. Finally, surface should be hosed down with water.


Rust removers are available in liquid, paste or jelly form.

The jelly form applies easily, removes rust well and washes off with water. Similar products are offered, including some for cleaning corrosion from aluminum. Rust removers can be extremely harsh to the skin. Rubber gloves are a necessary tie-in sale.


Rust inhibitors react chemically to form a metal shield. This type of solution stops the spread of rust and halts underfilm corrosion. Scraping, brushing and sandblasting often do not remove rust that lies in surface cavities.

By reacting chemically – converting rust (iron oxide) to iron tannate – the inhibitor stabilizes rust. The solution is applied with a stiff brush and allowed to dry for 12 to 24 hours, depending on the humidity. Mill scale, rust chips, loose rust, blisters, deteriorated paints, grease, etc., should be removed prior to application of the solution. The surface may then be painted.

Solutions to Paint Problems
– House paint wears off by this process. Slight chalking is desirable because it keeps the surface clean and results in a gradual reduction in the thickness of the coating. Before recoating, all chalk should be removed by scrubbing the surface with water or wire brushing.
– Slight checking is not a serious defect, but a warning signal to repaint. Cause of this trouble is not allowing sufficient drying time between coats, and applying a hard-drying finish coat over a soft undercoat. In contraction and expansion of the wood, the elastic undercoat gives, but the brittle topcoat cannot. To prevent checking, wire brush the surface before repainting. Allow first coat to dry thoroughly before applying finishing coats.
– Alligatoring (similar to checking) is more pronounced and will form a pattern like an alligator’s skin. It is usually due to applying a relatively hard drying coat of paint or varnish over a soft undercoat. In cases of severe alligatorlng, the entire coat should be removed with a blow torch, paint remover or scraper. Mild cases should be thoroughly sandpapered, then primed.
– Wrinkling is caused by applying a coat that is too thick. Painting at Iow temperatures may also cause this condition. Avoid wrinkling by brushing all coats out thoroughly and painting in weather 55 degrees or above. Before repainting., remove wrinkled portion by sanding or using paint remover. A new coat of primer should follow.
– Blistering occurs when water is present within rather than upon the surface. Heat from the sun draws moisture to the surface and expands paint film into a blister. The only remedy is to locate the cause of the moisture within the house.
– Mildew is caused by moisture under the paint and appears as black, gray, green or yellow spots on the painted surface. Scrub affected area with a mixture of household detergent, bleach and water, and rinse. When dry, paint with a mildew-resistant paint. If possible, find and remove the source of moisture.
Solvent Safety Tips
Paint stripping and refinishing solvents can be harmful to humans if used improperly. They are strong chemicals and must be if they are to work properly. They can be used safely with proper precautions.
1. Keep away from sparks, heat and open flames.
2. Disconnect power to all electrical outlets, switches and fixtures by unscrewing the fuse or tripping the circuit breaker.
3. Turn off all pilot lights and other flames, even if they are in other rooms or utility closets.
4. Disconnect, unplug or turn off clothes driers, furnaces, water heaters, etc. Be especially careful to disconnect electric igniters in pilotless gas systems.
5. Unplug or disconnect and do not operate electric switches or motors (refrigerators, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, furnace blowers, electric or gas appliances, stoves or heaters, etc.)
6. Keep all metal objects (scrapers, steel wool pads) from contacting any electrical outlet, fixture or switch.
7. Do not use, re-light or reconnect any of the above items until all smell of solvents is gone.
8. Do not smoke, use matches or lights, or allow others to do so when solvents are being used.
9. Most solvent vapors are heavier than air and tend to collect in Iow spots. Prevent vapor buildup by providing fresh air ventilation (cross-ventilation) at floor level during and after use of solvents. If exhaust fans are used, the motors must be explosion-proof.
10. Keep vapors out of ventilation systems (furnace and air conditioning ductwork and fans).
11. Keep products out of the reach of children.
12. Close container after each use.
13. DO NOT transfer products to unlabeled containers.
14. If paint is swallowed, follow the first aid instructions on the label and contact a doctor or poison control center.
Source: The Savogran Co.

Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.