Chemical Strippers are very dangerous. There are basically two types in use, caustics and solvents.
Caustic paint removers are typically sodium hydroxide. Also known as caustic soda or lye. These work by breaking the chemical bonds of the coating. Sodium hydroxide is extremely dangerous. If you get it in your eyes it will blind you and if you get it on your skin it will attack your flesh. It has strange and unstable properties. It will freeze at about 58 degrees. I remembered I had a five gallon bucket in the back of my truck one time and remembered it would freeze, even though it was the middle of summer, so I went out to move it into my garage. One drop fell onto my bare foot and in the time it took me to walk 5 feet to a rag and wipe it off I had already received a chemical burn.
Solvent paint removers are usually dichloromethane also known as methylene chloride. These work by penetrating and swelling the paint film. Methylene chloride is a carcinogen. It poses a serious health risk. It will cause serious chemical burns to your skin and the fumes are harmful.
I don’t advise anyone to use either of these chemicals. If you do, you must exercise every precaution possible. Eye protection, chemical barrier clothing, respirator. You want to plan ahead and have neutralizers and eye wash on hand ahead of time. You need to plan for proper disposal ahead of time as well.
There are safer alternatives. Heat guns, methylene chloride free solvents and pastes. There are soybean based strippers and citrus based removers as well. One of my favorite removers is Peel Away . Peel Away is a paste that you apply to the surface of what you are stripping and then you cover the paste with a paper. It’s a great product. We normally put the paste on at about 1/4 inch to 3/8 of an inch and check it after about 4 hours. e have had jobs where we left it on for over 20 hours. It is very effective. The only downside is you end up using a lot of the product and the price can add up quickly.
If you decide to use a heat gun and there is a possibility of there being lead based paint you want to make sure to use a low temperature heat gun 400 degree. Temperatures at or above 1100 degrees will create toxic lead fumes.
I suggest hiring a professional paint contractor to do any stripping work. It’s money well spent. If you want to do it yourself, here are some suggestions.
Safety above all else! Plan ahead.
1. Eye protection at all times. Have a plan for dealing with eye splashes.
2. Most strippers can build up pressure in the container, open slowly with a rag over the top.
3. Children should not be in the area.
4. Chemical strippers give off fumes. Wear a respirator and leave the area while the chemicals work.
5. Several pairs of chemical resistant gloves and protective clothing is a must.
6. Plan ahead. Have neutralizers on hand. Baking soda, simple green, water and rags.
7. Have a safe place for used stripper and debris. Dispose of properly.