How to Strip Paint From Drywall

An amateur removing interior paint from drywall.
  • 5-10 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-300
What You'll Need
Lead test kit
Electric fan
Drop cloths
Paint stripper
Paint tray
Paint roller
Eye protection
Rubber gloves
Broad putty knife
Orbital sander
Sandpaper disks, 40 to 80-grit
Ear plugs
Sanding block
Polar fleece rags

There are many reasons you may have to strip paint from your drywall before you apply something new. Old paint may be uneven, peeling, or just plain poor-quality, all of which need to come off. Follow the steps below to effectively accomplish this task.

Difficulty: Low; a novice can do this.

Time: This depends on how many layers of paint you're removing and the size of the room. For example, a bedroom-sized room would take about 1 1/2 to four hours to complete.

Step 1 - Check for Lead-Based Paint

In homes built before 1978, lead-based paint was commonplace, so if your home dates back to this period, you must use a testing kit to determine whether you're dealing with lead before you do anything else. If your paint test shows negative for lead, proceed with stripping the paint yourself, but if your test is positive for lead, do not attempt to remove this yourself. Contact a professional restoration service to take of this because the drywall itself may have to be removed.

Pick up a lead testing kit on Amazon

Tip: Lead paint can be removed, but it requires special clothing, respirators, and a contained area, and it must be disposed of properly. The easiest fix for lead paint is to cover it with paneling instead.

Step 2 - Prepare Room for Paint Stripping

Move all furniture out of the room if possible. Anything that cannot be move should be distributed in several areas throughout the room, at least two feet out from the walls. Think several small islands instead of a huge continent; if it is all in the center, it will be a very big obstacle.

Once everything is moved, cover the furniture and floors with drop cloths. Open windows or bring in a fan for adequate ventilation, and take down curtains and blinds.

Step 3 - Apply Paint Stripper and Peel off old Paint

Make sure the stripper you purchase will be effective for your type of paint whether it be oil-based or latex-based. Pour some into a paint tray, and use a roller to apply it to your walls. Then, peel off the stripper and the paint with a broad putty knife once it has penetrated deep. Wear goggles, a respirator, and rubber gloves the entire time you're working with this chemical.

Find paint stripper on Amazon

If there are three or fewer layers of old paint over the drywall, you shouldn't use any paint stripper. Its chemicals will severely damage the drywall underneath.

Tip: Give paint stripper enough time to work, but do not let it dry up. Work in small enough sections, so it does not dry before you get to it.

Step 4 - Sand off Remaining Paint

You can rent an orbital sander from a building supply center for a day or borrow one from someone you know. Be sure to use one that has a dust extraction feature to keep your work area cleaner and give you less to do later.

Attach a 60 or 80-grit sanding disk and, while wearing goggles and your face mask, move it in all directions over the wall to sand off the remaining paint. If the paint is very thick and uneven, switch to a 40-grit sanding disk. Use rotating, up and down, and sideways motions. Do not let the sander linger over any spot, as it may gouge the drywall. Also, try not to sand or scrape off the paper surface of the drywall; use just enough pressure to take off the paint. Make sure to wear earplugs too. Not only are orbital sanders noisy, but the motor's sound is also very high-pitched. You can sustain damage to your high-frequency hearing quickly from exposure to sound at this frequency level.

Tip: This usually the easiest way to remove the paint, but it creates a tremendous amount of dust, and usually wet sanding is recommended. However, the wet sanding is done by hand and could hurt the surface of the wall, so the dry sanding is okay. No matter how you sand or strip the paint off, some of the drywall's paper surfaces will probably be broken and may require the use of spackle, or joint compound to repair it.

Step 5 - Clean Up the Room

Sweep and then vacuum the dust off the walls and floor. Dust afterward with a large dry rag, preferably made of polar fleece fabric since it is superb at trapping dust. Do not wash the drywall surface to get rid of dust as it is porous and will be damaged by water or any chemicals, soaps, or detergents.

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Edward Kimble, a professional painter and author of Interior House Painting Blog contributed to this article.