DIY Car Makeover: The Best Way To Strip Paint From a Car

best way to strip paint from an old car

Looking for the best way to strip paint from a car? Read on! We’ll let you in on all our secrets.

It’s not every day that you get a new car. In fact, it most likely isn’t every year. And, for many of us, it’s probably not a car that just rolled out of the showroom either. New cars are tempting and fabulous, but they can also be steep when talking about costs. For many, it is simply not worth it to save for years to buy a new model when a slightly older one is also available.

Many people will buy a pre-owned car that has a few miles under its belt just to bring its price down, making it a great deal. However, not all used cars are created equally, and will vary a lot in terms of performance, aesthetics, and functionality. 

This is why it’s best to put a sum of money aside reserved for any tweaking you may want to do to your car.

How To Revamp an Old Car’s Look

When it comes to bringing an old car back into good shape, it all comes down to what that vehicle needs. It may require a mechanical fix, or an electrical adjustment. It may also need a fresh coat of paint, especially if you can see signs of oxidation, scratches, or other marks that are simply too much hassle to treat individually. 

In these cases, you may want to strip off the first layer of paint and apply a new paint coat. But what is the best way to strip paint from a car?

In this blog, we’ll share some tips so that you can both work efficiently and get the results you crave.

Before we see what the easiest method is, we will talk about car paint a bit. From what affects it to how it was first applied by the manufacturer, and what you can do to strip it off, it’s all here!

What Happens To Car Paint Anyway?

The thing about car paint is that no matter how fabulous it may look, it’s not infallible. There will come a time when the shine has worn off and when all sorts of marks can be clearly visible on its surface, regardless of how well you wash it. 

You may also notice entire patches of faded paint, where the shade is simply lighter than the rest of the car. 

So what is the best way to strip paint from a car then? There’s still plenty yet to find out before we can answer this question. 

A car’s paint may also become sprinkled with scratches — small or deep, they will happen in time. Avoiding scratches is virtually impossible since this would mean garaging your car permanently, for it to never be driven or seen outside without a cover.

As long as you’re driving your car and making use of it, it will show signs of wear and tear. This happens to all cars and to all drivers, without exception. Perhaps it may take longer in some cases for these signs to show, depending on how well the owners are taking care of their precious vehicles. 

So what are the most frequent contaminants that will affect a car’s paint? Let’s take a look:

 1. Road Grime And Dirt

As long as you’re driving your car, you can expect it to get dirty. It doesn’t even matter what kind of roads you’re on. Rural or urban, these streets will gift your car with a bit of road grime and dirt that only comes off through a thorough car wash session.

Sometimes, even more than this may be needed, and polishing would be the next recommended step. Apart from this, dirt and grime are tricky to remove since they’re very abrasive, so you need to be careful not to scratch the surface while doing it. If you do though, it won’t be long until you ask yourself: what is the best way to strip paint from a car? 

2. Salt

Salt is a powerful – and dangerous – contaminant that especially lurks in cities prone to harsh winter weather. This is because where there’s snow… there’s salt as well. 

Local authorities usually pour salt on all the streets that are covered in icy snow because its chemical composition is very efficient in quickly breaking it down and leaving them clear once more.

Unfortunately, salt has a way of getting into the undercarriage of a car and attacking its exterior finish. If it does and it’s not immediately washed off, you can count on the fact that it will go straight through the clear coat and eat away at the paint coat. As you will see below, the clear coat is the protective barrier your car came out of the factory with.

If left unaddressed, salt will eventually eat through the clear coat, paint coat, primer, and cause rust, which spells death for your vehicle’s exterior. Rust on metal is very unpleasant and will considerably lower resale value. Fortunately, if push comes to shove, you can ultimately remove rust, but it will be costly. At the end of the day, it’s always best to have a plan for winterizing your car once the season hits.

3. Abrasive Cleaning Products Residue

Although it may seem hard to believe, some car care products out there are not as car-friendly as they should be. In fact, you need to be careful even with certain car washes that may have less-than-desirable components that will leave abrasive residue on the paint surface area of your car. 

Needless to say, these remaining chemicals will cause even more damage if wiped around on the whole car. 

4. Other Kinds Of Contaminants

These are not the only types of contaminants your car will need to deal with. Unfortunately, there are many more that will cross paths with your car at one point or another. 

We’re talking tree sap, bugs, and bird droppings, among many other things. All of them are highly corrosive. Bird droppings especially are acidic and can do immense damage to your car in just under 24 hours. Apart from this, all the insects that can get stuck and the tree sap that can drip all over your car’s surface will harden like concrete very quickly, making them difficult to remove.

Why Even Think About Stripping Paint From Car?

A question still lingers: What is the best way to strip paint from a car? Let’s go through the reasons why you should consider doing it in the first place. 

The paint’s poor condition is not the only reason why people can choose to strip it off. Many people also choose to do this even when the paint is in relatively good condition. They might not particularly like its color, or have a higher-quality paint that they choose to use.

Another case is when you find an old car and would like to make it your very own project. You might want to experiment, to change whatever you feel like, and make it a custom model that no one else in the world has. This is a dream come true for car enthusiasts that finally get to have a say in every little aspect regarding their car.  

Having said this, many vehicle owners will want to dive deep into learning how to strip paint from the car. Stripping the paint off your car leaves it bare, ensuring the new coat will adhere much better than if the old paint stayed on.

But how do you even do this? Do you need to go to a professional, or can you do it by yourself on your own schedule and with your own resources? And what is the best way to strip paint from a car anyway?

How Was The Factory Paint Applied On The Car?

how to strip paint from a car

Before we get to the ins and outs of paint stripping and discover which method gives us the best way to strip paint from a car, let’s find out more about paint — and the process behind its application.

The way the paint coat ended up on your car is a kind of magic, in fact, but it can also be broken down into specific scientific steps that anyone can understand. When it was assembled in the factory, your car was also given that initial high-quality coat of paint. 

Apart from that, manufacturers employ professionals with years of experience that know how to flawlessly apply paint. They leave no marks, and the finish is absolutely impeccable, thanks to the high standards abide by. In other words, they simply deliver a perfect paint job, difficult to replicate afterward.

By understanding how the first layer of paint was applied, we can quickly move on to checking which is the best way to strip paint from the car.

So let’s take a closer look at how they specifically did this, so you can better understand how the entire process of painting a car unfolds:

1. Sanding The Bare Surface

The first step for these experts was to sand the bare surface, so they could remove all contaminants that were potentially still there.

2. Applying The Primer 

Before actually applying the paint, professionals needed to add a primer first. The primer acts as a base for the paint to sit on better.

3. Applying The Paint 

During this step of the process, they finally apply the paint. The manufacturer’s paint will always be top-quality, and it guarantees long-lasting adherence. 

4. Applying The Clear Coat 

When looking for the best way to strip paint from a car, know it will also have a clear coat. As said before, the clear coat is meant to be an extra protective layer for the paint. This shelters your car’s paint coat from all sorts of contaminants down the line and will guarantee its integrity for a long time to come.

How Do You Strip Off The Paint From a Car?

So what needs to happen when you’re doing all this in reverse? You have the paint on, but you want to remove it.

First of all, when stripping the paint off your car by yourself, you are bound to pay a lot less than you would by taking it to a professional. It’s easy to do it, and your wallet will thank you for it. As soon as you learn which the best way to strip paint from a car is, you will be able to do it yourself and see just how easy it can be.

Now some cars only have one layer of paint whereas others have multiple ones. It’s up to you to find out which category your car falls under, so you can then know how to proceed.

One Layer Of Paint

If you own a car and you know for sure it only has one layer of paint, stripping it off should be easy — and sandpaper is your solution. Use a 220-grit sanding disc. Several sanding rounds should do the trick, simply use increasingly finer grits. You will eventually reach bare metal. 

This is the best way to strip paint from a car if yours had only one layer applied.

Multiple Layers Of Paint

In the case that your car has multiple paint layers, or you simply aren’t sure if it’s been painted before, a chemical stripper will do the job perfectly. Apply it on the entire car and let it sit for a while. Then, proceed by stripping off the old paint. Finish everything by sanding it really well and then washing your vehicle.

What Do You Need To Know About The Sanding Process?

Sanding may sound like a job reserved for professionals, but it’s way easier than you’d think. All you need is to have a couple of materials at your disposal, and you’ll be able to pull off the task like the best professionals out there. You will ultimately be able to master stripping paint from your car by using:

  • Dual-action sander
  • Goggles
  • Heavy gloves 
  • A dust mask
  • Long pants
  • Long sleeves

You can find these first items at any hardware store, while the clothing you can provide yourself with from your own wardrobe. 

1. Start The Preparations

Working with a dual-action sander can be quite messy — you can expect plenty of debris and dust to be thrown into the air as it basically uses compressed air to spin the surface. Protect your eyes and cover your mouth and any exposed parts of the skin. 

It’s also important that you cover the surface you’re working on so you don’t have to sweep any fallen debris. Choose a well-ventilated area so the air doesn’t get dense and full. 

2. Begin Using The Sander

When loading the dual-action sander, make sure to start with coarse 40-grit sandpaper. It’s pretty straightforward and efficient enough to strip off the top layer of paint, which is all you need. You can also get a grinder, which may work much faster, but may damage the metal.  

3. Look Into Alternative Methods

If you own a classic car, you should sand it by hand to avoid damaging its body. If you want to save a considerable amount of money, you can bypass the electric sander and sand it all by hand. It will require a lot more effort and will take longer, but you will save money. 

4. Sand Strategically

You should start sanding on large, flat areas of the car, such as the hood. These types of surfaces are easier to sand, so begin with these before tackling the tight areas. 

Use even pressure when pushing down the sander without leaning it on the side, which may cause a dent on the surface of the vehicle. You will soon see the white primer and then the bare metal if there’s only one layer of paint. Pay attention to the sandpaper itself. If it gets dull, you should get a new piece. 

Paying attention to all these details guarantees that you will eventually master the best way to strip paint from your car.

5. Get Into The Tight Spaces

Open all the doors, including the trunk ones in order to reach all those tight areas too. If these are harder to work, consider using a sanding block instead. Sand again using a 120, 220, and 400-grit paper. Then, wipe the car and repeat the session. Just remember to thoroughly wipe down the car when you finish one session and want to move on to the next.

6. Thoroughly Wash Your Car

No job is actually done until you finish the cleaning part as well. So, as soon as you’re done, make sure to clean your vehicle thoroughly to fully remove any remaining debris.

7. Continue Painting The Car

Now that you’ve successfully carried through with the best way to strip paint from a car, you can continue the process of making your vehicle what you’ve always dreamed of and paint it back again

What Can You Do to Protect Your Car After Painting It Back?

Now that you’ve gone through all this trouble to learn the secrets behind paint removal to sand off your car and strip away all the paint, it’s time to find out what you can do to protect this beautiful finish once you’ve painted it back again.


The first thing that any car care expert will recommend is that you polish your car. It ensures that no residue is left behind on the surface of your car.


Wax using a high-quality product. You can go for carnauba wax or a synthetic product. Either way, it will add a layer of shine and much-needed protection. This all enhances the effects you’ve benefited from when completing the steps above.

Ceramic Coat

Ceramic coating your car is what you need to do if you want to amp up all the protection and shine given by the wax. This is because ceramic coating products are built to offer protection that lasts — and an enviable shine. 

However, not all products are created the same! Professional ceramic coatings may last several years, but they are thousands of dollars and can only be done by a certified professional. Ceramic sprays are great, because they mimic the results of professional ceramic coatings, but have an easy application process that can be completed within minutes. The ONE we truly recommend is the Nexgen Ceramic Spray. With a high SiO2 composition, this spray gives your car four times longer protection than all other similar products on the market.

All In All

In the end, stripping paint from your car is a straightforward process that anyone can master. All you need is the right materials and patience to follow the steps above. 

Before you know it, you’ll have learned all there is to know about how to strip paint from a car by yourself, and you’ll reach the bare metal of your car, allowing you to see it as you never have before — a blank canvas that awaits for your next move and a fresh splash of color.

If you have any questions at all, simply contact us! We’ll do our best to give you all the guidance you need.

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