How to Remove Car Paint

A fresh coat of paint on your vehicle is only as good as the paint layer beneath it. Whether you need to prevent more rust damage, cover an unsightly blemish, or completely re-paint your car, the first step in any car paint maintenance is to remove the old paint. It might sound like a complicated process, but much like painting your own vehicle, the process of removing old paint and rust is quite simple with the right tools and work space.

There are three common vehicle paint-removal methods available, and depending on the surface area needing to be repainted, all relatively simple.

Here are the three methods of how to remove car paint we will explain:

  • Sanding
  • Chemical stripping
  • Sand-blasting

Sand-blasting will require a bit more equipment than sanding or chemical stripping, but will work well for larger surface areas. Sanding or using a paint/rust stripper brush works well for small rust spots or blemishes, and chemical stripping is a great inbetween method for slightly larger areas. The best method for you will depend on the size and scope of your project, and the desired result.

Initial Steps - Tools and Workspace

As with any vehicle paint project, make sure you're working in a well-ventilated area that is clean and free of debris or dust. A covered space is ideal, but if the weather looks good for the next few days, a spot outside away from trees also works well. Assemble your tools and safety implements beforehand -- you should always have at least a dust mask, gloves, and a respirator will provide even more safety when it comes to stripping paint chemically.

If you're reapplying the same paint color over a blemished patch, determine the type of paint, and then have your paint color matched at an auto paint shop. Also remember you'll need a topcoat for finishing and sealing. If you're going to be painting the entire vehicle, determine how much paint and topcoat you're going to need and assemble those.

Always thoroughly wash your car and allow it to dry completely before beginning any paint removal.

Removing Paint From Your Car - Sanding

Paint Removal - Sanding

Sanding away the old paint is a perfect paint-removal method for vehicles that don't have multiple paint layers. This method also works well for removing rust or small blemishes as it doesn't require a massive amount of equipment or paint to complete the job. Always remember when removing rust spots that after sanding away the rust, you'll need to treat the area to prevent it from spreading.

Sanding Process

Make sure you have a dust mask and gloves before beginning, and are working in a well-ventilated area. Using 220-grit sandpaper, sand the area you wish to repaint until all the paint has been removed. Wipe the surface clean, and finish sanding with 400-grit until the area is completely smooth. Wipe the surface clean again to ensure no residue is left behind, and wash and allow your vehicle to dry before continuing with any painting or sealing.

Tip: Sanding by hand will work well, but having a dual-action sander will be more time-efficient. There are multiple types of sanders available that will also get the job done, but dual-action sanders tend to be the best. To prevent dents or gouging the surface, keep the DA sander flat against the surface at all times. Don't use heavy-duty grinders, as these are powerful enough to actually strip away the sheet metal and damage the vehicle further.

Stripping Car Paint

Chemical Paint Stripping

Using a chemical stripper to remove vehicle paint might seem a little more time consuming initially, but works well when you need to repaint a larger surface area and will save you time in the end. The amount of chemical stripper you'll need will vary on the surface area of the vehicle needing repainting, so make sure you've bought enough.

As with the sanding method, start with a clean and completely dry vehicle. Remove any fixtures or rubber trim surrounding the area needing to be repainted so that the chemical stripper doesn't damage them. Tape or cover any windows as needed, and assemble your materials -- you'll need chemical stripper (available online or at auto shops), a foam brush or a rag, and a putty knife. When stripping car paint, always wear a ventilator and heavy-duty gloves, and make sure you're wearing thick clothing -- long sleeves and pants with heavy boots are a good idea.

Chemical Stripping Process:

Pour or brush the chemical stripper on the surface area needing to be repainted, and let it sit for the amount of time recommended by the package instructions. Once the amount of time has elapsed, test a small area with a putty knife. If the paint still does not come off easily, let it sit a bit longer or brush with more stripper. Once ready, scrape the entire area clean of paint with the putty knife. If needed, apply a second coat and scrape again. Once the paint has been removed, rinse the area with water and let it dry.

Using a coarse-grit sandpaper, remove any residual paint, and then switch to fine-grit sandpaper until the surface is completely smooth. Wipe or rinse the area clean and let dry completely before moving forward with any painting.

Tip: When using a chemical agent to remove paint from a vehicle, NEVER do so in an enclosed space, even while wearing a respirator. Make sure you are outdoors or in a space with lots of airflow.

Sand-Blasting Paint From Your Car


Sand-blasting is also a great method for removing car paint, but one that requires a few more tools and a larger workspace. This method tends to work well for vehicles that require repainting of a very large area or even the entire body. You will need a compressor and a compatible blasting nozzle. The type of nozzle will vary on the horsepower of the compressor, so make sure to research which size you'll need.

When choosing sand-blasting media, there are several different types and sizes available. The most common media types will be plastic or sand, and a good size range is anything from size 40 to size 12.

Once you're ready to begin, assemble your compressor and other blasting supplies. You'll need to wear a heavy shirt with long sleeves, a sand-blasting hood, a respirator, and heavy gloves, and always make sure you're working in an open or well-ventilated area. If you chose a plastic blasting media, cover ALL of the exposed glass, chrome, and trim on your vehicle to avoid damage. If you chose a sand blasting medium, remove all glass, trim, and chrome. If you'd like, you can cover any sensitive areas with a thick material, but test it first to ensure you won't blast right through it and damage your car.

Blasting Process

Add your blasting medium to the compressor, and adjust the pressure according to the type and size of blasting medium. Working in smooth, steady motions, blast the vehicle to remove paint, and continue until paint has been removed.

Tip: When blasting, make sure not to linger too long over a specific area to avoid damaging the metal. Blasting in a certain area too long with a harsh medium can warp the metal.

Once you've removed all of the paint from the entire vehicle or a specific area, you can now proceed with any further improvements. Visit our resources section for more info on auto painting, and shop our paint removal supplies online.

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