How To Strip Paint And Glue From Your Models

Three of the best methods for stripping paint and glue from models.

We all do it from time to time. You paint a model badly or glue a part in the wrong place or just buy  a used model that you want to repaint to fit your scheme. Experienced painters know you should go to the bare metal or plastic and start over for the best results. I will take you through three of the best methods I know of stripping paint on your used or badly painted models. Each has pros and cons. All of them are effective.

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is corrosive and incredibly effective at breaking apart the paint and the glue on a model. You simply need to place a model in a cup with the brake fluid and let it sit overnight. The paint separates from the model rather quickly. Any joints with glue will break up with a little more time in the fluid. You can dip the model once to remove the paint and then a second time to break up the glue. When cleaning off the paint, you will want to use an old toothbrush and toothpicks for getting the paint out of the crevices. If you run the model under water, the paint and glue will start to dry back up almost instantly, making it difficult to remove. You may have to wash your model with water and dip it back into the fluid multiple times to clean it entirely.

Brake fluid is a toxic substance and should NOT be disposed of down a drain. Fortunately,  the brake fluid strength isn't diminished significantly while using it to clean off paint. You can use the same fluid for multiple models easily.


  • Incredibly effective at breaking down paint AND glue.
  • Highly reusable for multiple models.


  • Disposal is limited. Auto shops can tell you the best ways to dispose of brake fluid.
  • It will take 12 hours or so before the fluid completely dries from the model.


Acetone is stored in several ways. It is found in large tins in some automotive supplies or in several varied containers as nail polish remover. The nail polish remover comes in multiple containers that can be chosen based on your needs.

Acetone is probably the strongest substance among these three. You will need to ventilate the area as you should not inhale the acetone fumes. Acetone is better for spot cleaning models because it evaporates quickly. You can trap acetone into a cup with your model, but it will still dry up quickly. You will need to make sure that acetone does not destroy the cup. A hard plastic cup or metal container is the only way you should hold acetone. It will eat thin plastics and paper or styrofoam cups. It breaks down glue and makes it a gel-like substance for  a short time. If you can't remove the part quickly, the glue will dry back into place.

If you find the right container for acetone, you can store a model inside and keep it sealed. Since the container is designed to hold acetone, it should slow down any evaporation issues you might have.


  • The best substance on this list for removal.
  • Almost no down time before being able to prime thanks to quick evaporation.
  • Requires less time before paint and glue are removable than the other two substances here.


  • Requires ventilation.
  • Evaporates quickly when not in a completely sealed container.
  • It dries quickly along with any glue it has weakened. It's paramount to move a model from acetone to cleaning as fast as possible.

Concentrated Cleaner

Cleaners such as Purple Power or Simple Green fall into this category. The key here is to not dilute the cleaner, at all. The concentration is where the strength is. Pour some into your cup and drop the model in. In only a few hours, you should have the paint ready to wash off. If you don't leave the model in the cleaner for an excessive amount of time, it won't affect the glue on your model.

If you are putting a model in that has some bare metal, that metal will likely stain and look dirty. It is nearly impossible to remove the stain, but it will not have any adverse effects on your primer or paints.


  • It only requires a few hours to break down paints.
  • Perfect for cleaning paint without breaking down the glue holding it together.
  • No need for excessive ventilation or specific disposal.


  • Stains the bare pewter if left in direct contact for too long.
  • Isn't good at breaking down glue in a short amount of time.

Additional thoughts

All three of these substances should be kept away from children and animals. If anyone of them is ingested, a hospital visit will likely be necessary. You should wash your hands after use with any of these. There are plenty more options to choose from, but these are tried and true for my models. There are few, if any, options on game store shelves for removing paint from models and they are usually over-priced. These options are cheaper and more effective.

Hopefully this will help you clean up those old armies you've been wanting to repaint!


While I do play some of the greats like Civilization and X-com, consider me your Tabletop guru here at gameskinny. Want to know about a tabletop game? Just ask!

Published Oct. 1st 2014
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    The header image horror! I would be so sad if I was the owner walking out to find that.

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