My Quest for the LEAST Toxic Paint Strippers & Removers

Paint removers & paint strippers are usually not very pleasant to work with right? From the harsh eye and skin irritating chemicals to the unbearable smells that require a respirator, paint strippers are always toxic… not necessarily.

I recently used (without a respirator) an assortment of “so called” eco-friendly paint removers (all of which were said to be non-caustic and free of methylene chloride) to remove paint from a 25-year-old concrete slab, in preparation for staining the concrete. The following is a list of the products I tried and how they faired in my testing.

1- “Citrasolv” by Citrasolv- this orange liquid product seemed to be the most eco-friendly and was helpful with finish cleaning, but I would not recommend it for heavy duty paint removal. No harsh fumes. No reproductive toxicity warning label.

2- “Multi-strip” by Back to Nature- this product came in a gel form and claimed to be able to remove up to 15 layers of paint in one application (This did not happen). Multi strip did work well though and did so without any harsh fumes. The back of the container had a warning label from the state of California (the leading state in product accountability and public protection as far as I’m concerned) which identified a chemical in this product that caused reproductive toxicity. This doesn’t mean Multi-Strip is a bad choice though, just that you probably don’t want to be in close contact with this product if you’re pregnant. Multi-strip dries when ready for removal, and requires a reasonable amount of elbow grease (like most paint removers). We followed up a scrape with a few soap and warm water scrubbings. This would be my product of choice in the future for heavy duty jobs jobs.

3- “Ready-Strip-Spray” by Back to Nature- this product came in a spray bottle (which was convenient) and worked reasonably well but didn’t quite have the toughness I was looking for on this job. No harsh fumes. This product also carried the same warning label from the state of California regarding reproductive toxicity. In my opinion, it would be another good finishing touch spot remover.

4- “Citristrip” by W.M. Barr and Co.- This product came in gel form and worked the best performance-wise (with the Multi-Strip being a close second), but it did have a very strong smell. The smell was that of orange, but my gut tells me this was a cover for VOCs in the product. This was the only product that did make me feel slightly light headed. Do I dislike this product compared to traditional paint strippers? No, absolutely not. Would this product be my first choice in the future? No, it would not. Citristrip did have the same state of California warning label regarding reproductive harm.

5- “Hi-Speed Ready-Strip” by Back to Nature- This product claimed to strip paint in 30 minutes or less, came in a blue liquid form and seemed to work a lot like the “Ready-Strip-Spray” with one big difference – it stained the concrete blue. I attempted numerous cleaning methods to get the blue out of the concrete, but they all failed. The only thing that worked was an angle grinder with a grinding stone attached to it, and this process creates a lot of dust and alters the finish of the concrete slab (which is especially important to avoid when using a transparent stain). I was extremely frustrated with this product and would not recommend it for any application. In retrospect, I should have used it on a small, out-of-sight section of the floor first, but in my defense, I never expected a paint remover to stain like a blue dye. Again, this product gets no love from me! No harsh smell. Same warning label regarding reproductive harm.

I hope this info helps and I will be sure to follow up on this subject in the future.

Doug Cameron


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