Can You Use Laser to Remove Rust and Paint from Metal?

laser to remove rust and paint

The laser has been used in various types of industries for varied industrial applications.

And paint industry is not an exception.

Think of your old garden furniture, a pole, a metal statue, a metal pipe, or a car that is heavily rusted.

You may not be touching them for years, thinking that, you can damage the surface if you try to clear out the old paint or rust on them.  

But not anymore, there are sophisticated methods like laser removal that can help.

Laser rust and paint removal is a process to clean up the metal parts for refinishing the surfaces.

Believe it or not, laser removal can help you blast rust and paint off the surface without making damage to the substrate.

Depending on the size of the project you are handling this can be done in a matter of a few minutes to several hours.

All you need is the help of an experienced professional who can do that for you using a handheld laser paint removal machine.


Why Laser Cleaning?


Commercial laser systems are typically designed to remove rusted paint from large-sized steel and aluminum structures (such as bridges, ships, power transmission towers, vehicles, and more).

The process of laser being highly technological can be used for cleaning up weather topcoat finishes.

The metal or wood surface can then be easily refinished with newer coatings over layers of base coats.

The process is so beneficial that it is today also being used by several contractors while renovating the homes for accomplishing tasks like heavy rust removal, paint stripping, varnish coat removal, grease removal, and de-coating of metals.

Not only these but the powerful laser cleaning can also be used safely for a variety of other household applications (like mold cleaning, surface preparation, etc) on a number of different surfaces.

How does Laser Process Work?

The laser paint removal process generally involves the usage of a laser beam machine which is pulsed directly onto the wood or metal surface with a specific energy density.  

The energy density is usually kept higher than the paint ablation threshold.

But it’s lower than the actual substrate ablation threshold on which it’s used.

In the process, the laser energy is repeatedly pulsed in short pulses at a pre-set rate.  

The shockwaves generated due to the high pulse rate laser is so intense that it makes the coatings remove the metal surface fast.


Pros and Cons of Laser Ablation Paint Removal


One of the best benefits offered by the laser rust and paint cleaning process is it’s eco-friendly and precise.

Chemical processes, which would otherwise be used for similar projects are not only damaging to the environment but also imprecise.

This simply means that you cannot use these chemical stripping methods for tasks that require precision and high accuracy.

Using a laser paint stripping method is a way to go also due to the following few reasons:

  • Safer workplace
  • Non-contact cleaning method
  • Does not need any manual labor
  • Leaves behind no contaminants while working
  • Very little maintenance required which means low costing for industries
  • Pulsed fiber lasers consume very low power compared to other similar methods

What makes a handheld vacuum-like laser device even more intriguing is the fact that it comes with a vacuum system that can easily suck up the vaporized paint, dust, rust, or other contaminants; making the process clean and mess-free.

The only drawback of using laser paint and rust removal for household applications is its high cost.

Since the laser paint removal tools cost expensive (even the cheapest one can cost thousands of dollars), the process of hiring a professional and getting the job done can be expensive too.


How to Choose the Right Laser Cleaning Machine?


Although expensive for DIYers and household applications, high-power laser metal cleaners are found very useful in countless industries not only for paint and rust removal but for various other projects.

At present some of the most common industrial laser cleaning applications include:

  • Surface preparation for better paint adhesion
  • Removing laser oxide from alloy ingots
  • Cleaning tire molds by removing burnt rubber
  • Cleaning old pipes in nuclear power plants
  • For coating removal during pre and post welding treatments
  • Removing paint and contaminants from larger structures such as rusty bridges

If you are planning to buy one, and need to select the best laser rust and paint removal machine, there are few important factors you need to look for.

Some of these include:

1- Power

Laser rust and paint remover machines come in varied sizes and power.

The power of the laser machine you need to choose for your industry will usually depend on the material you want to clean.

And also, on the amount of paint, rust, or dirt that has been accumulated on the surface.

Obviously, the higher power you choose the increased speed you will get for removing the rust, grease, and other grime.

So, depending on your specific requirements you choose from:

  • Low power laser cleaners: Low-cost machines with power range from 20W to 100W
  • Medium power cleaners: High heat producing machines with power range from 150W to 300W
  • High power laser cleaners: Heavy-duty expensive machines with power range from 350W to 2000 W

Keep in mind that with increased power, the heat produced from the laser cleaner equipment also increases.

You will require an effective cooling mechanism in place with the laser machine.

When buying these high-power machines it’s therefore important to check that the machine you choose comes with a proper cooling mechanism without which your cleaning project may set back and delay.

2- Mobility

The portability of the machine is also an important factor you need to consider when buying laser machines for your business.

There are laser cleaning machines available in a handheld portable format. These are highly mobile, small, and lightweight.

Some of these compact machines can even fit into your suitcase which makes them ideal for cleaning projects that are away from your business.

Then there is a fixed machine system with conveyor belt and cabinet system machines that comes with an enclosure for a staff member to operate.

These machines are stable and are much more efficient to produce accurate cleaning results.

3- Price and Budget

The cost of the machine also plays an important role in the selection of the best laser rust remover.

Depending on the size, power, technology, brand, and few other factors you may need to invest anywhere from $5,000 to -$10,000.

There are also manufacturers who build customized machines based on the requirement of the industry. These advanced machines can range more than that.

The price of such machines will be finalized once the exact specifications and requirements of the business are known.

rust and paint removal methods

Alternative Methods for Rust Stain Removal from Wood and Metal


Using laser rust removal equipment is not always feasible for homeowners, especially when you are trying to remove the rust stains from painted surfaces indoors or outdoors.

Using household products for rust stain removal can instead help in preventing the painted surface from getting ruined

So, if you are dealing with DIY projects and during the process, you need to clean your wood or metal surfaces without damaging the paint, here are few alternative products and remedies you can try…

  • Using sandpaper
  • Rubbing potato and dish soap
  • Scrub using baking soda and water
  • Applying eco-friendly rust remover product like WD-40
  • Scrub the rusted area with a wire brush and detergent

The Conclusion

Rust, paint, varnishes, and various other contaminants can be hard to remove, especially when thick layers have been deposited one over another for a long time.

Although expensive, using a high-intensity laser beam can be a game-changer.

Especially for professionals like plasma cutters, MIG welders, automotive manufacturers, auto mechanics, scrapers, etc, techniques like pulsed lasers for paint removal can be a real-time savior.

If you are really worried about damaging the base metal while crimping off the residue, laser paint and rust removal are well worth your efforts and money.

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