Face Your Kitchen
Your Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refacing

Removing years of paint from cabinet hardware

by Karl Fendelander
Face Your Kitchen Columnist

If you've got cabinets caked with layers and layers, years upon years, decades of paint and who knows what else underneath, you can always rip it all out and start over or add your own layer of slopped-on paint. But you can also strip everything down and resurface your old cabinets. You might find a surprise beneath the paint gunk.

Stripping old paint from cabinet hardware

Those old hinges, handles and pulls could be beautiful antiques under all of that paint, and chances are good they're still in great working condition -- they aren't all that complicated, after all. Here are a few tricks for easily getting that paint off the metal. Be sure to take safety precautions and wear protective gear with any of these methods. Toxic chemicals are involved in some, and you might be peeling off lead paint -- a serious concern if children are around:

  • The boiling method: Got an old pot lying around that you don't ever want to use for food again? Boil that hardware until the paint is peeling off. Use a wire brush to get down into deeper layers and into the nooks and crannies. You may need several rounds to get all the paint off.
  • The steaming method: This works about as well as boiling the hardware, but it can be trickier to set up. You need the ability to blast the hardware with good, hot steam for an extended period of time. The paint should soften and peel, allowing you to scrape it off.
  • The chemical-bath method: Put all of your hardware into a thick-walled plastic container with a lid. Cover with cold tap water. Sprinkle a lye-based drain cleaner (or just lye) into the water with the hardware, close it up and let it sit over night to work its magic. Be very careful removing hardware -- you definitely do not want any of your chemical mixture to get on your skin. Rinse and scrub the hardware, and the paint should melt right off.
  • The paint-stripper method: When your hardware has multiple layers of paint caked on, paint strippers have a hard time penetrating all the way down to the metal before evaporating. To prevent this, put the paint-stripper-covered cabinet hardware into a sealed container, like a coffee can or thick garbage bag. Give it a few hours to work through all of that paint, wash it all down and use a wire brush to finish the job.
  • The sand-blaster method: Buy, rent or borrow a sandblaster. Lay out your hardware in an area that can take a good blasting -- an old wooden box or concrete, for example. Once you're all set up, unleash the fury and strip off that paint.

Avoid using chemical strippers on the cabinet doors -- they can ruin the wood. But with new or gently resurfaced doors and drawers -- and your restored old hardware -- your cabinets could once more be the showstopper your kitchen has missed for years.

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