Remove Paint From a Car Exterior

There are lots of reasons to want to remove paint from a car. Perhaps some paint splattered onto your car, or maybe you’re simply repainting a single panel. Either way, trying to remove paint from a car can seem like an intimidating process. Fortunately, whether you’re sanding a small splatter, sandblasting a really tough spot, or using a chemical stripper on a larger panel, removing car paint is easier than you might think.



  1. Put on a dust mask and safety gloves before beginning. The sanding process will kick up a lot of dust and grit that could be harmful to your health if you breathe it in. Safety gloves will also help prevent any potential injuries to your hands.[1]
    • You can pick up dust masks and safety gloves at almost any hardware store.
  2. Sand the painted area with 220-grit sandpaper until all the paint is gone. Wrap your sandpaper around a squeegee or sponge to create a flat sanding surface. Move the sandpaper in a circular motion while applying light pressure to the surface of the car. Use a dual-action sander if you’re working over a large surface area.[2]
  3. Wipe the surface of your car clean to remove any leftover grit. Use a dry towel or microfiber cloth to remove any particles from the surface you’re working on. You can also use a fan or leaf-blower to blow the particles away, if you have one.[3]
    • Run a bare hand over the sanded surface after you’ve wiped it off to see if you can still feel any grit. If you do, go back and wipe it again.
  4. Use 400-grit sandpaper to smooth out the sanded surface. This will get rid of any ridges or bumps leftover from the process of sanding out the paint on your car. Be sure to sand using small, circular motions to avoid sanding the surrounding areas of the car.[4]
    • Make sure to keep the sandpaper flat as you sand the surface of the car. As your arm becomes tired, you may begin to emphasize the edge of the paper, which will produce an uneven finish.
    • It’s especially important to smooth out the surface of the sanded area if you intend to repaint and reseal it.
  5. Wipe the area again and wash it to clean the surface. Use a towel or microfiber cloth to remove the leftover dust and grit from the surface of the car. Then, use ordinary automotive soap and water to wash the area. Finally, spray down the sanded surface with a hose to get rid of any fine particulates and soapy residue.[5]
    • Be sure to rinse this area as thoroughly as possible, in order to avoid accidentally painting over dust or dirt.
  6. Repaint and reseal the area, if needed. Apply 3 coats of automotive primer to the car surface with a spray gun or brush, waiting 15 minutes between each coat. Once the final coat has dried, use a spray can to repaint the car with horizontal strokes.[6]
    • If you’re only working on a small surface area, you may be able to apply the primer with a hand brush. However, for larger areas, it’s best to use a spray gun.
    • For best results, apply at least 2 coats of paint, waiting 10 minutes in between each coat.
    • If you’ve sanded the surface of the car so far down that you see bare metal, you’ll definitely have to repaint it. However, if the original finish is still intact after this process, feel free to skip this step.
    • You’ll probably want to apply a fresh coat of sealant to the sanded surface as well, just to be safe. Use a chamois to rub a thin coat of car polish and sealer onto the painted area after it’s dry.

Using Chemical Stripper

  1. Place tape over any areas you don’t want to be affected. Apply several layers of masking tape to chrome trim or other exterior accessories so the chemical stripper doesn’t affect them. Make sure any glass on the surface of the car is covered, as it’s particularly vulnerable.[7]
    • Cover the weather stripping, tail lights, and headlights as well to make sure these areas are protected.
  2. Spray or brush the chemical stripper onto the area. Most chemical strippers come in spray cans. However, you may instead want to use a brush to apply the stripper in a more controlled fashion. Apply enough chemical stripper to create a thin layer on the surface of the car.[8]
    • For best results, apply the chemical stripper from top to bottom, so that it flows downward and away from the car.
    • If you’re using a brush to apply the stripper, rub the stripper in even vertical strokes, going from top to bottom.
  3. Allow the stripper to sit for 30 minutes, then scrape off the paint. First, use a putty knife or paint scraper to scrape away the paint from the surface of the car. Scrape in a downward direction, applying generous pressure to ensure the paint is removed. Then, use a wet rag or sponge to wipe the area down and remove the rest of the paint.[9]
    • By the time you wipe off the area with your rag or sponge, the remaining paint should easily fall away from the car.
  4. Rinse the area and allow it to dry completely before repainting. For best results, go ahead and wash the entire body of the car with soap and water. Once the car is completely dried, apply 3 coats of automotive primer to the stripped area with a spray gun, waiting 15 minutes in between each coat. Then, spray 2 coats of paint onto the area to match the rest of the car.[10]
    • After you paint the stripped area, use a chamois to apply a thin coat of car polish and sealer to protect the surface of the car.
    • Washing the entire car after this process is a good way to make sure you get rid of any lingering chemical stripper on the body of the car.

Sand-Blasting the Car

  1. Load your compressor with your blasting medium. If you need to remove paint from a large surface area, your best bet is to use sand. However, if you’re working on a smaller or more vulnerable part of the car, you may want to go with soda instead.[11]
  2. Blast the vehicle, moving in smooth side-to-side motions. Hold the compressor about {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} away from the surface of the car. Compress the trigger on the compressor to begin blasting the car. If this isn’t close enough to strip the paint, slowly move the nozzle closer to the car until paint begins to come off. Make deliberate horizontal movements, making sure to not linger too long over any single area.[12]
    • If you blast one particular area for too long, you may end up damaging the metal underneath the paint.
  3. Continue sandblasting until you’ve removed all the paint. Stop blasting the car as soon as the paint is removed in order to avoid damaging the metal underneath. If the surface is rough and jagged, sand it with 80- to 100-grit sandpaper to smooth it out.[13]
  4. Prime the area immediately and paint it, if necessary. Use a spray gun to apply 3 coats of automotive primer to the blasted surface as soon as possible in order to prevent the formation of rust. Then, repaint the area with 2 coats of spray paint to match the surrounding parts of the car. Finally, use a chamois to apply a thin layer of car polish and sealant to the blasted area to protect it from the elements.[14]
    • Rust will begin to form almost immediately on the affected area, so it’s important to prime the surface as quickly as you can.


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