How To Remove Spray Paint From Plastic (DIY Guide)

Wondering how to refurbish that plastic garden chair or lampshade but don't know where to start? Thankfully, spray paint on plastic is easier to remove than you think, and with practically no damage to the product, you'll be sprucing up in no time! 

Want to learn how to remove spray paint from plastic? Follow this guide for helpful tips and a full step-by-step guide on thinning spray paint on plastic. 

Removing spray paint from a plastic surface doesn’t need to be difficult, but carelessness and using too much force or the wrong product will cause damage. The main goal here is to be careful, approach with caution, and take it easy.  

Harsh chemicals in paint thinners will eat away at the plastic product. It will weaken, warp, and deform it, leaving you with an unusable chair or table. Avoid paint thinners with the following ingredients:  

  • Linseed oil 
  • Ethyl alcohol 
  • Lacquer thinner 
  • Turpentine - a big no no!  

Using these flammable chemicals will simply melt plastic, leaving them useless. This would especially be problematic in cases of an accidental spill on a plastic surface.  

When it comes to the removal process, what type of scrubbing method should you use?  

Plastic scratches very easily; any abrasive techniques are going to cause scratches. You’re going to want to avoid any wire brushes (brillo pads and sandpaper are an absolute no), and use as little pressure as you can.  

This might be starting to sound tough, but it’s easy! You just need to use the right tools for the job. Because of the delicate nature of the plastic surface, it’s important that we use a softer and more gentle thinner. And you can find these products in a pretty handy place - your own home.  

How To Remove Spray Paint From Plastic (DIY Guide)

What Helps Remove Spray Paint From Plastic?

As we mentioned, many of the products safe for removing spray paint on plastic are available to us in our homes.  

You’ll find some of the best in your bathroom cupboard or makeup bag. Below is a list of what can be used to thin the paint: 

  • Nail polish remover - gentle at removing paint and won’t cause any damage. 
  • Vegetable oils - olive, vegetable, or rapeseed oils are effective at removing and breaking down paint on a plastic surface.  
  • Dish soap - the oils and chemical qualities in dish soap are milder and give you a less harsh thinner for the paint.  
  • Rubbing alcohol - a common cleaner for households, the alcohol content is less in rubbing alcohol and will break down the paint well.  

The most effective tinner here is really dependent on how dry and/or thick the paint is. Latex paints are notoriously easier to break down because of their water bases—acrylic you might find more complicated as they have an oil base. Vegetable oils may not work in your favor here.  

Before you start using any substitute thinners on the paint surface, you will need to scrape any excess or peeling paint from the surface. Plastic will be damaged by a standard paint scraper, and you’ll want to use something less abrasive. Use a plastic putty knife or a razor blade as a scraper. A food knife from your kitchen drawer may also be effective here.  

vegetable oil

How To Remove Spray Paint From Plastic (Guide For Various Items) 

The methods for removing spray paint plastic objects will be the same across the board. So whether you want to know how to remove spray paint from plastic models or how to remove spray paint from plastic car parts, this guide is for you.  

We’ve got the tools ready for the job, but how exactly are we going to use them? Each thinner has its own technique to make sure the plastic remains undamaged. Below is a guide for each method and the best way to keep your plastic items damage-free. How to remove spray paint from hard plastic? Read on.  

Nail Polish Remover 

Make sure it contains acetone, the main ingredient that liquefies paint. This method is better for mishaps, for example, if some spray paint goes astray.  

  • 1
    Use a cotton bud, swab, or paper towel and dampen with remover. Use a generous amount if the affected area is larger. 
  • 2
    Rub the remover onto the plastic surface. Be sure to use a little elbow grease, to make sure the acetone works its way into the paint. 
  • 3
    By now, you’ll notice the paint loosening. Replace the paper towel/cotton buds as needed, and keep working until the paint is gone.  
  • 4
    Clean the area with warm water and a rag. The paint should have cleared away and left you with a clean plastic surface! 

Vegetable Oils 

This method won’t work well with acrylic paints, and you’ll find it better with latex. It would also work better for a smaller plastic surface, like if your TV stand or faucet were made of plastic.  

Be sure to wear non-porous gloves while using this technique so your hands don't get covered in oil.  

  • 1
    Combine olive, vegetable, and baby oil into a bowl. 
  • 2
    Take an old rag, paper towel, or cotton bud and dip it into the oil. Use to rub a generous amount into the affected area. 
  • 3
    Wait 5 minutes, or possibly longer if it’s a particularly stubborn stain/older paint. The oil will be breaking down the paint and loosen it off the surface. 
  • 4
    Take a plastic knife or razor blade and begin scraping the surface. Do not use a scraper; this is going to damage the plastic.  
  • 5
    If the paint remains after scraping, reapply as necessary. It should be easier to remove after the second time.  
  • 6
    Clean the plastic surface with warm water and leave it to dry. Your surface should be paint-free and ready to spray if that is your goal.  

Vegetable oils should work better for bigger surfaces but will require extra muscle power to thoroughly remove the paint.  

Dish Soap 

This may seem redundant, but you’d be surprised how easily dish soap cleans off spray paint! The soap is designed, by its very nature, to work through tough grease stains and paint will break down the same.  

  • 1
    Combine 1 gallon of hot water and 3 tsp/squeezes of liquid dish soap into a large bucket. You may add lavender or peppermint essential oils, too. They will give a disinfecting quality to the mixture.  
  • 2
    Using a sponge, spread the water onto the plastic surface generously. You should scrub it with a good amount of force to make sure the paint really starts to break down. 
  • 3
    Use a clean rag to wipe away. If you have access to either, you should opt for a garden hose or pressure washer to help remove it. 
  • 4
    Repeat as necessary. You may need to reapply the dish soap several times before it fully clears away.

You'll find this method more effective on bigger surfaces, and it will require you to scrub. Make sure you wipe away any old soap before reapplying.  

Rubbing Alcohol 

This one works best for a smaller area that’s been affected by loose spray paint. Make sure you use at least 91-99% rubbing alcohol. It also should be isopropyl, which won’t affect the surface.  

The steps for this method are similar to the nail polish remover but with a few adjustments. Don't use cotton buds or swabs for this, as the alcohol will seep onto your hands and is hard to remove.  

  • 1
    Use a cloth to dampen with rubbing alcohol and apply it to the paint surface. Or you can pour directly onto the surface if you prefer, but it could spill over into other areas you don’t want it to.  
  • 2
    Wait 5 minutes to allow the alcohol to soak in.  
  • 3
    Remove with warm water and/or a cloth if you desire. You can then use a plastic knife or razor to scrape off the excess. 
spray paint

FAQs 

How long does it take to remove spray paint from plastic? 

Depending on the method you’re using, it can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to remove spray paint from plastic. Some methods may work faster than others, and if the paint is particularly old and dry, it can take longer.  


Will paint thinner destroy plastic? 

Yes. The chemicals in paint thinner will attack and break down the plastic surface, resulting in warping, damage, and splits. Avoid using paint thinner on plastic.  


Does WD-40 remove spray paint from plastic?  

Yes! It would work as well as the oils and may be more effective on older paints. Avoid WD-40 on polycarbonate and clear polystyrene plastic, because it will damage and eat away at the surface.  


Conclusion

Whether you're clearing away a mishap or you're looking to spruce up some plastic furniture, you can go into your DIY, knowing it'll be easier than ever to clear old paint away! Plastic is a delicate surface, and you need to treat it with care. Using the methods above, you'll find your plastic surfaces rejuvenated and ready to go. Good luck! 


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