Remove Paint With Infrared Heat (and Without Chemicals!)


Introduction: Remove Paint With Infrared Heat (and Without Chemicals!)

About: bicycles, gardening, and other important stuff
This Instructable explains how to build an infrared paint remover, which is cheaper, safer, and more environmentally friendly than normal paint removal chemicals.

Here's a video of this project:

This should cost you ~ $50 to build (commercial versions cost ~$400). If you're going to strip any significant amount of wood, this should also be cheaper than buying chemical removers.

I sell kit and finished versions of this and most of my other projects on my website, dirtnail.

Additionally, this method should be safer for you and the environment than using conventional, toxic paint removers.

Thanks to the dude at Ocean Manor House for building this and sharing his plans: my version is at best a slight improvement and more likely a downgrade from his:-)

Step 1: Gather Your Materials, Tools

The big decision to make in getting your materials is if you'd rather build an enclosure or spend ~$40 to buy one. The Ocean Manor House guy bought an enclosure and modified it to make it portable, and I built my own. His looks correspondingly higher-quality:)

For my way, here are the materials you'll need:
-A 120-volt ceramic infrared heater: I used this 900 watt unit, and it cost ~$40 after shipping. The $400 commercial units use an 1100-watt unit.
-A higher-gauge ac cord: I used one from an old microwave. make sure it's capable of handling however many watts you will be pumping through it (remember watts = volts * amps). for my project, I need a cord that will handle 900 watts or a cord rated to handle 900 / 120 = 7.5 amps of 120-volt AC.
-Electrical tape + wire nuts + thin-guage wire. For a higher-quality, more durable build, replae all 3 of these w/ high-temperature, nonconductive tape.
-A paint roller brush, sans roller sponge thingy.
-Some type of metal to build the reflector out of. I suppose this is optional and really just about increasing the efficiency, but it's definitely a good idea. I tried aluminum cans cut in half from top to bottom of can, and this metal was too thin.
-Rivets and riveting tool (optional), to better secure your improvised reflector to your hacked-apart paint roller
-An extension cord, so that you can remove paint further than the length of your power cord from an AC outlet:)
-Paint scraper, to remove your loosened paint.

Tools you'll want are:
-Wire stripper. I heart my automatic wire stripper, although any reasonably sharp knife would do in a pinch.
-Metal cutter capable of cutting the metal used for the reflector (and the wire). I used tin snips.
-A grinder or other tool to cut through the rolling part of the paint roller.
-Drill or other tool to make holes in the metal used for the reflector.

Step 2: Attach Emitter and Cord to Roller

First, remove the spinning part from the paint roller so that you have a stationery piece of metal to attach your emitter onto.

Next, splice your cord onto the emitter. You may need to remove a few of the white ceramic discs to get enough cord length on the emitter end of things. One cord from emitter goes to black on the ac cord, and one to white; it shouldn't matter which to which. You can secure these together via fancy wire-twisting skills, wire nuts, or, if you want to do things right, some kind of nonconductive, heat-resistant tape.

With the cord attached to the emitter, hook this shebang up to the roller. I used wire to secure the emitter and electrical tape, which will probably disastrously melt, for the cord. The wire's not incredibly stable, so we'll use the reflector to further secure the emitter.

Step 3: Build Your Reflector

This is really an exercise in improvisation. I id this by cutting approximately-right-sized chunks from a garbage can lid, bending them to approximately the appropriate dimensions, and then connecting the pieces in what seemed like the right way. Yeah, I know the improvisation shows:)

Step 4: Put It All Together

Next, attach your reflector to the emitter-paint roller assembly with rivets and/or wire wherever you feel appropriate. Be sure to cut a space for the cords from emitter to ac cord to fit.

You can also use this step to help better secure your emitter. I did this by providing upward pressure onto the emitter via a side piece with a hole through which the paint roller fits and downward pressure via the wires running through reflector base and over top of paint roller. Basically, just play around with it until you're happy with the result!

Step 5: Unleash Your Creation on Paint Everywhere!

Congratulations: plug your creation in to your extension cord and you should be set to destroy paint worldwide.

A couple things to keep in mind:
-This does NOT produce pleasant or healthy smells. Especially with old paint, which probably means lead-based paint), don't use this without proper ventilation!
-The emitter needs to heat up for a few minutes before it's ready to roll. The red salamander will conveniently turn black when it's hot to trot.
-This doesn't work instantaneously: it'll take a coupla seconds to get the paint loose.
-The best way to know when the paint's ready to come off is to scrape it every few seconds while you're heating it. You know it's definitely set to go if bubbles start to form.

If you want ridiculous power, consider modifying my design to have 2 900-watts angled to hit the same area of paint:)

Thanks for reading, and happy building!



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    19 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Where did you get the heating element?

    900 watts x 20 hours = good for the environment?

    why not just power sand and chisel it off? it would be faster. you'd even have enough time to give it a couple passes with a random orbit sander

    4 replies


    Good question; to be honest, I had to do some homework to come up with an answer:)

    Short version: while you may use more power than a random orbit sander, you will release less nasty paint dust.

    One of the infrared emitter companies has a useful comparison to sanding:
    "The sander will break the paint into very fine dust that will be spread into the neighborhood and into residential homes. This is how people get lead poisoning. Some areas allow sanders with vacuum attachments collecting at best 50% of the dust. There again, the environment and the neighborhood will still receive lots of paint dust. We also believe that any paint is unhealthy, not only lead paint. Acrylic paint contains some 45 chemical ingredients and should not be inhaled by anyone. A sander will not only gouge the wood, it will also close the grain preventing the paint from getting a good tooth."

    Check out this article by This Old House for a more-credible comparison.

    On the power front, even a small random orbit sander is 4.3 amps, making it already 516 watts. Add in some type of dust-capturing vacuum and you'll be competitive with the infrared emitter.


    that makes since i guess. But i would still rather use a sander for any size job. ive sanded my entire log cabin looking house with sanders. The entire house was coated in what I can only assume was a hundred gallons of tree sap mixed with brake fluid (it looked horrible). I stared with a 6" wire brush on a circular sander (at full speed) and ended with 800gt random orbit sander for a mirror finish wood grain to stain... took 4 summers to complete. paint is a different story, but while i watched the video i was just imagining how i could strip that paint off at 20mph with a circular sander and some medium-fine grit disks.

    Agree. IR is only route inside. Super fast disc with vac, is only route outside for stripping. Never sand trim inside, even post ir with vac is dangerous. Never sand walls inside without good vac shroud, you will trash house nick knacks at best. Make your own water vac prefilter.

    People don't realize how fast, and smooth, and longlasting, and essential, a good rotary disk can provide. The trick is a fast, fast, fast tool. Most smokers cannot handle, and will refuse to accept their effectiveness.

    I think where this kind of tool is of most use is where it's difficult to sand a non-flat surface. I've been thinking about making one of these for a while to get the paint off of some moldings and a mantle. It would be horrible/impossible to sand them. And a wire brush or a soft pad on your sander would start to remove wood before it got all the paint.

    Liseman, how hot does your heater get? Is it consistently under 700F? I worry considering what folks are saying here about lead.

    I've just started redecorating my first flat and against dads advice have opted to refurbish all the paint smothered woodwork rather than buy new doors/skirtings etc. Have been playing around with various methods of paint removal when i saw this vid from the very fine : (down near the bottom).

    So i sit looking at the disgusting electric fake fireplace which was about to be freecycled away and BING : 2+2 = AWESOMENESS. Then i find this instructable (hooray for instructables!) and come monday the butchering of the fake fire begins!
    (I will try to photograph and post the results if successful)

    I'm kind of a build you own power tools noob...if I do this, or buy one of your kits, and don't do anything stupid like leave it sitting on a stack of newspapers or run the cord through a puddle of water, are you relatively confident that I won't burn my house down/get electrocuted? Not for legal purposes and I won't hold it against you if either of those things happen, heaven forbid. Just for my own peace of mind :)

    2 replies

    hi sc7923a,

    like any other tool, power or otherwise, you should be fine if you use this cautiously and have a plan for if things go wrong. specifically, i would:
    1. have a fire extinguisher, or at least water, ready anytime you work with something like this
    2. test on a small area first, especially if you're stripping something with valuable underlying wood

    best of luck; if you build one, pls be sure to post photos!


    Cool! I checked out the other guy's website where you learned how to do this, and I think with that in hand, I can persuade my fiance that it will be safe enough for us to not die. How much are your kits?

    I've recently learned that a heat gun will release any LEAD in the paint into the air! This affects 40% of all homes; lead was not banned from paint until 1978.

    If your house was built before 1978, the safest course is to assume that lead is present and follow lead-safe practices. No sanding (unless the dust can be contained) and definitely no heat guns.

    Infrared paint removers are fine!

    Your house can be tested for lead, but that can prove expensive in more than one way. Regardless of the results, the fact that you tested for lead could make your house unsaleable. And you are required by law to disclose the test and results to potential buyers. 

    1 reply

    Just to clarify DWRead's above statement - infrared paint removers CAN BE HAZARDOUS. If your home was built prior to 1978 you should test that any home-made infrared remover is only heating the paint to 400-600 degrees. Using an over-powered or several IR sources could heat the paint to vaporization temperatures (800 degrees Fahrenheit or above). Infrared paint removers are certainly safer than heat gun removal methods since they heat both the paint and the surface, but be careful. Lead poisoning can kill.

    the main problem I encountered with sanding the paint is the stickiness of the paint. your sand paper will become useless in couple of minutes, especially if it is old school paint that contain resins. the only way is to remove it with heat. but another problem is too much heat with heat gun. you'll melt the oils and resins that will impregnate the surface layer of the wood. that is again tuff on sand paper, since it gets sticky and looses it's abrasiveness in minutes.
    infrared emitter works in its gentle way that omits before mentioned problems.

    Oh, wow, wish I'd seen this last week. My new heat gun was just delivered. Tested it out right away and...the smoke alarms tripped, even though there was no smoldering or smoke. (I spritzed the area with water, just in case.)

    I figured I was using it incorrectly, so I looked on the 'Net and learned about infrared paint strippers.* Removes paint using lower temperatures than a heat gun, and it's quiet, to boot.

    "• Infrared paint strippers. Tools using infrared heating elements can remove paint and varnish at lower temperatures than many heat guns. The rectangular devices, which can be bulky to maneuver, radiate heat between 380 and 750 degrees. (Some wood ignites at 745 degrees.) These tools also have drawbacks.

    Doug Rosner, owner of DHR Construction, near Frederick, Md., uses the Speedheater. It can scorch wood “if you leave it on an excessive amount of time,” he said. Those dark marks remain visible under a clear finish. The devices cost about $400, he said. (For details, go to"

    1 reply

    Thanks DWRead. I definitely recommend the IR route, and I would be cautious not to leave the IR heater on the wood for hours at a time or anything crazy. But, definitely don't pay 400 bucks for it! Make one better than mine for less than 50, have a crafty friend hack one together, or, worst case, buy one from me:-)

    $50!!! Just get a heat gun for $15. Put a shirt on, and remake the video, its sideways. Other than that, not too bad

    2 replies

    The nice thing about making way-cheaper versions of commercial products is that sometimes companies will do my homework for me: heat guns are only good if you don't mind royally screwing up the wood beneath and releasing a lot of lead. From same co. cited above: "Heat-Guns/Hot plates. A Heat-Gun or a Hotplate (Coils) operated at approximately 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. Lead paint will be released into the air at approximately 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Wood burns at approximately 750 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat-guns and hotplates contribute to more than 3000 fires in the United States every year according to many sources. Lead is very likely being released into the air using a Heat-Gun or a Hot-Plate. You will also burn the wood and unless this is scraped off the paint will not stick to this charred surface."