If you have a painted surface that is in good shape and clean, you can usually paint right over it without removing any old paint. However, if your old paint is peeling, cracked, blistered, or loose, you don’t want to paint over it without using any paint removal tools like a wire brush to remove paint first or you’ll run into trouble. Fresh paint may initially cover up the imperfections, it won’t be long before the underlying marks start to show up and ruin how your finished product looks. So, in order to give your project a solid base for your next paint layer, you’ll have to use a wire brush to remove paint.
Scraping paint is usually done via wire brush or a paint scraper, or some people use a combination of both to get the old paint off. This can be a time-consuming and tedious process. If you don’t have time, you’re free to take a sander to the area, but this isn’t good for smaller areas. To get the smoothest finish, it’s important that you remove all of the old paint before the new layer goes on, and we’ll outline how below.
There are a few types of wire brushes available to help you remove paint, and finding the best one to match your project can help you get better results.
How To Pick a Wire Brush For Your Paint Removal
A wire brush to remove paint is a great way to get rid of any flaking paint from wood, weld splatter, slag, or rust from metals, or other unwanted waste materials from a surface. However, before you pick out the perfect wire brush to remove paint, you should carefully consider the following to ensure you get a solid pick:
- Filament configuration
- Trim length
- Wire diameter
- Wire type
Wire wheel, hand, and wire cup brushes all come with a three filament configuration to pick from, based on their benefits. These configurations include:
- Crimped Wire – These brushes feature individual wires that are only supported by each other, and this offers high impact with better flexibility. As a direct result, these types of brushes work much better on medium or light-duty jobs on irregular surfaces, and they’re also great for delicate surface finishes.
- Standard Twist Knot – These wire brushes to remove paint have straight wire bristles twisted together to give you very rigid cable-like pieces. This makes them work better for high-impact, aggressive applications.
- Stringer Bead Twist Knot – The filaments on this brush are very tightly twisted to the end of a knot, and this gives you a more narrow surface for high-impact projects. This filament works well for more aggressive cleaning or brushing on your deck or lawn ornaments.
The length of your trim equals the amount of unusable filament you have on your wire brush to remove paint. So, you want to pick out a brush with more extended trims to give you more flexibility on irregular surfaces. Pick out a more rigid, shorter brush filament to give you faster paint removal action on your wooden or metal surfaces.
The diameter of a great wire brush to remove paint varies depending on the paint thickness for your project. Picking a wire brush that offers a thin or fine diameter for light-duty projects like detailing, paintings, or mirrors works well. Otherwise, you can get a medium to coarse wire brush to remove paint to take on bigger exterior projects or heavy-duty chairs or furniture stripping.
Finally, you also want to keep the type of wire your brush is made out of in mind to help ensure you get one that works on the surface material you want to clean paint off of. You can find brushes made out of stainless steel, carbon steel, brass, and nylon. Stainless and carbon steel are more selective with the surfaces you can use them on, but you can use either of them to remove paint from wood. On the other end of the spectrum, nylon and brass are very versatile, and they excel at stripping paint from wood.
You should carefully sort through the various wire brushes you have available to ensure yours will work to remove the paint without damaging the surface under it. Paint Removal by mpclemens / CC BY 2.0
How To Use a Wire Brush To Remove Paint
Using a wire brush paint scraper can be a quick project if you’re using the correct type of brush. This wire brush to remove paint should come with fine bristles for more delicate areas and wire bristles for heavy-duty, larger areas. However, if the end goal is to strip the paint surface 100% clean, brushing it alone won’t be enough. The advantage of this tool is it works well in tandem with other paint removal tools.
Remember to wear heavy-duty gloves and safety glasses when you scrape the paint using manual tools. It can be a time-consuming process and be very rewarding when you apply your new layer of paint.
Step 1 – Dry Brush Any Loose Paint From the Wood
You should start the paint stripping process by making quick back and forth motions on the blistered, loose, or raised paint. First, sweep your paint stripping brush in the direction your paint is peeling in to lift it off the solid base.
Step 2 – Coat the Wire Brush with a Solvent or Paint Thinner
If you can see areas where the paint is still intact on the surface after you dry brush it, consider adding a coat of solvent or paint thinner on your wire brush to remove paint. This could be water or mineral spirits. Since the wire tines on your brush won’t hold the liquid thinner or solvent, brush the paint off right away. Brush in the direction of the paint strokes and against it if you can tell which is which. This lets your wire brush pick up all of the paint that it tightly adhered to the wood.
It’s also possible for you to apply the solvent or paint thinner directly to the paint job you want to remove from the wood. Once the paint softens, you can use your brush to scrub it away. You’ll notice that your brush starts to pick up the paint as you keep working at it. Apply more pressure to lift stubborn paint stains.
Step 3 – Utilize Other Paint Stripping Methods
For more firepower, you’ll apply a chemical paint stripper on the delicate wood surface, edges, or intricate corners. This will help soften up the paint. Once the paint starts to bubble on the surface, you’ll want to make a lot of passes with your wire brush to get the excess paint off and push the remaining paint stripper to the surface.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions very carefully when you use any chemical stripper to get rid of paint. If you’re working on a bigger external surface like a deck or wall siding, you could pressure wash the paint away too. If you find any stubborn paint clinging to the surface, you can scrub it using your wire brush to remove paint. This combination will help remove your paint quicker while reducing scratches on the surface from the brush.
Step 4 – Follow up with a Paint Scraper
If you still have layers of paint left after that, you want to follow up with a thick paint scraper. All you should have to do is push it below the paint and scrape it away from the surface.
Step 5 – Wash Your Wire Brush
Finally, you want to thoroughly rinse your brush under running water to get rid of any paint or dirt that may be trapped in the bristles. If you stripped away an oil-based paint, use mineral spirits first to flex the brush to get rid of any trapped debris. Finish cleaning the brush with soapy water and let it air dry.
It’s important that you wash out your wire brush very thoroughly when you finish with your project as any chemicals can damage the metal fibers. Crimped Wire Brush by Sandy Sarsfield / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Removing Paint from Wood Using a Wire Brush Without Causing Damage
Using sandpaper, a wire brush, paint scrapers, and a paint stripper, you can quickly and safely remove paint from wood in a few hours. Make sure you wear the correct protective gear for this project like safety glasses, a face mask, and gloves.
- Drop cloth
- Painters tape
- Paint roller
- Paint scraper
- Paint stripper
- Power sander
- Pry bar
- Rag or cloth
- Wire brush
Step 1 – Remove Nails, Screws, and any Other Hardware
To start, remove all of the hardware you see from the surface, including screws, nails, brackets, and even doorknobs if you’re working on a painted door if possible. This will help to keep the hardware safe from the corrosive paint stripper chemicals. For any hardware you can’t remove, protect it with a layer of painter’s tape.
Doorknobs and hinges can be taken off your door before you apply paint stripper, but if you’re removing paint from something like a wooden deck, it’s impossible to take out the screws or nails without impacting the deck’s structural integrity. Instead, sand around the screws and nails and then cover them with painter’s tape to protect them.
Step 2 – Prepare the Project Area
Open windows or set up fans to help improve ventilation if you’re working in an enclosed area. Apply drop cloths and painters tape to protect the area around any fixed objects, like a fence or deck. If you’re removing paint from an item that you can move, like a door or furniture, move it to a well-ventilated space and put it on top of a drop cloth to stop the paint stripper from damaging the walls, ground, grass, doors, shrubs, flowers, or anything you have nearby.
Step 3 – Apply the Paint Stripper
When you have your PPE on and you prepped the area, apply the paint stripper. You want to use a paint roller or brush to liberally apply a layer of paint stripper to the target surface. Typically, you’ll have to apply it and leave it alone for 20 to 30 minutes to give it time to work. However, if you want to remove multiple layers of paint, you may have to let it sit for up to two hours. You should see the paint start to loosen and bubble as your paint stripper takes effect. Different paint stripper products will work differently, so make a point to follow the directions on the container to ensure you’re using it correctly.
Step 4 – Remove the Paint Using a Paint Scraper
A chemical paint stripper is only supposed to make the paint separate from the wood, and you will need to wipe away any loose paint using an old cloth or rag. Use a paint scraper to remove any paint that is partially stuck to the wood, but make sure you work slowly to avoid causing any damage to the wood. If necessary, you can apply a second coat of paint stripper to help remove any stubborn paint that didn’t lift away the first time. Repeat this process until you’re happy with how it looks before moving on.
Step 5 – Focus on the Tricky Spots
Somewood sections, like recessed or raised areas, can be much more difficult to get to than others. After you get most of the paint off with the paint stripper, make a point to give special attention to any hard-to-reach areas. Apply paint stripper to a paint brush and put it on these spots for 20 minutes. Get a wire brush to remove paint and work in the tight areas to get rid of the paint without causing any damage.
Step 6 – Wash and Sand the Wood
Did you know that paint stripper can cause long-lasting damage if you leave it on a wooden surface too long? This means that once you manage to remove all of the paint from your wooden surface, you want to wash the wood with a water-soaked, clean cloth to remove any of the leftover paint stripper. While sanding isn’t required, it’s recommended. You can use sandpaper or a manual sander for smaller projects like wood furniture to help smooth your surface out and prep it for repainting or staining. If you’re sanding a bigger surface, you may want to consider buying or renting a power sander to smooth the wood very quickly. After you sand it, you want to wash away the dirt, sawdust, or debris and allow it to dry before you stain or repaint it.
Paint Striper Alternatives
If you’re not a huge fan of using harsh paint strippers, there are several options you can try to remove paint from wood, including citrus-based products, heat guns, pressure washers, or vinegar. We’ll touch on them more below.
- Citrus-Based Paint Removers – These products use terpenes to strip paint in a biodegradable, non-toxic way that they get from certain plants. They will have some of the chemicals to help strip away the paint, but they don’t contain the same powerful chemical odor as you’ll get with traditional paint strippers.
- Heat Guns – These heat guns work to apply a high level of heat to the paint, and this makes it easier to use a wire brush to remove paint. However, heat guns can also cause accidental fires if you leave the heat on one area for too long. This can also boost the amount of paint vapors that are in the air, so make sure you work in a well-ventilated area before you try it.
- Pressure Washers – This isn’t the best option you have to remove pain because they can easily damage wood. However, you can use the pressure washer on a lower water setting to remove paint flakes or chips without using a paint stripper. Just make sure that you put your pressure washer on the lowest setting possible and slowly increase the pressure until you find the level you need. This reduces your chances of causing damage to the wood.
- Vinegar – Vinegar is a popular household cleaning and preserving product that you can use for light paint removal projects. However, keep in mind that it doesn’t work as well as commercial-grade paint strippers. The main benefit of using it is that it’s inexpensive and more eco-friendly.
Using a Wire Brush to Remove Paint from Metal
Getting paint off of metal surfaces can be very difficult, even if you have the right tools. No matter if you’re professionally preparing a surface or you’re going to take on a DIY project, it’s a good idea to strip the paint from the metal in the right way from the very start. There are a few different techniques you can use to accomplish this, and we’ll outline them, along with paint removal safety, below.
Paint Removal Safety
Before you dive into any of the paint removal techniques we rounded up for you below, we recommend that you get the correct safety gear first. Basic safety gear consists of eye protection, a mask, and gloves. However, you also may want to add some type or protection apron.
No matter if you’re going to clean off enamel paint, spray paint, latex paint, or even old paint that could contain lead, safety should always be first. You don’t want to risk getting paint chips in your eyes or breathing anything in. If you’re going to use chemicals to remove paint, you want to make sure that you’re protected from the fumes they can create. Working in a very well-ventilated area and wearing a mask is recommended for rust or paint removal projects.
Prepping and Cleaning Loose Paint from Metal
If the paint is chipping off, you want to start the project by getting rid of a lot of the visible paint chips using a wire brush. Depending on the type of metal under the layers of paint, you can choose to go with stainless steel, brass, or carbon steel brushes. These brushes will come in handy later on when you need to get around more intricate designs or around corners. Once you get rid of all of the loose paint chips, you can move on and try any of the techniques below. It’s even possible to try a combination of them, depending on the metal you have underneath the paint.
Using Abrasives to Remove Paint from Metal
There are a number of ways you can sand paint off of a metal surface. It’s usually the fastest way to get rid of the rust, paint, or any surface imperfections or contaminants without leaving a huge mess behind. You can use a range of tools like an angle grinder, portable belt sander, orbital sander, straight grinder, or even a drill for this process. Each of these power tools has a specific paint stripping belt or wheel you can buy.
However, a wire brush to remove paint is going to be one of the best options you have available. However, when you’re working on larger areas, you can switch cover to wire wheel brushes to finish the job with less effort and time. Depending on the tool you want to use and the surface you need to remove paint from, you can choose between wire end brushes, cup brushes, wire wheels, or wire drums to get the paint off.
Crimped wires are generally recommended for abrasive wire types to remove paint. They are much more flexible and not as aggressive as the stringer or knot wire wheels. Crimped wires are supposed to work well for lighter paint removal. If you use knot or stringer wire wheels, they are a lot stiffer and will give you a heavier, faster removal process. However, you risk damaging your metal surface.
We recommend that you use a handheld wire brush to remove paint for any soft or light projects. You can also use them on any coating that isn’t firmly bonded to the metal like weld splatter or scaly rust.
Using a Wire Brush to Remove Paint from Brick
Sometimes, painted brick can really pull a design together, or it can look dated. If you want to update your old brick fireplace or a brick wall, you can do it on your own if you have the right tools and time. It can be a very labor-intensive project to take on, but the end results are worth it. To do so, you’ll need:
- Drop cloths
- Drywall knife
- Painter’s tape
- Paint stripper
- Peeling strips
- Protective painter’s gear
- Stiff-bristled wire brush
Step One – Test the Brick
Before you start the paint stripping process, you want to test out your paint stripper on a small area of your brick surface. It’s also important to buy a paint stripper that is meant for masonry work. Paint strippers have evolved significantly, and gel-based options are common to get paint off of brick surfaces. If the paint stripper doesn’t work, you may need to bring in a professional.
Step Two – Protect Your Work Area
Lay down plastic drop cloths or canvas around your work area to help catch any peeling and flaking paint that you’ll strip from the brick. Tape your drop cloths down for maximum coverage. If you’re working around any finished areas or trim, you want to make sure you use painter’s tape to cover them. Along with making the cleanup process quick and easy, it’ll also reduce the chances of damaging your surfaces in and around the work area. This is also a great time to put on any protective gear you want to wear, like gloves, a respirator mask, or goggles.
Step Three – Prepare Your Surface and Apply the Paint Stripper
Scrape away any loose paint you see. Get a drywall knife, trowel, or tool provided when you bought the paint stripper and use it to apply the paint stripper to the brick. Work it into any tiny crevices or cracks you see. Follow the instructions on the package for the amount you need to apply and how thick it should be. Allow 20 to 30 minutes for the remover to work.
Step Four – Remove the Paint Stripper
Remove the paint stripper following the manufacturer’s instructions. You can also get a wire brush to remove paint and remove any residue with it before rinsing it with water. As always, make sure you follow any product instructions you have.
Using a wire brush to remove paint can be slightly time-consuming, but it works very well on a large range of materials from wood to metal. Also, you can use it on small or larger projects without a problem to give yourself a clean slate to work with going forward.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.