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How To Remove Paint From Copper

Copper is used in appliances, decorative elements, and door fixtures. To clean or repaint copper, you will need to use a specific approach and take great care to remove old paint without scratching or damaging the metal surface. To do that, we have researched to give you the methods you can apply.

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You can employ mechanical or chemical methods to strip paint off copper fixtures. However, applying olive oil and mineral spirits is the most effective technique in dealing with stubborn layers of paint without harming the underlying surface. You can follow these steps:

  1. Put a few drops of olive oil onto the paint and let it sit for a minute.
  2. Scrape the lubricated surface with a plastic putty knife wrapped with a rag at the end.
  3. Dampen the rag with mineral spirits and apply it to the remaining paint. If it is dripping, squeeze the excess fluid.
  4. Wipe the paint from the copper using a dry rag or terry cloth fabric in a circular motion.

Read more to discover other methods and products you can also employ to remove old paint and fully understand the removal process. 

a man is painting a metal railing with copper varnish, How To Remove Paint From Copper

How Do I Clean Copper?

Before you decide to clean the metal from the stubborn paint, you must know what type of paint has been applied and what kind of fixture you want to clean. The methods may work well for removing enamel and acrylic paints. Still, if misused, some might be too harsh, damaging the copper piece or altering its color.

Oil-based paint is the most common for copper painting because of its durability and ability to prevent the metal from tarnishing. For removing enamel paint, it is most effective to lubricate the metal with olive oils first and then put mineral spirits. Or else you will risk denting the underlying metal you want to protect.

Sanding radiator -Preparation radiator for painting

Preparation

Applying a few drops of olive oil first is essential to lubricate the underlying copper surface. The lubrication will prevent the underlying copper surface from abrasions while removing the paint. Allow it to work on for at least one minute before you start scraping.

Use A Plastic Putty Knife

A plastic putty knife is a perfect paint-removing tool for softer materials such as copper. Cover it with a rag at the wide edge and scrape the loosened paints after adding olive oil. The rag can prevent unintentional damage while picking out dirt and old paints.

Try this putty knife set on Amazon.

Mineral Spirits

Remaining stubborn paints and paints within cracks and cavities are hard to remove, so you must use mineral spirits in those areas. This paint remover is gentle for malleable metals, making it perfect for copper. 

For application, apply a small amount of mineral spirits on the areas you desire to remove the paints and let it sit for a few minutes before scraping using the wrapped knife. Repeat this process until you remove the multiple paint layers.

Another way is to put an adequate amount of mineral spirits to dampen the rag you wrapped on the putty knife. If there is too much saturation in the rag and you notice dripping, wring the excess fluid before using it on the copper. Then, you can apply the rag to the surface to remove traces of leftover old paint.

Here's a low-odor mineral spirit on Amazon.

Cleaning

After doing all the tedious work, use a terry cloth fabric to clean and wipe out the loose paint. Wiping in a circular motion will prevent your copper from developing abrasion patterns. 

Other Options

There are other methods to effectively strip off paint from copper. However, you must pay extra caution in employing these techniques as they may damage or corrode the copper material. You can remove paint either by chemical or mechanical means.

Acetone

pure acetone solution in brown glass amber bottle inside a chemistry laboratory

Acetone is an excellent paint-removing solvent for metals. But, it can be hard on copper and may alter the color or luster of the metal if used excessively. To avoid damage, do a test on a small hidden area of the surface.

Remember that acetone tends to evaporate and quickly dries when applied to metals. That is why it is better to wrap the copper piece with a plastic cover to prevent it from evaporating. Let it sit for the chemical reaction to take place for about 10 to 15 minutes to have effective results. Once done, wipe it with a soft rag in a circular motion.

Paint Thinner

The old paint brush has been used and then soaked in a clean container with a thinner can

Like acetone, paint thinner is a commonly used solvent to remove paints effectively. Excessive use can also lead to corrosion because of high chemical reactions, and you should be careful enough to apply paint thinner on the malleable metal. Simply follow these steps.

  1. Apply a generous amount of the solvent to the target area and let it sit for about half an hour.
  2. Then, wipe it with a soft cloth or a sponge.
  3. Use a wire brush or metal pads if stubborn and unreachable portions are stubborn. Since copper is sensitive to abrasion, scrub as lightly as possible or use a rag-wrapped plastic scraper to minimize scratches.

Paint Burning

For copper pipes, plumbers prefer the paint-burning method because it easily loosens the paint's adhesion on the surface of the metal. So if you intend to remove a large portion of paint, this method is convenient.

And since pipes are installed in an unsuspicious place, alteration of copper color and scratches are not an issue. You just need a blow torch and sandy strips, and then you're good to go. Be sure that you know how to use the torch safely and employ this technique.

Boiling

Boiling is the best option for small copper metal pieces, such as small decorations and utensils. Bring the water to boil with the item in it, and let it stay boiling for about 10 minutes or so until you notice the paint starting to peel off. Then, remove it to cool down, and the paint can be easily scraped or peeled off. 

You can also add baking soda or vinegar to the boiling water for better results. Make sure to use a pot not intended for cooking food because there might be poisonous residues after boiling.

Sandblasting

Sandblasting can also remove the paint but is limited to thick copper surfaces. It is the least recommended among the methods because the sand particles can cause scratches and dents on the surface of the delicate metal. You can do a follow-up light sanding to even out the metal surface if there are any nicks or abrasions.

Does Vinegar Remove Paint?

Repainting a copper metal with paint

Vinegar is slightly acidic which is why it is one of the cost-effective, natural alternative solutions to remove paint from metal objects, such as brass and copper. It is a gentle solvent that is enough to remove old paints without damaging the metal surface or any material surrounding it.

You have to heat half a cup of vinegar in a pot, or you can microwave it, but make sure not to boil it. Apply it to the paint and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes. Scrape the paint when it is already loosened.

Wrap Up

a man is painting a metal railing with copper varnish

Copper is generally used as radiator and plumbing pipes, decorative elements, and fixtures. Enamel paint is usually applied because it strongly bonds to the copper. Lubricating with olive oil first and then applying mineral spirits is the most suitable way of removing the paint from copper, considering the metal's sensitivity to scratches and dents.

You can also read these related articles.

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