DIY: How to Strip Paint from 100 Year Old Doors & Brick

Ok, listen up. John gets the all the glory work, and I get the grunt work. There, I said it.

See, when John picks me up from my commute home from the city on Fridays, our conversation goes something like this:

Courtney: What can I help with this weekend? (super eager, bright eyed and bushy tailed)

John: Humm, well, I have a punch list of amazing, independent projects that will make me an Internet sensation and envy of followers everywhere, so you can move this pile of trash.

Courtney: Ohh, wow. OK..... (no longer eager, already thinking about dinner)

In all seriousness, John's home renovating talents far out weigh my abilities by leaps and bounds, and I fully acknowledge that! But, I pride myself on learning new skills, watching and handing him tools, being his general apprentice' while simultaneously increasing the feminine factor of our duo and managing a cleaning crew of (1): me. It sounds more pathetic than it actually is. Someone has to clean....

Aside from that though, I'm pushing myself to tackle other big projects. Like for instance, stripping the paint off a pair of 100 year old, salvaged doors. And by salvaged, I mean originally saved by my Dad during one of many renovation of the house across the street in Little Silver. I love knowing where things come from and being able to tell their old story along with our new story. These doors will be our "new" dining room pocket doors if I can ever get them ready for install.....

I've spend approximately 364,829 hours (so far) stripping these doors, and honestly I feel down right defeated.

I've made several attempts with a number of different stripping agents. With anything old, the chance that lead based paint were used is high and proper precautions should always be taken.

John and I in our normal, weekend uniforms.

The first attempt was made with a natural soy gel. It's an interesting products, made from, you guessed it, soybeans. Its marketed as a "great natural alternative to harsh chemical strippers" and "ideal for lead-based paint removal. The lead becomes encapsulated in the gel, preventing airborne particles and allowing for safe disposal."

Attempt #1 in workshop with natural Soy Gel Paint Stripper

Applied with a paint brush, the lumpy gel is left to work its magic, and scraped off with a putty knife.

At least, that's what the product claimed to do. I'm here to report a 40% success rate with Soy Gel while stripping these doors. I followed the instructions, even added an Internet tip of wrapping the whole door in plastic to aid the gel in not drying out.

I made three, solid attempts. Even got a pep talk from one of John's cousins who sang the glorious praises of Soy Gel during his stripping of an entire dining room.

Attempt #3 with even more Soy Gel stripper.

Sadly, I gave up on the soygel. And probably cried and told John I was never coming back to Content. ever again. I have a flair for the dramatic.

Seriously though, I was disappointed. I wanted to believe in this natural product. John and I pride ourselves on considering the environmental alternatives, which I did for 3 weekends in a row, and finally threw in the towel.

After the Soy Gel meltdown, I tried STRYPEEZE. Well, I'd actually recommend this product be called STRIPTEASE because it hardly worked, and was more noxious than a chemical wasteland (** side note, did a quick Google search for "paint dumping", and accidentally typed paint "paint bumping" and painting your pregnant belly is a real/scary thing).

Needless to say, the toxic stripper was no more effective than the soy and the excessive scrapping actually starting to mar the wood.

What now? My father had told me several times about a stripping product that used pieces of paper in the process. He couldn't remember the products name but remembered the last time he used it was 1986, it was French and he probably still had some in the basement.

Humm... I don't speak French and had no luck in the basement. So, I went to Amazon (where I go for everything now that I'm a Prime member). I found a product called Peel Away and quickly ordered it.

It was a more expensive than my first two attempts, but I'd already wasted a bit of money on ineffective solutions so I was willing to go for it (and its totally worth it!)

Voila! Peel Away 1 by Dumond is everything I always wanted (in a paint stripper that is) and more. But definitely not French. Either way, thanks for the hot lead Dave!

Basically, Peel Away is a grey, pasty substance, with a slightly fishy odor. Applied with a putty knife and covered with the special laminated paper to dry for 12-24 hours. Unless of course, you're me, and are amidst busy season at your full time job and have about 100 other things going on, then you (me) leave it on for several days until you remember to get back to the house to scrap it off.

During this processing time, the paint breaks down, softens and adheres to the laminated paper, and when coaxed, all comes off together in a lumpy mess.

Close up of the paint adhered to the paper.

Then, because Peel Away is water based, you simply wash with fresh water, the remaining residue off the surface. Its pretty incredible!

After the water, there is a citric neutralizer that is applied to balance out the pH of the surface. You should not skip this step, especially if you are planning on repainting!

Now with Peel Away, I had the wind at my back! I was on a roll, so I tried using it on my kitchen nemesis, the brick red fireplace that I've mentioned to you before in our

Kitchen Renovation Phase and Kitchen Renovation Phase 2 posts.

Total success story here too! The porous surface of the brick is perfect for the Peel Away paste and easily gets in to all the cracks.

Test section on the backside of the fireplace.

With initial success, I started to tackle the front.

Don't get me wrong though. Overall, it's a very, messy process from start to finish. A few YouTube videos explained Peel Away is most easily used on exterior surfaces with a garden hose to wash away residue.

Inside however, water gets everywhere so exposed surfaces have to be covered in plastic. Lucky(?) for me, I don't have kitchen surfaces to worry about yet.

Very messy!

I'm so excited to share the final results with you, but there's more work to be done before I get us there.

However, I consider these giant, baby steps in my attempt to take over the renovation world. Look out HGTV, the Achillis are storming the do-it-yourself castle!


Here are some additional before and after pictures of the fireplace. I swear, if you REALLY want to strip your fireplace, you can do it!