Stripping Paint Off a Fireplace Mantel

One of the parlor floor fireplaces

When looking for a brownstone, fireplaces were on our list of must-have features so we were happy when we saw that our house had three.   We pictured long cold winter nights sitting by a cozy fire.  That was until our bubble burst and we learned (after we made an offer of course) that they were actually not wood burning fireplaces at all but just heating vents that channeled the heat from the once-coal burning heater in the basement.  Easy come, easy go.  We thought, they may not work (without an expensive conversion) but at least they can look nice.  We speculated that there may be marble under all that paint but a contractor looked at them and guessed they were some sort of cement or plaster.

Sigh.  We thought we would strip the paint from them anyway and see what they looked like.  Since they appeared to have several coats of paint of dubious age, to be safe, we used a product specifically designed to remove lead paint called Lead Out (for instructions on how to use Lead Out see our previous post).

Learning from our last experience, (and that is what this blog is all about) we applied a thick coat to the entire fireplace.  The gel started to bubble after a short time.   As the paint started to crack we could see that one of the layers of paint was a royal blue.  Who would paint a fireplace a bright blue?  We recalled the sellers telling us that at some point the two teenage boys in the family had resided in this room in what would have been the 70’s and we think they might be the culprits.

When it was time to remove the Lead Out™, we used a plastic scraper so we would not scratch the surface.  I have to say, in the areas where the gel was applied thickly, the paint came off like butter.  Low and behold, what is that we see?  Marble!  After scraping off the paint we took a wet cloth and wiped it down.  This removed any of the remaining solution and really got in the nooks and crannies well.  Then we followed with Franmar’s EMERGE™ degreaser  and a wet cloth to remove any sticky residue.



As the gel continued to work its magic you could see that the center piece had actually been painted a bright red.  As the solution continued to work you could see the red emerging through the white.  If I was into the supernatural, I would say that it looked like it was bleeding.  Note to self—think up a far-fetched story about this house being possessed and make a few million dollars off the book and the movie.

The center grate on the fireplace is made of metal.  The piece that surrounds that is not marble and it is much harder to remove the paint.  We think it is either wood (which we would need to replace if we refurbished it to a working fireplace) or hopefully metal.  These pieces pop out and it should be easier to get the paint off of them if we can lay them flat and coat the gel on thickly.  A note of caution, be careful what you get this solution on.  Although it is made from soy, it is powerful.  Some of it got on the linoleum and it completely stripped it down to its clear plastic bottom layer, ditto for wood floors.

Lead Out! How to Safely Remove Lead Paint

Most of our renovations will be done by professionals because a) we have full-time jobs, and b) we don’t have the skills or know-how to do much of the work.

While it would be nice to hire people to do all of the work, we want to try to reduce some of our costs by completing some tasks ourselves, like some of the demolition work.  One of the projects we have decided to tackle is stripping some of the old doors.  There are two sets of double doors:  one set leads into our daughter’s room and the other into what will be our living room.  They look like they are original to the house and therefore over 100 years old.  They have nicks and dents and show some signs of decay and years of minor repairs. We are not sure whether they are worth stripping and re-painting but we are going to give it a try and see what happens.

Since the doors have obvious signs that there are multiple layers of paint, we suspect that the early layers may be lead paint so we researched paint removal products specifically for lead paint and found Franmar’s Lead Out.

Lead Out renders lead paint non-hazardous for safe removal and inexpensive disposal.  According to the company’s website a special patented Molecular Bonding System is used where the product reacts with lead at the molecular level to alter the lead compounds to a non-hazardous compound making it easy to remove and safe to dispose of. The product is made from American grown soybeans and is biodegradable.

Step By Step:  How to Strip Lead Paint From Door with Lead Out

Purchase Lead Out™ Paint Stripper, Quart

Step 1:  Gather the supplies you will need.

Lead Out comes with the gel, activating powder, plastic gloves, mask and a stir stick.  We started with a gallon container and a package of powder that says it should be enough to cover 250sqft.  If you are only planning on stripping a small area at a time like we were, then you need a small plastic container and a measuring cup to mix a smaller amount.   You will also need a paint brush to spread it around and scrapers to remove it.  I recommend plastic scrapers for wood as the metal ones dig into the softened wood.   I also recommend a number of rags and a bucket of water and extra gloves.

Step 2:  Mix appropriate quantities.

You must wear the mask for this stage.  To mix a smaller amount, you want to mix equal percentages of each container. We mixed ¼ of the gel and ¼ of the powder together until it formed a thick paste.  This was more than enough to cover two doors and then some.  I’d recommend starting with less, probably a 1/16th of each would have been perfect for the 6′ x 2.5′ door we stripped. Also, you must use all of the product in one shot as it can’t be saved for another day.

Step 3:  Preparing the work area.

We were working in an empty house so for us it was easy.  We just put down a plastic sheet and then we used two workbenches to support the door so we could lay the door flat stand while we applied the paste.  Since there were several coats of paint on the door handle, we did not remove its hardware before applying the product.

Step 4:  Applying the product.

We applied the paste with a paintbrush.  The directions say to apply it liberally in one direction, as opposed to painting where you go over it back and forth.  In retrospect, I wish we had poured it on like they do in the video and then used the brush to spread it around.

Step 5:  Waiting

The directions say to wait several hours (at least 5) before removing it with a scraper.   See photo on the left, this was only after an hour.

We waited overnight before removing it and either that was a little too long and it dried out or we did not apply it thickly enough because in some areas it was a little dry and harder to get off.

Step 6:  Scraping

Lead Out removed several coats of paint.  There were at least three colors and you figure they may have repainted those a few times.  We definitely were able to see right down to the wood after the first scrape.  There were still some areas where it was difficult to get the paint out like crevices and grooves in the wood design.  We might try an old toothbrush next time.  We will also try another light coat of the product and let it sit for only a few hours to get the last remaining bits.  This is where the rags and the water come in.  When you scrape off the paint it is very sticky and thick and adheres to the scraper.  It helps to have a wet rag to wipe it off after every few scrapes and we’d recommend rubber gloves for that reason as well.

All in all we were happy with this product for stripping wood and we will be trying it on some other surfaces as well.  The next step will involve sanding the door once it is dried.  Stay tuned for that.

Warning:  the following video is our first attempt and is, to say the least, amateur.   Hey, we’re not actors.  It is shot with aniPhonee and edited with the mobile app, ReelDirector.

Franmar generously provided us with a complimentary gallon sample of the Lead Out to get our project started.