I struggled with this for years.
All sorts of chemicals of varying costs, smells and levels of toxicity were tried. I never found anything that I felt happy with the results of, or felt safe using/storing.
You will need:
- A few (two or three) containers to hold enough fluid that you can immerse your models in, preferably with airtight lids so that you can't smell the fluids and to minimise risk of spillage when moving,
- Some cheap toothbrushes (or similar for scrubbing paint),
- Soap and water (for cleaning the models and your hands afterwards),
- Rubber gloves (this can be harsh on the skin and also the smell can linger on your hands) and goggles if you have them (brush-bristles can spray paint/fluid in unexpected directions as you scrub),
- White Spirit (not always necessary - see below),
- And the magic ingredient: Dettol! None of the new-fangled, fragranced, squirty-bottle stuff. Just the old "smells like a lift (elevator, for non-English readers), looks like apple-juice" stuff.
- Put a 25/75 mix of Dettol/Water into your container. You can use a stronger mix for more stubborn paint if needs be, but this should suffice.
- Fully immerse your models in the solution. This works for plastic and metal minis, but I do find the paint will come off metals more readily. I haven't tried this on Resin models, so try this on them at your own risk.
- Place the lid on your container and leave for 24 hours - longer if you like. I left one set of minis for months with no ill effects.
- In a sink or similar, wearing your rubber gloves and with a window open, remove the models one at a time from the solution (don't discard or drain it - you may need to re-immerse or can re-use it for other models) and remove as much paint as you can with your fingertips and the toothbrush. You should find it comes away fairly easily. See "A note on paints" below.
- If you can completely remove all paint like this, then simply wash the model clean with your soapy water and allow to dry.
- Some paints soften but remain very sticky and become "tar-rey". In this case, Dettol alone won't do the full job. Once you have removed as much as you can after the Dettol bath, you will need to switch to using White Spirit. Important: You will need a different approach for Metal models than for Plastics:
- For Metals: take another clean container and fill it with White Spirit. Immerse the models in the White Spirit and leave for an hour or more. Scrub with fingers/toothbrush and the remaining paint should dissolve and come away cleanly. Wash in soapy water and allow to dry.
- For Plastics: immersing plastic models in White Spirit for any length of time will cause the model to soften and pick up a slight "cauliflower ear" appearance (I know this to may cost after immersing a Space Marine Rhino for 8 hours - I now have an armoured transport that doubles as a squeezy stress-ball). You can still use White Spirit on these models, but just dip your toothbrush in the White Spirit, scrub and then wash the model clean, keeping the White Spirit on the model for as small an amount of time as possible.
- If some stubborn paint remains, re-immerse the minis in the solution for another 24 hours (basically, repeat the process).
- Regardless of whether you use White Spirit or not - wash your models thoroughly with soapy water when you've finished stripping them. It's vital to get them 100% free of old, soft paint and also of any remaining Dettol/White spirit, as leaving that on the model will play havoc with the next layer of paint or glue you apply.
A note on paints:This method works for all paints I've encountered so far. I can't give you an exhaustive list of what those paints are, because I buy a lot of my models second-hand from ebay and the like, and I can't vouch for what paints the previous owners may have used. I have certainly successfully stripped Acrylics (like GW/Citadel, Daler-Rowney, Anita's, Vallejo, Tamiya) and spray (both matt like MattKote and gloss [most likely some sort of car spray-can]). Varnish is no obstacle either. The sprays are often cellulose-based and I suspect it is this that forms the gluey tar that requires you to use the White Spirit.
A note on containers:Glass or plastic containers are both fine for this method. An airtight lid is vital to prevent spillage and the smell (both Dettol and White Spirits are pungent). The best advice I can give here:
- Don't use anything too deep or with a narrow next you won't be able to reach in to retreive your models without tipping the fluid away.
- Don't overfill your containers - your models are small! Also, remember to allow for the displacement of fluids when you put your models in the container - the fluid lever will rise with each one.
- I find that for most things the sort of plastic resealable containers you get with Chinese take-aways are ideal. You can easily get a unit of troops in one, or even a smaller vehicle like a Space Marine Rhino.