, Toronto, Ontario, ca
My husband and I own a house built before World War I. We’ve done a lot of work to it, and there’s a lot more to go. Our next project is to restore the front of the house, specifically to strip the paint off the exterior brick.
Our plan is to wait for a stretch of hot Toronto weather, spread stripper over the brick, let the heat and the stripper do their job, then power-wash the brick. What kind of paint stripper should we use? The thought of a red-brick house inspires me endlessly, but I don’t want to end up making a real mess.
Jon Tobey, a painting contractor in Seattle, replies: That is a huge project, and I wish you luck. I think you are taking the best approach, but because of the porous nature of brick and mortar, you may never be able to remove all the paint from the nooks and crannies. However, you could follow up your technique with sandblasting for the most complete job possible. (Editor’s note: The Brick Industry Association does not recommend sandblasting on brick with a “sand finish or decorative surface coating.”)
The most important thing is to get a really effective stripper. The best paint strippers I’ve found are made by Back to Nature (www.ibacktonature.com; 800-211-5175). Their strippers are effective yet safe to work with. Contact the manufacturer directly to learn which of their products to use.
To keep a clean site, lay 3-mil plastic around the house to catch the old paint. Odds are that there will be some lead-based paint to remove, so you will want to be careful. Back to Nature strippers generally pass the test for lead encapsulation.
Even though the stripper is doing most of the work (it may take several applications), you need to let a power washer do some work, too. Use at least a 2500-psi washer. They now have rotating nozzle heads that tremendously increase washing power. But all that power comes with some caveats; for example, you might mar the brick with the washer. If you do, use the washer like an eraser to fade out any marks you make. In fact, you may have to do this regardless after you get the surface as clean as it will come; it depends on the brick’s hardness.
Before you go all out on the front of your house, try a test section—say a meter square— to work out all the details. This will certainly tell you if you need to follow up with sandblasting. For more on stripping paint, see Removing Exterior Paint.