While removing paint from metal, wood, and ceramics are fairly straightforward, plastics are another matter.
This is because the solvents used to dissolve the paints will also dissolve plastics as well.
This is due to the fact that many solvents are made from petroleum products which are highly effective at dissolving products made from petroleum such as plastics.
So, how do you safely remove paint from plastics, PVC, or vinyl?
3 Ways to Remove Oil Paint from Plastic
Whether you have small plastic models, molded furniture, car parts, or toys, removing paint from the plastic can be tricky.
Oil-based paint is especially difficult to remove since it is designed to adhere to surfaces strongly.
What follows is a three-step process that will allow you to get rid of the paint without harming the plastic furniture or acrylic sheets.
1- Nail Polish Remover
An effective paint remover, nail polish is pretty popular when it comes to removing paint from plastics without getting them scratched.
It is not surprising that it is effective and safe since it is used to remove the paint used to decorate fingernails.
When using nail polish removers remember that you do not use any kind of colored products (instead use a normal acetone-based product) as it may stain the plastic material.
You should apply the nail polish gradually to the paint and then start to remove it using paper towels or an old rag.
You’ll want to work in a well-ventilated area as most nail polish removers carry a strong odor. Plus, they are designed to be used in small areas such as fingernails.
If you want to remove spray paint from a larger area, then you should open the windows and turn on a fan to circulate the air.
If you can, do the work in the garage with the garage door open.
2- Use Vegetable Oil
While vegetable oil is not as effective compared to petroleum-based solvents, it does loosen the paint from the surface without damaging the plastic.
You should use a paper towel or cloth to apply and rub the oil as it removes the paint from the surface.
Keep in mind that vegetable oil will only loosen the paint at best depending on the material it is made of.
A little elbow grease along with generous applications of the oil may completely remove the paint.
If the plastic in question is small enough, you may want to soak part or all of it in vegetable oil for a few minutes up to an hour which will help start the process.
3- Scrape the Oil Paint
You will need to use the right type of scraper to remove the paint without damaging the plastic.
There are putty knives that are made for scraping paint from plastic or you can use a razor blade.
Be careful not to apply too much pressure or you will damage the plastic itself. This is especially true if you are using a razor blade.
Try to scrape gently and only bear down when you are dealing with thick paint that is really tough.
However, keep in mind that it is easy to lose control of a razor blade. And even the smallest mistake can cut into the vinyl without your notice.
So, you’ll want to be really careful when removing the specks of paint in this manner.
You may combine a couple of methods by scraping the paint that has nail polish remover or vegetable oil on it.
That may remove the paint at a faster rate.
Can You Remove Paint from PVC Using Water and Soap?
No matter if the oil paint gets on the surface deliberately or accidentally it can be hard to remove it after a certain time period of drying.
Unless it is water-based latex paint or emulsion paint it is very difficult to remove the paint from surfaces like your PVC window frames, doors, tables, chairs, toys, paint buckets, pipes, or other plastic-made household items.
If you just want to use warm water, soap, or detergent, I fear you will hardly get success with removing oil paints.
However, if it’s water-based paint on uPVC window frames or baseboard you can try to wipe clean the paint using a sponge and warm soapy water in a bucket.
Alternatively, solutions such as denatured alcohol and Ammonia solution can also be used for acrylic paint removal (and not oil-based paint) from plastic.
Make sure that you do not use an excess of chemical solvents (like amyl acetate) for plastic paint removal as it may cause the plastic to melt down.
Also, if you are cleaning plastic parts of any kind of electronic appliance, ensure that you unplug them before to avoid any electrical mishap.
Should You Remove Paint Smears on Vinyl with Sandpaper?
Yes, you should use fine-grit sandpaper if you want to clear the small paint smears and paint sprayer specks on vinyl or PVC plastic surfaces.
Smears usually happen when you accidentally drip the paint and rub it against the surface by chance.
It’s good to wipe off the paint (lacquer or varnish) immediately as soon as you notice it.
However, if the paint is already dried you can use sandpaper to clean the surface gently.
Remember that using sandpaper may dull the vinyl surface such as your vinyl window frame.
So, if it’s really important to keep the shine, you should try other alternative methods.
Can You Use Paint Thinner on Plastic for Paint Removal?
Storing or putting paint thinner in a plastic cup, bottle or container isn’t recommended.
But you can safely clean or remove the paint from certain plastic materials using a paint thinner.
Usually, mineral spirits and thinners will not attack plastic, unless it’s a soft plastic material that can melt or dissolve soon.
Soft plastics and materials like styrofoam if rubbed using lacquer thinner can create a popping effect on the surface much like cinema popcorn.
So, if you want to remove oil, grease, grime, or paint from the plastic surface make sure that you know what type of plastic it is.
If you are unsure, it’s good to avoid paint thinner on plastic altogether and use other paint thinner alternatives for paint removal.
The Bottom Line
Of the three options mentioned above, vegetable oil is the safest to remove oil paint from plastic as no special protection is needed.
However, it is arguably the least effective option in removing paint from plastics.
While it can work safely for items like plastic furniture, it’s not a viable option if you want to remove dried paint from an old hard plastic bucket.
For this, you may need other tougher paint removal options.
So carefully consider what you want to use and then get the right tools and protection for the job.
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.