Copper is a metal that comes with natural antimicrobial properties.
That’s the reason it is widely used in our kitchens, bathrooms, and water closets.
Not only you will find copper pipes in your plumbing system but the metal is also used in building copper roofs, light fixtures, wiring in your walls, and many other household electronic devices.
With that said, copper surfaces are not the same as most other materials in your home.
Especially when you are repainting them, you will need to employ a different approach along with great care to remove any old paint on these metal surfaces.
Otherwise, you risk damaging the very copper that you seek to protect.
Below, I will be discussing the exact strategies and products you can use when it comes to removing the paint from copper metal.
Hopefully, you will find the tips useful when refinishing your copper surfaces.
How to Remove Paint from Copper?
Copper is a soft metal that makes it vulnerable to pinching or denting – if you are not careful in removing the old paint.
The more aggressive you get with sanding or rubbing, the greater the chance of damaging the metal itself.
Proper lubrication will be therefore needed before you can remove the paint from the copper surface.
Lubrication will help prevent damaging the copper so the surface can be treated and repainted if desired.
As a very first step, you should hence start with using oil.
- Apply a few drops of olive oil to the paint and let it sit for about a minute.
- Next, scrape the surface with a plastic putty knife that has its sharp end wrapped with a rag.
- The rag will prevent the copper from being damaged and still pick up the old paint, dirt, and debris.
- Next, dampen the rag with mineral spirits. Be sure to wring out any excess mineral spirits before you use it on the copper.
- Now, apply the rag to the copper surface to remove any traces of the old paint.
- A terry cloth rag is perfect for taking away the rest of the paint. Be sure to wipe in circular motions to prevent patterns from developing.
Paint thinner or a lacquer thinner will also work well as an excellent enamel paint remover for copper.
- Just apply and let it sit for about a half-hour.
- You can then wipe away the paint with a cloth or sponge.
- If you find areas of paint that are stubborn, you can use a wire brush or metal pad.
However, keep in mind that unlike wood copper is a soft metal.
So, you may want to use a plastic scraper with the sharp end covered in a rag.
This will prevent it from damaging the copper pipe.
Also, make sure that you do not use much of the solvent as it corrodes the metal.
Steps for Removing the Paint from Copper Pipes and Gutters
Removing paint from flat metal surfaces is challenging.
But removing paint from copper gutters and plumbing pipes (or any other curved surfaces in your home) can be even more daunting if you do not know what to do.
A fully rounded metal pipe that needs the old paint removed and repainted can however be done if you follow the right steps as below…
Step 1- Prep
The first step is to lay out some old newspapers below the pipe.
This will catch any stripper you plan on using to remove the paint.
Step 2- Pick the Stripper
There are a variety of paint strippers you can use to remove old paint from pipes (like copper radiator pipes, drain pipes, etc).
I have recently used Nitromors for stripping the paint from a copper fire extinguisher – and it worked fine.
So, I am pretty confident that Nitromors paint remover can also work for copper pipes and gutters.
If you don’t have this paint remover available, you can use products like Lye or Trisodium phosphate.
But remember these can strippers can react with metal and can corrode them if not used correctly.
So, you will need to use them with caution.
Step 3- Coat
Using a disposable brush, coat the pipe with your preferred paint stripper.
Make sure you apply the stripper in even, light coats over the entire pipe.
Step 4- Let It Sit
Once you have applied the stripper, it needs a little time to work.
Let it sit for at least a few minutes.
The instructions on the container should tell you how long before trying to remove the paint.
Step 5- Scrape the Metal
Use a metal scraper to scrape away the paint that is now loose from the stripper.
Instead of going lengthwise where the circular nature of the pipe reduces contact with the scraper, go around the circle itself.
This may seem unusual at first, but you will get full contact with the surface of the scraper and it makes it easier to remove the old paint.
Step 6- Apply Stripper Again
Once you have removed all the paint you can from the first application, add a second coat of stripper to remove the rest.
Remember to wait a few minutes before scraping away the rest of the paint.
By the end, you should only have a few streaks and smears of paint remaining.
Step 7- Sponge & Steel Wool
Use a damp sponge that is coarse to remove any remaining traces of old paint along with the residue of the stripper.
If that does not do the job completely, put on a pair of work gloves and apply steel wool to the pipe.
This should provide enough scraping power to remove all remaining traces of the old paint.
What Other Methods You Can Use to Take Enamel Paint Off of Copper?
Many times, simply HEATING the copper metal and the paint over it will easily loosen the bond that the enamel paint has on the surface of the metal.
So, if the surface you are trying to remove is large you can use a heat gun to release the paint and scrap.
If it’s a small copper metal piece (like a utensil or a kitchen vessel) you can boil the piece for about 10 minutes in water.
After allowing the piece to cool down, you can see that the paint can be easily chipped with a scraper or a knife.
Acetone is an excellent paint-removing solvent that can eat away enamel paint from metals like copper, brass, bronze, etc.
Acetone can be hard on certain surfaces and can damage the color or the luster of copper.
So, if you are choosing this solvent for removing the old dried paint, make sure you test the small hidden area on the surface first.
Also, remember that acetone will tend to evaporate quickly when applied to the metal surface.
But for effective results, you will need to allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes.
You can fix this problem by wrapping the copper piece using a plastic cover or a wrap that will prevent the acetone from evaporating while keeping the metal wet for additional time.
Sandblasting is a paint removing method that can be used to take off the old dried paint from thick copper surfaces.
Since the sand particles can leave scratches and can damage the delicate copper metal, you should avoid trying this method on thin copper sheets.
After using this method on thick copper metal pipes if you see any nicks, scratches, or abrasion, just sand the surface lightly to make it smooth.
The Bottom Line
Enamel paint is generally used to paint copper radiator pipes, plumbing pipes, and gutters because it strongly bonds with the metal surface to reduce peeling and chipping.
However, due to the tough bond produced, removing the paint becomes hard when you want to refinish the surface.
But that does not mean it’s impossible to take the paint off of copper.
All you can do is choose the right stripper and follow the DIY steps properly to achieve the desired results.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.