Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tutorial: The ULTIMATE miniature stripping challenge!

A long hiatus from posting over. Non-stop work continues in the background. Now it is finally time to answer the age old question: Which popular hobby paint removal solution is truly the greatest?

The idea for this post occurred to me a few months ago after yet another discussion in the local forums about stripping minis. I've used Simple Green for a while now and never really thought about experimenting with the others because it did an OK job. Recently, I happened to find two popular alternatives in the same shopping trip. I could not resist doing a comparison test. Your experience may be different, but this should serve as a great starting point for the uninitiated.

Bookmark this article if you like it. Hell, tattoo the URL on your palm if you have to! Just remember to send people to if they're about to embark on one of the most tedious (and money-saving) aspects of our hobby. Enjoy!

Without further delay lets meet the contestants....

1 - Team Dettol
Where I bought it: Wal-Mart - Pharmacy antiseptics
Retail price: $6.17CAD for 250mL
Unit price: $2.47 per 100mL
Utility: antiseptic and disinfectant
Consistency: oil
Hobby hazard: some fumes and poisonous; gloves and well-ventilated area recommended
Environmental impact: not listed on bottle, but if you can put it on cuts it may be alright

2 - Team SuperClean
Where I bought it: Wal-Mart - Automotive section
Retail price: $7.88CAD for 946mL
Unit price: $0.83 per 100mL
Utility: degreaser and mechanical cleaner
Consistency: like water
Hobby hazard: some fumes and irritating to the touch; gloves and well-ventilated area recommended
Environmental impact: biodegradable

3 - Team Simple Green
Where I bought it: Canadian Tire - Household cleaners
Retail price: $14.99CAD for 4L
Unit price: $0.38 per 100mL
Product details
Utility: all-purpose cleaner and degreaser
Consistency: like water
Hobby hazard: smells like weird mint, but not noxious; harmless to touch
Environmental impact: biodegradable

The Weigh-In
14 Feb 2014
Here we're going to look at some general factors not related to the effectiveness of the product. The scoring will sometimes be relative, like in the case of unit price. Each scoring field will either result in no points (the SHT bullet hole), 1 point (one thumb), or 2 points (hobby thumbs!).

Simple Green is off to a nice start with 4 points. SuperClean is following close with 3. And 2 points for Dettol who is trailing behind because it already scares me. 

Control variables
First things first. Many thanks to my buddy Fletcher for lending me some minis for the challenge. Lots of old paint on these. I tried to spread them out as evenly as possible to get a good sample. It's hard to really test product effectiveness unless you throw some tough work at the solutions.

The three test groups

Dettol control group

SuperClean control group

Simple Green control group

Round one: 3 day soak
17 Feb 2014
There is no substitute for personal experience when it comes to stripping paint. I'm not here to convert you. After having stripped miniatures in the hundreds I can say that every session is unique.

Strong performance overall in this round. It almost felt like SuperClean and Simple Green lost their edge the longer I let the models soak, which is strange as this was never my experience before. It was my first time using Dettol and the overall process was brutal. I got the rhythm eventually. In each round I'm going to break down my process for one product to justify the tutorial aspect of this article.

Dettol and you! - To steal a phrase from FUBAR (the movie), Dettol is a danger cat. Very, very uncomfortable to work with. Having said that, it is the best paint remover by far. It will strip most of the paint from any material. Here are some lessons learned.

  1. It is effective in a matter of hours to a maximum of a few days. No need for long soaks.
  2. Wear gloves and work in a ventilated area. The fumes linger.
  3. After the soak work all the paint off by dipping the (tooth)brush in the Dettol, never water.
  4. Only after you've allow the Dettol to evaporate should you do the dishsoap and water bath. If you mix water and Dettol a paste will form. See pics below. It is horrible. Avoid.
  5. The miniatures will stink. I re-soaked in the other formulas to get the Dettol stink off.
  6. Not the most efficient workflow, but the best paint remover.

Dettol really stripped paint the best, but the process was too much trouble compared to the other two.

Round two: 14 day soak
28 Feb 2014
Big surprise from SuperClean this round. It did the same or worse than Simple Green. The sample across the board was a single dreadnought and all this could be a fluke. Nevertheless, I have to stick to the results. Now a bit about SuperClean.

SuperClean. You know, for kids. - Lame Hudsucker Proxy joke aside I do enjoy working with SuperClean quite a bit. It works plastic like a charm even though it doesn't rise above Simple Green on metals. And it definitely strips faster than Simple Green. I've only used it for a few weeks, but it feels like the long soak is not needed for maximum effect.

  1. I suggest soaking models anywhere from one to four days tops.
  2. SuperClean is a metal degreaser. If your skin starts to tingle you're doing it wrong. Wear gloves.
  3. Ventilated area is a good call even though it isn't too noxious.
  4. Standard workflow: soak, pull, scrub with solution, soapy water scrub, hot water rinse, air dry.
  5. Double dipping (putting minis back for a second soak) doesn't work. On the bright side, you can expect at least the same results as Simple Green without getting tennis elbow.

Dettol leads in stripping power, but still hard to work with. SuperClean drops in results while staying most reliable overall. Simple Green stays low across the board...a budget solution for a budget performance.

Round three: 25 day soak
11 Mar 2014
Round three sees the test return to several models of different origins. General evening out of scores highlights the individual strengths of each product. The final test served mostly to reinforce the last two with one major exception. Two seemingly possessed paint jobs threw a wrench into SuperClean's sweep. I can't explain it so I'll chalk it up to the polar vortex. Points lost and so forth.

Plain and Simple Green - Are my puns upsetting you yet? Yes? Good, good. Alright on to the last one. Simple Green has always been my "go to" stripping method. It's cheap, it works moderately well and it's easy to handle if you don't mind getting carpal tunnel syndrome from the endless scrubbing.

  1. The worst of the three solutions in terms of effort to effect, but a hazard-free experience.
  2. No gloves needed and no harsh fumes. I've even come to enjoy the chemical mint smell. Yeah I'm weird.
  3. Standard workflow (see SuperClean), but prepare to scrub like a beast.
  4. Dip for a week or several as required. Double dipping is usually pointless.

 Dettol remains consistent. SuperClean performs very well on most of the models, but mysteriously fails entirely on two reducing its effectiveness score. Simple Green hovers in its comfort zone and even manages to show some strong results in this round. 

And because I have to pick one...the winner is...SuperClean!
16 Apr 2014
So there you have it. SuperClean wins as a solid "middle of the road" solution. It's not the best remover and it's not the cheapest. It will however give you strong results with a relatively light process and a reasonable timeframe.

The goal of stripping paint should not be "off the sprue" results at any cost. It's all about finding a balance between functionality and level of effort. You want to get old layers of paint off so you don't lose detail on the repaint. The priming step that follows usually covers up the imperfections. All three solutions do a pretty solid job within their strengths. When combined they work even better. Anyway that's all for me. Glad to finally be done this article. Hope it helped you some.


  1. So glad somebody finally did this experiment. Thumbs up for your work mate��