How to Remove Powder Coat?

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One of the main features of powder coating is its durability — in other words, once applied, it doesn’t come off easily. For situations when you need to remove powder coating, you have several options. Learn about how powder coating works and different removal methods. Then, check out our step-by-step guide to removing powder coating with chemicals.

What Is Powder Coating?

Powder coating is a method for painting metal surfaces. An electrostatic charge is applied to the metal. Paint sprayed in the air is attracted to the charged metal. This strong attraction binds the paint particles to the metal, achieving a smooth, even coat of paint. 

Best of all, because the paint is attracted directly to the metal, there is essentially no overspray. Powder coating is an efficient and attractive way of coating metal in paint. 

Methods for Removing Powder Coating

There are a number of different methods available when it comes to removing powder coating. 

  • Lasers are the most environmentally friendly method, but are unavailable outside of a specialty shop. 
  • Thermal powder coat removal leaves the underlying metal undamaged, but is also not practical outside of a professional, high-volume environment. 
  • A third option for removing powder coating is to use abrasive materials and blast away the coating. Abrasive materials may nick or scratch the metal surface. 

If you’re a non-professional looking to remove powder coating from metal, don’t despair! There is an easy alternative to the three methods mentioned above. Chemical removal of powder coating can be completed in a home workshop or garage, and gets great results on most types of metals. 

Chemical Removal of Powder Coating

Most chemical removal of powder coating is done by dipping the workpiece in a vat of material. There are also spray-on options, such as oven cleaner. Some products can be brushed onto the workpiece before being scraped off. 

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Caustic Chemical Strippers

When chemicals have the ability to burn or corrode organic tissue, such as the tissue that makes up your skin, we call these substances ‘caustic’. Some of the most common powder coating removal materials have this quality.

Benco

One long-time option for removing powder coating from metal has been a line of caustic chemicals from a company called Benco. While they are undoubtedly effective, they are also highly toxic. Not only can they burn the skin, eyes, and mucus membranes, but inhaling the fumes of chemical powder coating removers can be harmful to your health. 

In many places, these chemicals can no longer be shipped to residential addresses, due to the dangers involved in using them. In places where it’s possible for consumers to purchase these caustic chemicals, they are often only available in large amounts. 

It’s not practical to purchase a five-gallon drum to remove powder coating from one small item. Luckily for the environment, your health, and your wallet, there are other options

Paint Strippers

Paint strippers are an option for removing powder coating from metal. If you only have a single piece from which to remove powder coating, try a paint stripper first. The active ingredient in paint strippers is usually caustic soda or lye.

Very thick or stubborn paint may not yield to paint strippers. The nice thing about it is, even if it doesn’t work, you likely have other uses for paint stripper around your workshop. 

Oven Cleaner

The chemicals in oven cleaner can remove some kinds of powder coatings from some types of metal. However, just because they are a household product doesn’t make them safe. Oven cleaner can burn any exposed tissue, so use caution and protective equipment when choosing this method. 

Non-Caustic Chemical Strippers

Non-caustic chemical strippers are not only eco-friendly but are also VOC-free. This means that they will not significantly decrease air quality when used indoors. They are also low-odor and non-toxic. These products are available at hardware stores as well as big-box home improvement centers.

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Learn how to strip powder coating from metal in the section below. 

How to Remove Powder Coating with Chemical Strippers?

Whether you choose caustic or non-caustic chemicals to remove powder coating, the process is the same. Make sure to carry out this work in a well-ventilated area, and wear proper protective equipment. 

  1. Determine your underlying metal. Different metals will react differently to different metals. Caustic soda, for example, is fine to use on iron or steel, but is incompatible with aluminum
  2. Apply the stripper. Some formulations of stripper can be painted on. Others are intended for use as a bath or dip, and the product is lowered into a vat or other large container. Oven cleaner can be sprayed on.
  3. Wait. The product you choose should include instructions on how long to allow the metal to soak. It should also include information about what signs to look for (such as bubbling), that may indicate the product is working. For oven cleaner, you’ll have to guess, and multiple applications may be necessary. 
  4. Scrape away the paint. Use a bladed scraper to detach the stripped paint from the metal underneath. Dispose of the paint in a garbage can. Remove stubborn spots or clinging paint with steel wool. 
  5. Rinse your product. Once the paint has been removed, the last step is to clean the item. Use detergent and water to remove all traces of the chemical stripper used. Be careful not to splash yourself during this step, and make sure all runoff goes down an appropriate drain. 

Why Would I Want to Remove Powder Coating?

Powder coating is an expensive procedure that looks great and lasts a long time. Why would you want to remove it? There are three main reasons to remove powder coating; equipment maintenance, refinishing, and fixing mistakes.

Mistakes

Powder coating is not an easy task to master. It will likely take you several tries to achieve results you can be proud of. Rather than continually switching projects, it is easier (and perhaps cheaper) to strip away your powder coat mistakes. 

Refinishing

Maybe you’ve purchased or inherited a powder coat item and are looking to strip it down to bare metal. Or perhaps you want the opportunity to powder coat it in a different color. Whatever the situation, removing the old powder coating is your first step to breathing new life into an existing item.

Cleaning Equipment

The tools you use to powder coat, such as racks or hanging wires, will inevitably become covered in paint. With repeated application, the paint will continue to build up, covering the accessories in increasingly thicker coats of paints. Removing powder coating extends the usable life of these objects and makes powder coating easier. 

What Protective Equipment Should I Use When Removing Powder Coat? 

Whether you choose caustic or non-caustic chemicals to remove powder coating, it’s important to guard yourself against exposure to chemicals. 

  • Use elbow length gloves made of thick rubber to protect your lower arms. Don’t plan to use them more than once, as the cleaning process could inadvertently increase your exposure and risk. Instead, get an inexpensive pair and throw them away when your job is done. 
  • Wear long sleeves, and tuck them into the gloves to protect your upper arm. Goggles and/or a face shield protect the vulnerable tissue of your eyes, nose and mouth, while a respirator-type mask saves your airway from damage. 
  • An apron is a good last step – grab a heavy duty apron rather than one intended for cooking, to make sure that any splashes do not penetrate through the fabric to your skin.

Conclusion

Some reasons to remove powder coating are to correct mistakes, prepare material for refinishing, and to clean powder coating equipment. Other methods can effectively remove powder coatings, such as lasers, heat, and abrasion. However, only chemical means of removal are easily accessible to DIYers. Powder coating can be removed by using caustic or non-caustic chemicals.

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Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.