Why Paint Strippers Often Fail


Have you had problems with paint stripper? If so, you’re not alone. People are having all sorts of issues with paint removing products, through no fault of their own. So we thought it’d be useful to look at why they don’t always work, and why household name paint stripping brands that once had such a good reputation for varnish and paint removal now don’t.

Paint stripping woes – What’s going on and how to get it right

Mix a fast-changing technological and product development landscape with restrictions on the use of some of the most effective paint stripping chemicals and there’s trouble. What’s been going on?

Changes in EU regulations for paint removal products

First and foremost, changing EU regulations now mean several specific chemicals have been banned in paint strippers, making them less effective.

Both the marketing and use of products based on dichloromethane (DCM) have been restricted under REACH regulations, a restriction that mainly affects DCM-based paint strippers. The restrictions apply to the public as well as professionals, and the two year plan was completed in late 2012. If you’d like to explore the technical details, you’ll find them here: About REACH.

Advanced paint technologies

Not so long ago, you just bought bog standard paint or varnish. There wasn’t a huge choice. Now there’s a bewildering array of paints and varnishes, some designed to tackle very demanding environments, for example spectacularly rugged outdoor paints, cement-based products and two-pack epoxy coatings.

Because every manufacturer also formulates their products slightly differently, it’s a real challenge to create an effective generic paint stripper that removes every type of paint.

  • Some cement-based paints used outdoors, hard enamels and 2 pack epoxy coatings are often difficult to remove.
  • Some paints containing special plasticisers can also be difficult to remove, but it depends on the type of paint and the manufacturer.

As you can imagine, things can get pretty confusing. So how do you make the most of the product you’ve bought?

Best paint stripping advice – 5 tips direct from the experts

Unless you’re 100% certain the paint stripper you’ve bought will remove a particular paint properly, it’s a good idea to carry out a careful test first. Here’s how to make the best possible job of it and give the product the best chance of doing its stuff.

  1. Always follow the instructions on the tin. Wear protective gloves, goggles and clothing whenever you use paint and varnish removers.
  2. Don’t skimp on the amount of paint remover. Apply a generous amount. If it doesn’t do the job in one hit, you can always give it a second go.
  3. Apply the stripping product with a brush then, after the recommended waiting time, remove it with coarse steel wool. This will help you cut into and remove the paint from the surface of the wood.
  4. Scrapers are also popular tools for removing  the product from the wood’s surface. While they don’t scarify the surface in the same way as steel wool, they’re an excellent way to remove the product cleanly and efficiently. Try using a scraper to get the remainder of the product off the surface after using the steel wool.
  5. If the paint stripper removes several coats of paint but not all of them, you might need a product to tackle the deeper layers, especially if they’re a different type of paint, for example lead-based.

Recommended products for stripping paint from wood

We’re in an excellent position to provide sensible advice, since we get a lot of real-life feedback from our customers. So which paint stripping products work best under what circumstances?

About Barrettine Paint Panther

We’ve had plenty of positive customer feedback about Barrettine Paint Panther, a remarkably hard-working traditional paint removal system.

Barretine Paint Panther

Paint Panther is a very effective paint and varnish stripper that removes as many as six paint layers in just five minutes, remarkably fast. You can use it on a wide variety of wood finishing products including water, oil and solvent-based paints, varnishes and lacquers.

Because it’s a gel, nice and thick, it’s the perfect consistency for vertical surfaces and awkward areas. In our opinion, and our customers’, it’s probably one of the best wood strippers and paint removers on the market.

We’ve provided comprehensive instructions about how to use the product on the product page itself. Just click the link above and scroll down to the ‘Overview’ section.

About Peelaway Paint Removal systems

The PeelAway Paint Removal System also comes highly recommended. There are two versions, one designed to remove older paints and another for newer types of paint. PeelAway paint removers are poultice-based. This means you apply a layer of paste about a centimetre thick to the entire surface, cover it with the special blanket and leave it for anywhere between 24 and 48 hours before removing it.

How do you use PeelAway products correctly? Here’s how…

First, buy the right product…

PeelAway 1 is perfect for older oil and lead-based coatings dating back to before 1972. You should never use Peelaway 1 to strip paint from aluminium, veneer or plywood, and it can also discolour some hardwoods, for example Mahogany and Oak. Use PeelAway 7 instead.

If you’re really not sure what kind of paint you’re dealing with, you can buy a handy sample test pack containing PeelAway 1 and 7 so you can trial both types.

Second, use it exactly as instructed…

There’s no way around it. You can only expect the best paint removal results when you do a proper job. We’ve written detailed instructions about how to use each PeelAway system on the product page. Again, follow the links above and scroll down to the ‘Overview’ section.

There’s also some excellent video’s showing you how to use PeelAway:

And another video about how to use PeelAway 7:

Still need help with a paint stripping product or project?

We have a page that details all of the paint strippers and removers we recommend. If you’re still unsure of which varnish remover or paint stripper to choose, our friendly, expert staff are perfectly qualified to talk you through your problems and answer any questions you may have. Feel free to get in touch.


  1. Hi
    I am trying to renovate some old exterior painted oak beams in a French farmhouse built 200 years ago. I’ve tried to remove the old paint with a heat gun (no joy) and also some old Diall (b and Q) paint remover but it also seems to have no effect. I guess the paint is very old. I assume it is paint. It appears to have a white ‘undercoating’ which again I assume is a form of paint. Any suggestions other than sand blasting or using a wire brush on a drill (tried this but it would take weeks to get it all off as it really stuggles to make an inroad into the paint and suspect the paint is probably leaded and the dust a danger to health. Thanks Dave

    • Hi David,

      Using a chemical stripper is indeed a better option to sanding or using a drill and wire brush because of the reason you pointed out, about the paint being very old and potential containing lead. Unfortunately, because paint formulations vary so much and especially so down through the ages, there is no single product that is guaranteed to remove all paints and varnishes. There are however 2 products that you could try. They both come in a sample or small tin size so can be tried to see if they are effective on the paint that you are trying to remove.

      Barrettine Paint Panther is a popular product with our customers and we have had good reports of this working where other paint removers have failed. Another option is a product called peelaway 1. this is a poultice system that is applied to the paint, covered over with a special blanket (supplied), left for up to 24 hours and then peeled off. This product can be effective at removing up to 30 layers of paint in one go and is especially formulated to tackle older paint formulas. One word of caution with this product is that it is caustic-based and can discolour certain hardwoods such as oak and mahogany. For this reason, doing a test area is essential.

      I hope the above helps but if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us and speak with one of our in-house experts.

      Kind regards,


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