Monday, July 20, 2009

How to strip paint: a primer for the responsible homeowner

Stripping paint is one of those experiences, like childbirth, that is so traumatic that once it's over, you develop amnesia. For that reason and my perpetual desire to be of assistance to my fellow humans, I am recording a step-by-step manual so that no one need ever begin this procedure unprepared.

1. Receive call from your sister-in-law--the one who has never been to your house, but whose only comment, when she saw a picture of it was, "So that's your house, huh," in the same tone that might be used to discuss a clogged toilet or a dead animal in the road. She is coming for a weekend visit six weeks hence.

2. Realize that of all your house's imperfections, the most glaring might be the half-stripped living room windows, a project you began and then abandoned a full year ago.

3. Because you are that paragon of American good citizenship and rectitude, the responsible homeowner, you protect the floor with canvas drop cloth and wonder why it is you used newspapers last year.

4. Apply stripper to window woodwork with a brush. Be prepared for large gobs of it to be flung about the room, entirely missing your carefully placed drop cloth.

5. Carefully cut pieces of specially patented stripper paper to cover your handiwork. You will need to be creative because the Peel-away people never send enough paper to last with an entire bucket of stripper, so you have to order more, but then you will have extra paper and will have to order more stripper, and never, never do you end up covering your last drop of stripper with your last bit of paper.

6. Go about your usual business for twenty-four hours.

7. Examine your woodwork and discover that the paint is now agreeably ruffled--not unlike those ruffled diaper covers that parents like to put on their female babies. You can't wait to start peeling.

8. Pull back the patented Peel-away paper. In theory, the paint will adhere to it and all the paint will come off in one easy-to-dispose-of strip. In reality, some of the paint will adhere to the paper, but much of it--now converted to oily, slippery, yet sticky bits--will fall to the floor. Aren't you glad you laid down a drop cloth?

9. Look down and observe that your dog has decided that now would be a good time to lie at your feet and take a nap and that you have decorated her fur with a fiesta of sticky-yet-oily paint bits. While you area gazing at her with mild dismay and wondering what to do, she will get up and wander away, giving herself an extravagant shake as she does so, and all the sticky, oily paint bits go SPROING! and fling themselves to the far corners of the living room.

10. Continue to scrape at the paint and realize that the reason your window trim looks distorted is not because of multiple layers of paint but because some previous owner broke the trim at the corner and stuck it back together with wood putty. Your house has had 187 previous owners and each of them left his mark somewhere.

11. Realize that the reason you used newspaper to protect the floor last year rather than a canvas drop cloth is that you can roll up the newspaper and throw it away whereas you will now have to clean all the paint bits off your drop cloth.

12. Attempt to shake the oily, sticky paint bits into the garbage can. Pretend you don't see a good portion of them dropping into the no-mans land between your driveway and your neighbor's property.

Other than a fire, I can think of nothing that causes more localized destruction than a do-it-yourself paint stripping job.


  1. I hate stripping paint even more than I hate stripping wallpaper.

    I guess there's no chance you could just paint over the old paint?

  2. You're a brave woman. And how do the windows look? I think you should make a special point to show them to your SIL just so we can hear your mental reaction to her observations. And by "mental", I mean inside your head, not crazy. Though I'm hoping for a bit of both.

  3. GAH! That? Sounds like a completely miserable way to spend a week. My condolences.

  4. Sounds like one of those home improvement projects that seem so simple, but turn into a nightmare. Oh, wait a minute, that is every home improvement project.

  5. I prefer just to buy paint, dream about painting, and sitting on the couch! At least you are doing something about it. :)

    An Pilgrimy SLG

  6. I can see your problem from here: there was no booze involved in the stripping process. A fatal flaw, and one that I'm sure you remedied when you went to the movie theatre. What? You didn't? Did you at least bring a flask for the kids?

  7. Thank you. After a day working on a pair of old windows, I googled "I HATE PAINT STRIPPING." I am going to stop and repaint the half-stripped job. Now I am sure I have lead poisoning. What a waste of a summer day.