Introduction: Cleaning and Finishing PVC
PVC pipe looks notoriously crummy at the store. It gets covered in dirt during shipping, and the manufacture stamps it along the length of the pipe with a layer of ink to mark size and specifications. It's hard to believe how well PVC can clean up!
The following outlines how to polish up pipe for projects and what kind of prep and paint are needed to add color and shine to any PVC creation.
Step 1: Cleaning
Like lots of other cleaning processes for other materials, cleaning PVC pipe can be done chemically or mechanically.
Cleaning with Chemicals
To clean the barcode markings off the pipe with chemicals, you'll need the following:
While wearing gloves, soak a piece of steel wool with acetone and apply it to the pipe. Moving quickly, scrub the printed lettering with the steel wool, then wipe clean with a colorfast rag or shop towel. Work in sections along the pipe, as the acetone evaporates quickly.
Your steel wool and towel may absorb a lot of ink and dirt as you go, you may have to replace them mid-job if you are attempting to clean more than 10' of pipe at a time.
Cleaning with Sandpaper
I personally prefer the mechanical method, using good ol' fashioned elbow grease and a sanding block. It works just about as fast if you don't mind abrading the pipe (which you'll need to do if you're going to paint it anyway.)
I recommend using a sanding block with 180 grit or 220 grit paper. It may take a few passes, but the pipe looks a lot cleaner than with the chemical method. To clean up dust when you are done, dab a paper towel with alcohol and wipe down the length of the pipe.
Step 2: Painting
There is a great myth that plastics are hard to paint. I'm here to debunk all the hype and tell you that you can paint just about any material, with the right paint. Thankfully, science is on our side when it comes to adding some color to our PVC projects and there are spray paints that have been specifically developed to adhere to plastics like PVC, ABS, and every kind of plastic variant commercially available.
To paint PVC pipe and fittings I recommend the following:
To begin, prepare the whole surface of the pipe and joints for painting with 220 grit sandpaper, and then wipe with a tack cloth dampened with alcohol.
Working over a drop cloth, spray the entire surface with a layer of paint.
After 20 minutes the paint is ready to be handled and moved so you can cover more of the unpainted area. Wait 20 minutes between coats and rotations, typically you'll need about 2 coats for even coverage.
If you need to touch up your paint after more than a few hours have elapsed since your last coat, it's best to wait 48-72 hours to re-apply, otherwise, your base paint layer can flake or crackle.
Note: Be sure and paint your pipe after you have completed all of your gluing. Painting pipes and fittings separately will interfere with your ability to properly cement-weld your joints together. Furthermore, the thin layer of paint will increase your pipe's tolerance into its fitting, making it difficult to properly insert.
Ready to get colorful your next PVC project? Get inspired by these projects clever PVC paint-jobs:
In our next lesson, fire up your heat gun because we'll be learning how to flex and bend pipe into all kinds of shapes .