Looking to remove some paint? Well, it doesn’t get more old-school than good old lye and it’s certainly something that you can use… you just need to be very careful about it. Today I’ll share a simple lye paint remover recipe and tell you about using it on different surfaces. Lye can definitely dissolve paint and it can darken, and possibly soften wood, depending on the type of wood involved. The recipe itself just takes water, corn starch, and lye, but you’ll want to be careful so I’ll detail the steps inside.
Let’s look at lye and what this old-school solution can do for you!
Does lye dissolve paint?
Oh yes, lye dissolves paints and can dissolve a lot of other things. It’s a strong solution and as such, you probably are only going to use it in cases of a lot of paint stain that has stubbornly resisted everything else. The reason that it’s not so practical has to do with the fact that it also dissolves many glues, sometimes softens wood (although there are lye primers, which we’ll talk about later), and because of its acidity it has to be handled with care.
That said, for stripping paint off a large, tough surface, a bit of lye is a cheap and wildly effective solution. Originally used in early soaps, because it is caustic, we’re going to have to really dilute it to get some proper use out of it and we’ll get to those steps towards the end of this article.
First, I’d like to talk about what you need to know about lye and how it reacts with wood.
Does lye harm wood?
Well… it can. Corrosive substances like lye are kinda like that. A little can be useful, but too much is definitely not a good idea. For instance, a quick dip of some painted wood in a diluted solution can strip paint right off or at least loosen it up so that it will slough right off and leave you with clean, natural wood.
How quickly it works will depend on how diluted it is.
Lye is actually made from the ashes of hard woods, which are mixed in with fat and water to make them into the useful chemical that it is. Lye made with softer wood ashes is still effective, but less so, and is better suited for making soaps.
When using lye with wood, just know that usage needs to be brief and controlled if you are stripping paint. Too long in a lye solution can soften up your wood, but as long as you know this then it’s pretty safe to use. Typically, when working with lye, wooden tools are used and when the wood isn’t simply soaking inside it, then it does just fine.
Hardwoods like oak, that have a lot of tannins, react to the lye and darken, so some woodworkers take advantage and work with wood lye primers to get this desirable effect. So, in a nutshell, does lye harm wood? Not if you’re careful… just keep it off of your skin!
How you can use lye as a paint remover
Okay… before we proceed, you are going to need some eye protection and some acid-resistant gloves and you’ll want to make sure that you only work with lye in a well-ventilated area. This stuff can seriously burn your skin, so safety needs to be your primary concern here.
In this section we’ll have 2 recipes and you will need them both to properly use lye. The first is the lye paint remover itself and the second recipe is a solution to neutralize the lye.
That said, here is how you mix up lye paint remover:
- Add 2 gallons of water into a 5-gallon bucket that we will use for mixing your lye.
- With a long, wooden stick, mix in one cup of lye and one cup of corn starch until these components are well-mixed with the water.
Now, your neutralizer is mixed separately by combining 1 part vinegar and 1 part water. You can mix some up of you can also whip it up on the fly. I like to make a little in advance, just in case!
To use your lye paint remover, simply paint it on the surface that you want to strip with an oil-based brush and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Keeping your gloves on, grab a putty knife and the paint should come right off.
Now, it’s time to neutralize. Apply your neutralizing solution to the surface that you’ve just cleaned and you can hose it down liberally with water. After this, if you don’t have any more paint to strip, then neutralize your lye paint remover by adding 3 cups of vinegar into the mix.
Congratulations, you now know how to use lye to remove paint!
Some closing words
Today we’ve discussed a DIY lye paint remover recipe and as you can see, with a little corn starch, lye, and a lot of water, you can strip a lot of paint quite cheaply and effectively. Just be sure to use goggles and gloves to keep things safe. Lye can definitely dissolve paint and may be used safely with wood, just use this old school solution with care and it will get the job done.
If lye seems like a bit of overkill, don’t fret. I’ve got a DIY paint remover guide here that can give you all kinds of ways to get rid of paint on a number of different surfaces. As they say, the right tool for the right job. Just hang on to that lye recipe because you never know when you might need to bring in the big guns!