What Makes Up Paint Stripper?

A look at the chemicals used in paint stripper

Paint Stripper chemical. Image by LannaOrchid (via Shutterstock).
A pot of lacquer: the next stage after using paint stripper. Image by LannaOrchid (via Shutterstock).

Paint stripper is made up of a collection of chemicals. One of them, no longer used in EU Member States is carcinogenic. There are two main types of paint stripper varieties:

  • Caustics;
  • Solvents.


Caustic paint stripper is made up of sodium hydroxide. It is an inorganic compound with a white solid and highly caustic metallic base. Its alkali base is made up of sodium. This solution works by breaking down the chemical bonds. It is a popular form of stripping agent among antiques dealers, where it is used to strip off worn varnishes.


Solvent-based strippers are commonplace. Historically, Dichloromethane (also known as DCM or Methylene Chloride) was used, but it has been regarded as a health risk. The chemical is regarded as carcinogenic leading to respiratory problems, and possibly death. It has been banned in EU Member States and has yet to be banned in the USA (despite numerous campaigns to ban DCM chemicals).

As well as DCM, other formulations include Orange Oil. This is also known as Limonene, classified as a cyclic terpene. Also commonly used is N-Methylpyrroldone which is a colourless liquid and dibasic esters. Other solvents include:

  • Dimethylformamide: an organic and odourless compound;
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide: an organosulfur compound. This is a colourless liquid with a high melting point;
  • Nitromethane: the simplest organic nitro compound.

Alternatives to Paint Stripper

As seen in one of our previous posts, there are viable alternatives which do not require chemicals. Laser paint stripping tools are a recent alternative. At present, they are only available on a business-to-business basis (so it will be aeons till Argos or Homebase start selling them). We think non-chemical-based paint strippers could be the future, again if the technology is safe and, most importantly, if the price is right.

Premium Door Stripping, 23 February 2017.

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