Brake fluid can serve as an acceptable alternative to paint stripper for removing paint from small metal or plastic objects. Brake fluid is commonly used in the wargaming and modelling community by modelers looking to remove an old paint job in preparation for a new one. The fluid, left in contact with the model for an extended time period, loosens the paint, breaking down the adhesion between the paint and the model. It's a process that works well for lead and lead-free metal alloys, but care should be taken with plastic models as the fluid can cause softening in some plastic types.
Pour the brake fluid into a glass jar that's large enough to hold the item you're stripping while submerged in the liquid.
Wash the surface of the object with mild liquid soap and warm water to remove any dirt, debris or chemicals from the item. Rinse thoroughly in running water and then pat the object dry with a paper towel.
Submerge the item within the fluid in the jar. Place the cap on the jar. Leave the item in the jar for up to 48 hours. Check the paint adhesion on the item after 12 hours to determine if the paint has pulled away from the object. You can use a wooden stir stick to perform the check by scraping the edge of the object with the stick to see if the paint flakes away, if so, then remove the object from the fluid. If not, leave in place for an additional soaking period. Check again after 12 more hours. If the paint still sticks but bubbles slightly from the object, check after six hours instead of 12.
Place a pair of rubber gloves on your hands for protection from the liquid. Pull the object from the jar when the paint easily flakes from the object.
Fill a small bowl with liquid soap. Dip the bristles of a toothbrush into the soap and then use the brush to scrub away the loosened paint from the object. Scrape paint from hard to reach areas using the tip of a wooden toothpick.
Rinse the fluid residue from the object with cold water. Submerge the object back in the fluid if paint remains for an additional 12 hours and repeat the scrubbing afterward. Dispose of the brake fluid according to waste disposal regulations for your area.
Test the brake fluid on plastic objects before submersion by brushing the fluid onto a small section of the plastic and allowing it to sit for two hours. Wipe the fluid off with a paper towel and examine the towel for signs of plastic coming away with the fluid, and check the plastic for softening due to the fluid. If either occurs, do not use the fluid to remove the paint.
Tips and warnings
- Test the brake fluid on plastic objects before submersion by brushing the fluid onto a small section of the plastic and allowing it to sit for two hours. Wipe the fluid off with a paper towel and examine the towel for signs of plastic coming away with the fluid, and check the plastic for softening due to the fluid. If either occurs, do not use the fluid to remove the paint.