Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stripping Paint off Hardware without Harsh Chemicals

You probably missed the compelling post about my Edith Wharton hinges unless you were one of the three followers I had at the time. I received a comment from Trina of A Country Farmhouse  offering some advice about stripping paint off old hardware so I recently put Trina's advice to the test and thought I'd share my experience for anyone else who might be facing this task.

I've also gotten several e-mails asking where to buy the washing soda.  I found some at my local small organic grocery store as well as the drug store that sells laundry detergents.  It's also available on amazon.com here.

Supplies needed:

1.  Old pot or container in which you'll soak your hardware

2.  Pot of boiling water

3. Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda

4.  Your old painted hardware

5.  Toothbrush, preferably one no longer being used

6.  Small bucket for doing a final washing/rinsing of the stripped hardware.

7.  Paper towel or rags

I found some sources on the internet that recommended boiling the hardware in an old pot and others that proposed using a Crock Pot, I guess for the "low and slow" method.  It seems that washing soda is sodium carbonate (not baking soda which is sodium bicarbonate) is a water softener but is also used in foods as an anti-caking agent so it's not necessarily toxic but there's something I don't like about the idea of boiling hardware and releasing lead paint fumes. 

And don't get me started about the Crock Pot.  I was the victim of a Crock Pot childhood.  Six nights a week we were subjected to every possible combination of meat and Campbell's Cream of Something soup.  To this day, I can't go near a Crock Pot, not even to strip my hinges. 

I would have found something larger to hold more hardware but for this test I'm only doing two.  So I put about 1/4 cup of washing soda in a coffee can, filled it up with boiling water, stirred until it all seemed dissolved and dropped in the two sets of hinges I need for the dining room study closet door.

I tested a hinge after an hour and the paint seemed to be softening its grip but it was still very much intact.  After a few hours, the paint was softer but still holding on.

To make a long story short, I got distracted refining the diagram for my shelving units and the hinges ended up sitting in the coffee can for a week.  This is what they looked like (above) at that time.

Look how the several layers of paint are all coming off together.

This portion comes off all in one piece.  (I know, I should have worn gloves. I still have paint under my fingernails.)

On the detailed side, the layers also come off easily.

Here's the paint off one side of a hinge...front and back all in one single piece! All the hinge needs is a quick scrubbing with a toothbrush in some warm soapy water.

Here's the paint that came off one hinge.

Once they're washed up, I dried them with a paper towel and put them outside to bake in the sun.  This dries them quickly so they don't rust.  One internet source recommended putting them in a low oven if the sun's not available but that just seems unnecessary.  Some of the original paint surface has come off so I cleaned them up a bit with some steel wool and gave them a coat of spray paint.

Here's one of the hinges "before."

And here's the "after."  I've used Rustoleum's Metallic "Dark Bronze" as my finish coat.

Cost:  I paid $10 apiece for my hinges.  It seemed steep at the time, especially since it was a lot of 50 hinges but I loved the connection to Edith Wharton and thought I would use most of them. 

But when I actually compared it to a similar hinge like this one found on a popular antique hardware website, this reproduction hinge ranges from $12.49 to $13.49 depending on the finish.  And it doesn't come with a story. 

Here are my two hinges all ready to be installed.

In the end, this method was easy and highly successful and (lead paint aside) it doesn't use any toxic chemical paint strippers.  I wouldn't hesitate in buying old painted hardware, or anything or for that matter, that can be submerged.

And, thank you, Trina, for your recommendation!

I've used this same method several different times to strip various hardware and have found it's best just to use the hot water to dissolve the washing soda but leaving the hardward in the solution for several days works best.  The paint will come off sooner but it seems the longer it soaks, the easier it gets to peel the paint off.  Why work any harder than you have to?  Take it easy and let it soak.

If you try it, please leave a comment and let me know how it worked out or if you discovered anything new.


  1. I said it once and I'll say it again - you are my hero. I am glad you have Edith Wharton's hinges (sorry, I did not read the original story but I will). They are so beautiful and so nice to have the real thing.

    Great work! These will look so great in your dining room-study.

    Xo Terri

  2. They look so nice. I cook baked beans in my crock pot every Saturday. You're invited.

  3. What a great method for paint removal..I'll file this in my brain in case I ever need. Those hinges are to die for. Don't they look fantastic! I love it that they have a connection to Edith Wharton. As with most vintage things, it seems it's almost always cheaper to buy the real thing than the new copy. I'm always amazed at how expensive new old looking light fixtures are. You can go buy the real thing...have it rewired for much less.

    I think you got yourself a bargain. How fantastic to have all matching hardware through the entire home. I feel very lucky that my house has all it's original art deco door plates and glass knobs.

    You house is just getting better and better.

  4. Thank you for sharing this...I picked up a old dresser and it has beautiful hardware but they painted it and I wasn't sure how to get it off until now...thank you!

  5. They look great!!! Of course, I also liked them all painted and crusty! I like to peel paint (I am weird) so this seems like a good project for me. Oh, and we don't own a crock pot and probably never will... we don't eat casseroles either ;)

  6. Wow. Really. Wow. I never knew you could strip paint like that, but I bet some paint stripping will be in my future! Thanks! Karin

  7. Karin,
    I hope you'll do a show-and-tell!

  8. You are officially amazing. I'm sure I'd slap on an extra coat of paint and be done with it. The results are amazing, though, and so much less toxic than alternative measures. (arm and hammer is typically pretty good stuff, is that the case with this?)

  9. The hinges are absolutely beautiful! I'm going to have to go back and read about the Edith Wharton connection. Bonnie

  10. those look really beautiful!

  11. Beautiful hinges! I'm going to have to try that myself... where did you find the washing powder...in the grocery store? or hardware?

  12. Super tip to know Steve. I am amazed at the hinges's detail. And yes, I never read the Edith Wharton post either....but I can still appreciate these hinges!

  13. They are beautiful! I'll bet you feel good about being "green" also! Now about that crock-pot . . . LOL

  14. Steve,
    The hinges came out just beautiful. How satisfying. They will look that much better on the door in your study!
    Great tutorial too.

  15. Looks like it's easier than stripping furniture of paint. They turned out great.

    Crock pots are making a HUGE comeback. I seriously just bought one today at target AND a cookbook that doesn't include a single recipe with "cream of...."

  16. They're gorgeous! The detail is amazing - they just don't make things like this anymore. I'm glad you took the time to do this...you'll be so pleased when they're on.

    Why didn't I know this when I boiled vinegar and baking soda and about set my kitchen ablaze!

  17. hi steve,

    i have one interior door in my house and i need to do this. thanks for the lesson.


  18. I love those so much I can't stand it! They. Are. Gorgeous.
    Your house has become the most amazing home.

  19. Beautiful results! Great post and blog.


  20. Fantastic tip! Love those hinges--they came out great.

    Crock pots make good pulled pork!

  21. They look beautiful! And now you'll forever be able to admire them and remember the work you put into them.

  22. hi steve
    coming out of the lurking woodwork to tell you that i'm so enjoying watching you restore your house

    love your reverence for old things - i think i'd be saving that beautiful peeled off paint and framing it as a reminder when all 50 hinges are stripped


  23. Thanks, Buoni.

    Thank you, too, Cammie.

    Thanks, Pat, for coming out of the wordwork. I appreiciate your comments. Steve

  24. Thanks for the tutorial...they look greag!!

  25. What a great tutorial on cleaning hinges. We have several coffee cans filled with hinges, I think I have to go take a look at them. Great job! On another note, I use my window seats for storage.

  26. great idea Steve and Trina

    xo kelley

    love your hinges too

  27. "Connections"....as important now as in Ms. Wharton's time. She would appreciate your salvage...and by the by..those hinges are sooo much better than reproductions.....they have a story to tell...thanks for the show and tell, it's such a pleasure.....happy weekend...k

  28. Thanks for sharing the transformation, although I do love the chippy hinges. What did you do with the piece of paint that came off in one piece? It looks like an antique relief. Maybe you should frame it?

  29. They're gorgeous Steve! I just love those small little beautiful details of an old home.


  30. Those hinges are beautiful - like square set butterflies.

  31. Thank you so much for posting this method. I've been renovating a little Victorian-era apartment all summer, and the original door hardware--gorgeous stuff--had all been carelessly painted over. I used this method on all of the knobs, rosettes, etc. this week, and they came out beautifully! Here's a picture.

  32. Found your blog on this topic because I was also weary of the crock pot/ boiling method. Then, while searching for an appropriate old can or container to use to soak some old hardware in, I had an epiphany! Thought it worth sharing for all: Apply same method, but use a Thermos to keep your "stew" warm longer. I'm trying this now, will post back whith results soon. -Galen

  33. I have now tried my proposed method with great success!
    My recipe: A large thermos filled with boiling water + 1/2 a cup of baking soda and about 1 tablespoon of liquid laundry detergent. <-Just what I happened to have on hand.
    Hardware used: 2 brass hinges, some brass hooks and a couple of pieces which I believe are cast iron. All were thoroughly caked in several layers of both latex and oil based paints.
    I checked on my "stew" last night before bed (after about 4 hours of soaking) and found that the paint was coming off quite easily already, but it being so late I didn't want to deal with it, so I decided to just leave it overnight. Today, (after a total of 10 hours of soaking) I was able to complete the experiment and the paint was practically falling off as I took each piece out! All remaining residue came off easily with a light brushing.
    I would definitely recommend the Thermos method for those of you who don't want to sacrifice your crockpot or simply can't stand the sight of one. :)

  34. Too freakin' cool. I have an 1880s house and all the escutcheons and hinges are coated with a thousand coats of paint. And don't get me started on the window hardware... my husband is going to freak when I get out the screwdriver... :) For the record, lead is so heavy that it won't come out in the steam, it will stay in the water/bottom of the can. Be careful where you dispose of it. :)

  35. I like the 'before' better!

  36. I just found your beautiful blog while I was looking for advice on repairing our plaster ceiling. I want to add my two cents on stripping paint off of hardware -- I have been boiling our painted (and painted and painted) hardware in a pot of plain water for about 1/2 an hour (on a low boil), and the paint comes off beautifully. Sometimes I need to gently scrub it with steel wool. Easy peasy, and no trip to the store required.

  37. I found your beautiful blog while looking for advice on how to repair our plaster ceiling. I wanted to pass on my technique for removing paint from old hardware -- I've been boiling mine in plain water for about 1/2 an hour (on a low boil), and the paint comes right off. Sometimes I need to touch it up with a bit of steel wool. Easy peasy, and no trip to the store required.

  38. Wow! Amazing! You’ve really done a good job. The result is really great. And I love those hinges.

  39. I was looking to strip my porcelan knobs, they were spray painted and most of the paint is already stripping off. Would this method work for that?


    1. I've never tried it with spray paint but it works on oil-based paint so I'm pretty sure it would.

  40. I've used this technique to remove spray paint from vintage bin cup pulls and it worked like a charm.

  41. Hi, this information has been really helpful. However, I'm trying to strip an old radiator in my bedroom of layers of paint. So far, steel wool is only partially effective. Can't soak it in the solutions suggestions, and would prefer not to use regular paint stripper. Has anyone tried Citristrip? Any suggestions appreciated!

  42. Is there anything safer than conventional paint stripper to remove old layers of paint from a radiator? I can't use the excellent soaking methods for hardware described here, and the steel wool isn't getting everything off. Has anyone tried Citristrip?

    1. Katrina,
      I have used Citrustrip on woodwork. It would get the job done but it's pretty messy. You'll need to do something to ensure the stripper doesn't get on your floor. I would probably start with a small area on the far side of the radiator that doesn't show when you walk into the room. Good luck. Steve

  43. Do you think this method would get paint off a cast iron pan ? was told some paint spilled on the pan (none inside the pan) but drippings on the side (don't scrape off with finger either).

  44. Can’t wait to try this – thanks so much:)