Back when we first purchased our house, one of my first projects was to strip several decades of paint from a door. I did what most people unfortunately do in that situation, I went to my local big box store and bought a can of typical methylene chloride paint stripper. I observed what I thought were proper precautions: long sleeves, thick gloves, eye protection and a respirator. I kinda admit it seemed like overkill at the time, until I noticed some pain on my arm. That pain turned out to be my burning flesh. It seems a drop of stripper snuck past my long leaves and decided my skin was just as suitable to dissolve as old paint. That was the last time I used methylene chloride, and I vowed to find a slightly less flesh-consuming option in the future.
If you do a quick google search for methylene chloride or check out the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) on your favorite mainstream paint stripper, you’ll find a fairly unappealing list of topics like cancer, blindness, respiratory damage, and Spontaneous Thermonuclear Incineration. Being a bit shy when it comes to those things (especially SNI), I embarked on several misadventures with “green” and “eco-friendly” (non flesh-eating) paint strippers. Most of them worked, but not particularly well. What might take a methylene chloride stripper five minutes tended to take the friendlier paint strippers multiple applications over several days. Yes, I said days. Considering I find paint stripping to be one of the most mind-numbing, tedious and vile home improvement projects, those products simply were not acceptable.
Ultimately, I stumbled across Franmar Soy Gel paint remover, a biodegradable product made from 100% American Grown soybeans in Bloomington, Illinois. That’s right, soybeans! Makes you think twice about ordering up that Edamame appetizer, doesn’t it? I have purchased several bottles of SoyGel over the years, and Franmar also sent me a bottle after I met up with them at the National Hardware Show earlier this year. After refining my technique over several projects, I’m happy to report it’s the best green paint stripper alternative I’ve found to date.
While I wouldn’t recommend drinking it or taking a bath in it, it’s seems considerably less noxious and hazardous to work with than Methylene Chloride. If you like to read up on that kind of thing, you can find Franmar Soy Gel’s Material Safety Data Sheet here. Despite being friendlier (and despite what they show in their videos), they recommend avoiding skin and eye contact, and recommend safety goggles to prevent the latter. At least that’s what they say in the MSDS. I’ve found having good ventilation while working around Soy Gel is also prudent. My vision became a little blurry when working with Soy Gel in a very enclosed, unventilated space (I know, great idea). I took that as a cue that ventilation is a good idea. Plus, despite the fumes relatively mild smell, I prefer avoiding fumes as much as possible.
Maximizing the effectiveness of SoyGel paint remover has taken a little effort. If you’re used to working with Methylene Chloride, you’ll need to plan ahead a bit, and understand SoyGel isn’t quite as powerful. I found the following three secrets to SoyGel application help my paint stripping projects go a lot more smoothly:
Lay It On Thick
Don’t treat this as a painting project where you daintily brush on a thin layer of SoyGel. I use a cheap and disposable chip brush and absolutely glop it on. Think Joan Rivers makeup application here. You want a nice, thick, uniform layer of stripper on whatever you’re wanting removed from your precious wood.
Wrap It Up
The worst enemy to your paint remover is drying out. No matter how thick you put it on, SoyGel will dry out, especially if you’re doing this outdoors or in a well ventilated space (something we recommend earlier in the article). I used plastic sheeting (cut to fully cover whatever area I have slathered SoyGel on). If the sheeting isn’t super thick you can actually press it onto the SoyGel and it will even stay in place on vertical or upside down surfaces (the thicker/heavier the plastic, the more likely it is to pull away from the SoyGel stripper).
Let the Stripper Do the Work
Oh, if only I had a dollar for every time I have uttered that phrase. It’s really a great strategy to live by. Of course, what I mean here is to apply the stripper, apply the plastic and then let it all percolate, preferably overnight. If you have a single thin layer of paint, you can definitely get away with less time (as little as a half hour). However, if you have multiple layers of paint, you’ll want around 12 to 24 hours. Whatever the thickness of paint, you’ll almost immediately begin to see the paint bubbling away from the surface. Very impressive for something that won’t instantly dissolve a limb. I sometimes do a second application the same way for particularly thick or stubborn layers of paint.
Don’t get me wrong, paint stripping with SoyGel is still an absolutely tedious, messy and hellish task, but hopefully you’ll make it through your project with all your skin and sans cancer. You’ll want to make sure you carefully protect all nearby surfaces. I also recommend wearing disposable shoe covers if you’re doing a larger project where you’ll be getting stripper on the floor (which is inevitable if you’re stripping something like a door jamb). You’ll also want to follow lead-safe practices if you’re dealing with lead paint. If you’re not sure if the paint is lead based, there are several lead paint test kits on the market. I also recommend investing in a high quality paint stripping tool or two. . . quality, sharp blades make a huge difference. Franmar has a handy Tech Sheet with more details on Soy Gel. The product was also featured on an exceptionally cheesy Designing Spaces episode in the video below:
I take slight issue with a couple things in the video: paint removal is seriously messy. I highly recommend gloves and a very big plastic sheet. If you use a little square sheet of plastic like they do in the video, you’ll probably accidentally strip some finish off your hardwood floor (been there, done that). Also, the video says repeatedly “no odor” which I would respectfully correct to “low odor.” Working indoors I definitely smelled the product, but it wasn’t bad or stupor-inducing. While the Franmar rep in the video boldly squirted some Soy Gel into her bare hand, I personally err on the side of caution with any product that can make paint bubble. I vote for gloves to protect your skin and a brush to glop the Soy Gel on with. Just like you should at any bachelor or bachelorette party, remember to follow safe stripping practices!
You can find Soy Gel in various sizes ranging from handy quart size to “you have way too much paint to remove” five gallon size. Prices for Soy-Gel Paint Remover start at around $20 at Amazon: