Stripping Paint... Ugh.

My lovely spouse and I are in the process of buying an early 50's cottage, that has dozens of layers of ancient paint on the woodwork. All of the baseboard, door and window casings, etc. are covered in thick, old paint, as are all of the interior doors. We would like to know what sort of chemical stripper we can obtain to pour on this old paint, which will make it easier to scrape and peel it up, to get back to the wood, so that we can see the details in it. We are going to repaint it with new paint, so it doesn't have to be perfectly removed to the point where it would be stainable, so wood-grain and surface issues aren't critical. I know I've seen various goops that one can put on old woodwork, which causes the paint to just let go, so it can be removed. Any brand names, suggestions, recommendations or comments? Flames will be ignored, but we're easygoing about this.
Thanks in advance.
- Ribbit
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Given the age, you should probably go with a chemical stripper as opposed to sanding or heat. I would avoid the infrared heat as well although it is reported to be safe for lead containing paints. You can test to determine if you have lead paint but since you have so many layers, it is safe to assume that at least one contains lead. You can bring the doors to a professional to save time but it will, of course, cost money. I could be wrong but very few professional wood strippers use a lye tank anymore so your doors should be safe. If you do it yourself, I recommend a powdered stripper designed for removing paint. BIX is one brand. You mix with water and apply. Be prepared to do multiple coats and spend time. I would avoid the stripper I have seen on TV. It is the one that changes color to let you know it can be scraped off. It is quite expensive per gallon and apparently requires a wood scraper. A good paint stripper does not require serious paint scraping to be removed. As for wood grain issues, you will probably have to give the wood a light sanding to knock down any fibers that were raised during the stripping. If you don't do this, you will be left with a rough surface after painting.
Good Luck
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Be very careful with chemical strippers... carcinogenic! When we first started our home ,we did the same thing, and had beautiful furniture after we were done! After that, I came down with a bout with cancer..lymphatic type. Luckly, after 30 years, I am still here. I was told, that the culprit, might have been Methylene Chloride which is present in many paint strippers. Make sure you do the work outside! I was careless and did the work in my basement, with hardly enough ventlation! Good luck, Andy

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Andy & Carol wrote:

Just keep in mind that you breathe carcinogens all day, every day. Your neighbors dump them on the lawn and in the garbage and in the water supply without thinking about where they go or how they accumulate. Glad you beat the cancer

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Good cautionary story. Those warning labels DO mean something. Reminds me of a guy who lived in my apartment building years ago. He had a tracheotomy and could only speak by covering the hole with his finger. He noted that I smoked, and told me that's how he got where he was. Just one of those things that nagged me a few years until I quit (over a decade ago).
Thanks for the reminder to pay attention!

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There are roughly three types of chemical paint stripper to choose from: one, strippers based on a highly alkaline compound like sodium hydroxide; two, strippers based on methylene chloride or similar; three, strippers based on so-called "safe" chemicals.
I've found the so-called "safe" strippers to be highly expensive and fairly ineffective, so I won't say more about them. But some people swear by them, especially that stuff that smells like oranges.
The alkaline strippers are fairly mild, all things considered. They don't release nasty fumes, they don't destroy plastics, and they don't burn the skin as IMMEDIATELY as the other strippers do. This type of stripper comes in a stiff paste, so it's very controllable. On the down side, they darken wood (which, as you said, doesn't matter, since you're going to paint over), and they can be a pain to neutralize.
The methylene chloride strippers are the most effective; however, they do release nasty fumes, they destroy most plastics on contact (though not polyethylene), and they burn like the dickens if they get on your skin. This type of stripper comes in a gel that you spray or brush on, and thus is not as controllable; it WILL drip and it WILL run.
A lot of people apply stripper, and then scrape and scrape and scrape. There's no need to do that. Whatever stripper you use, apply it generously and a bit more. Then cover it with Saran Wrap (polyethylene film) and let it sit until ALL the paint is dissolved -- hours and hours, if needed. If the stripper dries before all the paint is dissolved, you didn't apply enough for the thickness of paint you're stripping.
Stripping is a lot of work. In many cases, it's cheaper to replace woodwork that has been painted over too many times. This is especially true for baseboards, casings, and other trim. It depends on what you have in your early 50s cottage, of course.
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Other replies to your post mention risks. One not mentioned so far is, believe it or not, heart attack. Do some research and you will find evidence that methyl chloride stripper removes oxygen from the air, and this can induce heart attacks. That is given as a main reason not to strip paint inside your house. If you choose to strip inside, look further into the "safe" strippers. And if the mfg says use only with plenty of ventilation, best do it outside..
Frog wrote:

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