Something I discovered in the course of this investigation is that this, for some reason, is a pretty controversial topic. Everyone, it seems, has their personal favourite method of stripping paint off minis. It’s clear that we need a fuller investigation of this subject. So let’s call this Chapter One.
What we tested
I wanted to make sure I was testing products that fulfilled the following criteria. Products must be
- Safe to use with bare hands
- Legal to dispose of into normal sewerage
- Appropriate for use on plastic, metal and resin
- Usable without special equipment an average miniatures painting beginning would not necessarily have
With this restrictions in mind, I picked three of what seemed to be the most popular stripping media available. It helped that I also already owned all of them.
- Simple Green – For years, this has been a go-to product for US wargamers, but until fairly recently it wasn’t available in the UK. Nowadays, it’s even manufactured this side of the Pond. I made sure I was using the concentrated form of this popular multi-purpose cleaner.
- Methylated Spirits – The traditional UK paint stripper for generations. Methylated spirits (known as “meths” and not to be confused with “meth”) is a concentrated and poisonous form of alcohol, dyed blue and vile tasting to discourage its abuse by alcoholics.
- BioStrip20 – A relatively new entrant in the market, manufactured in the UK. Unlike the other two, it has a consistency and appearance closer to white (PVA or Elmers) glue than water.
How we tested them
I tested each product on two painted, metal miniatures with a plastic base. The miniatures are from the same force so, as far as I can manage, they have all been painted with the same brands of paint, based with the same materials and varnished with the same product.
I treated each pair of miniatures with the product for one hour. In the case of meths and Simple Green, this meant immersion without agitation. In the case of BioStrip20, it meant being painted onto the miniature liberally. A degree of agitation from the paintbrush was inevitable but kept to a minimum.
After an hour, I then agitated each miniature with an old toothbrush to assess the effectiveness of the treatment so far, washed and dried. If necessary, a second hour would be given and the same agitation applied.
After two hours, if the miniatures weren’t adequately clean, I treated them overnight and agitated again in the morning.
The Results – Stage 1
Simple Green’s results after the first hour of immersion were confusing. The miniature on the left, after a gentle brushing, gave up about 90% of the paint on the miniature itself. But a fair amount of black undercoat is left visible in recesses and cracks. The painted sand/glue mix on the base and the painting on the rim of the base itself was barely touched.
The miniature on the right lost its upper coats easily but the undercoat refused to shift. It’s possible this was a different primer coat. As a rule, I alway undercoat with HyCote Matt Black and these two minis came from the same set at the same time so should have been undercoated with the same paint. It’s a mystery why the paint isn’t coming off this one. Also, neither base has had the paint or sand come off, even with quite firm agitation with the toothbrush.
By contrast, the meths has done an OK job on both minis and clearly removed most of the paint and sand from the bases. Neither mini is as good as the Simple Green mini on the left, but both are better than the one on the right.
The BioStrip20 did a better job of removing the paint from both base and mini. It was slightly less good at removing the sand and glue compared to the meths.
I decided that none of the three products had shown their best results, so the minis went back into their respective products for another hour.
Results – Stage 2
After two hours in Simple Green, the paint was starting to come off the bases and the sand to shift. A bit more of the crusted black primer came off the mini on the left – still, almost nothing from the one on the right. Clearly, Simple Green would need to go into Stage 3 for the overnight stage.
Both miniatures in the meths have had their bases almost fully stripped (the residual staining is mostly just that). More of the undercoat has been released by the second hour’s dip. Still, it’s not what I was hoping for.
As for the BioStrip20, both minis are almost back to “as new” metal after two treatments. The white on the base of the mini on the left is wood filler, used to texture the base, and is entirely untouched by the BioStrip. That stuff ain’t coming off without a chisel! On the right, you can see modelling putty used to fill the gap in the base around the mini’s tab. That, too, is unaffected by the BioStrip.
As I wasn’t planning on re-basing these miniatures, this is good enough for me and these two won’t go forward to Stage 3. This is the result I was looking for.
Results – Stage 3
After a full night’s immersion in meths, both minis are better than they were the day before. Most of the undercoat is removed and the bases essentially clean. Not as good as the BioStrip, though.
Those is the Simple Green have also fared better. The undercoat on the mini on the right has started to come off, but large amounts remain. And the paint on the base hasn’t entirely come off the mini on the left.
Well, at first glance it looks like a tearaway win for the BioStrip20. However, a few things do need to be said before we declare it the winner.
First, unlike the meths and the Simple Green, BioStrip20 can’t be reused. So although you get a good amount in a tub, it doesn’t go as far. And although it’s comparable in price to the Simple Green, both are a lot more expensive than a bottle of generic meths. The bottle of Simple Green 500ml concentrate illustrated isn’t available anymore, but a 1L bottle is £14.99 (with free postage). The 500ml tub of BioStrip20 is £5.50 (plus postage). A 1L bottle of meths can be picked up in any hardware store for as little as £2.50 (although, online, it’s usually more like £5.00/litre).
Second, the BioStrip is considerably messier than the other two. Scrubbing it over the sink in my utility room, I left a splatter trail right across the counter and up the wall. It wiped off, no problem, but you might just want to bear that in mind before doing this in the kitchen or bathroom!
And finally, as far as the BioStrip goes, elbow grease is your only option. I’m reliably informed that both meths and Simple Green will go into an ultrasonic cleaner (anywhere from £16 to £130). Without any brushing at all, it will apparently leave miniatures sparkling and can be poured back into the bottle afterwards.
However, I don’t own an ultrasonic cleaner (yet), and prefer not to assume that other hobbyists do. Perhaps we’ll give that a try in the next chapter?
After all, this is only the first chapter in our testing. BioStrip wins this round. But is there a product you think can out-do it? A secret technique I need to try or a piece of (not-too-expensive) equipment I ought to buy that will make me change my opinion on Simple Green or meths?
Let me know in the comments and I’ll start planning for Chapter Two!