I was asked by a regular customer to renovate a large dresser unit in her kitchen. It had been painted many times before, and the previous decorator had been asked to make it look like the rest of the natural wood kitchen. He'd decided to paint it brown, so it looked 'kind of like wood'. It didn't! The only way to really get the dresser to look like natural wood, without a huge effort of painting natural grains on it, was to completely strip it.
This particular customer has a low tolerance to fumes, so I had to use a stripping method which involved no burning off with a heat gun, and without using the usual chemical strippers which can contain quite a number of noxious chemicals. In fact, they contained even more noxious, and carcinogenic, chemicals a few years back - until the EU banned some of the ingredients.
A company called Eco-Solutions, based in Somerset, came to the rescue. After a few online enquiries about their product, they agreed to send me a sample of their product called 'Homestrip'.
Now this dresser was huge - about 70cm deep, nearly the height of the room and around 3 metres wide. I decided to trial the product on an 'inconspicuous area' before layering it on elsewhere. It initially worked quite quickly - within minutes the top layer of paint was wrinkling up. The odour was minimal, and what odour there was seemed a bit fruity! I scraped the area after about 20 minutes and the paint came off easily. I applied another coating and kept on going.
The recommended technique is to put on a thick layer with a brush, leave an hour, then scrape off. For subsequent coatings they recommend coating again, covering with clingfilm (to stop the product drying out) and leaving overnight. I tried this and it worked, up to a point. The dresser, I discovered, had 5 colours of paint or varnish on it - I would say it had at least 7 coats as it's rare to paint just one coat of a colour or varnish). If I had carried on with this technique, I'd have had to coat the entire dresser with a coat in the morning, covered the whole thing with clingfilm, left it all day, scraped it at the end of the day. Reapply and cover again.... Not practical.
I ended up using my virtually dust-free Mirka Ceros sander on broad areas to sand off all the paint - which was about 10 times quicker than using a paint stripper. But it's a professional tool which costs over £300 - normal DIY sanders would take forever and create lots of dust. Then, on the mouldings and runners I used the Homestrip - laying it on thick, leaving it for an hour, scraping and then re-applying. It was a long and tedious job, but it worked. And there was very little odour when my customer came home after the weekend away. She was almost as pleased at the lack of odour (which would definitely not have been the case with 'normal' paint strippers) as she was with how the dresser looked.
The pros: it does strip paints, as it says; it's easy to use as it's a paste and doesn't run; it's pleasant to use - I got plenty on my hands and arms as I was working quickly and had no ill effects (with traditional paint strippers I'd wear a face mask, goggles if working high up, nitrile gloves and cover my arms), it's readily available (B&Q stock it).
The cons: it works more slowly than 'normal' paint strippers with harmful chemicals in them; you do need to layer it on quite thick to make sure it doesn't dry out before it works.
Would I use it again? Yes - it's much nicer to use than other brands I've tried. But I'd still definitely use my professional sanders on any areas I can, as they rip the paint off in a fraction of the time - and as a professional, my time is almost always more valuable than the product I'm applying.
Sorry there are no 'before' photos, but I took them on my old phone, which is now dead! But it did look pretty horrid. After stripping it was given 3 coats of Sadolin Earth Balance satin finish wood stain - again, a low-odour, water-based product.
Posted by Charles Budd.