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How to Remove Paint from Locomotive Shells

Club member Matthew R asks readers:

“I would like to know how to remove paint from N scale engine shells. The previous owner spray painted them and covered most of the details on the shell. I got them cheaply second hand off the net so shouldn’t complain. A messy job!”

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21 Responses to How to Remove Paint from Locomotive Shells

  • Kenneth Turnersays:

    I use isopropyl alcohol and soak my body shells. Then i gently scrub with an old tooth brush… some paints are more stubbpurnnthan others and require several goes.

    A word of note…. take put all glazing first….

  • Bob Schwormsays:

    There is a video on this. The guy was changing engine numbers with his own. He went on to say to saturate a piece of masking tape he laid directly over the exact spot where his numbers were. the chemical saturated the ink and lifted the numbers clean off. He did not discuss laying down new numbers, and what he used for a font, or template, or mask.

    Bob S

  • Martin Olleysays:

    In the UK we use ‘Mr Muscle’ oven cleaner. I’m not sure if you guys can get this over the pond in the US, but I’m sure there’s a similar product that does the same job. Works just as well as proprietary model paint strippers but at a fraction of the cost – we can get it here for about £1. Place the model in a polythene bag, spray all over with Mr Muscle, seal bag opening and then leave for a few hours. Open up and rinse under cold water using an old toothbrush to get into the corners. When spraying, don’t breathe the stuff in – hold your breath or wear a mask. Some people here use car brake fluid, but I can’t vouch for the results.

    • Sheldon Clarksays:

      I’d be very much inclined to test such things very carefully first, on a part of the model that won’t show. I once used a product called Brush Magic (intended for cleaning brushes, of course) & ended up with a model that looked as if its planking had suffered from dry rot, wet rot & general wear & tear for 50 years.

  • W Rusty Lanesays:

    Well, since I repaint almost all my HO scale models, I usually use 91% isopropyl alcohol and if that doesn’t work, I will use acetone very sparingly. Sometimes the paint will come off with a q-tip and some elbow grease, but when the alcohol fails I go to a stronger paint remover such as acetone or lacquer thinner. Acetone dries very quickly and usually doesn’t melt the plastic. However, I would NOT soak in either acetone or lacquer thinner ’cause it will dissolve the plastic. After removing the previous finish, I usually will spray the shell with my airbrush and some dead flat lacquer and will make the next finish go on better. Hope this helps.

    • Frank Bsays:

      Acetone WILL MELT polystyrene plastic !

      There are special model paint stripping products for exactly this purpose, available at model shops etc.
      Or search online or on model shop websites for “model paint stripper”.

  • Fredsays:

    Never had a problem with 91% isopropyl alcohol and a toothbrush. I completely submerge the shell. Then I use Dawn and running water to remove the alcohol. It varies from car type to car type how long I let it soak. Never had a problem.

  • Edsays:

    Question how to remove all the paint from old loco. And repainted a new color. Old all metal Marklin locomotive.

  • Andrew Luchsingersays:

    I use Easy Off Oven Cleaner. Yes it can be kind of harsh, but it works very well for me.

  • Gregory Bowensays:

    I would have to agree with the Isopropyl Alcohol method – I soak my shells and then use an old toothbrush – getting into details can take a little more elbow grease so I often use a pointed toothpick (the Chinese kind) to scrape away in the nooks and crannies. I can’t vouch for the Mr. Muscle – it’s a caustic chemical substance so err on the side of caution there – proper safety protection etc…
    Even to remove numbers on Locomotives or freight cars, I use the I.A. with a cotton bud (Q-Tip), as these are screen printed paint from the factory.

  • Jack L. Casnersays:

    I have used automotive brake fluid. Soak the parts and scrub them with soapy water.

    • Peter Brixeysays:

      Brake fluid works very well and does not attack plastic or metal. For very stubborn plastic and die-cast I use Drano. The fastest brake fluid strip job I have ever done took 2 minutes, the longest was 1 day.

  • Anthony Diyennasays:

    I’ve had good success with automotive brake fluid (Prestone, but other brands probably work as well). First wash the shell in detergent & warm water to remove any surface dirt or residues, rinse well with cool water, and when dry leave the shell soaking in the brake fluid in a covered container overnight. The next day, take the shell over to the sink and use an old toothbrush to remove the loosened paint. THIS PART IS IMPORTANT: Do not do this under running water, as the water tends to stop the paint stripping action of the brake fluid. Once all the paint has been brushed off, wash the shell in detergent & warm water again, rinse with cool water and set on paper toweling to air dry before painting.

  • Ross Oddisays:

    I use Pinesol cleaner. It works and is environmentally friendly.

  • Roger Ringnaldasays:

    Another way that works, although time-consuming is to sand-blast it BUT with a micro blaster and use baking soda as the medium. The baking soda will slowly remove the layer(s) of paint without damaging the details that were cast in the original model. Like I said it takes time, but I have used this method to take models painted with spray enamels and lacquers back down to the initial plastic layer without any damage to the details. The use of alcohol will help to soften the finish, especial if it is a lacquer, but I would avoid Acetone as it will dissolve most plastics even in small amounts.

  • Scott Cameronsays:

    I use spray oven cleaner. It attacks and eats the paint but will not damage the plastic. Put the model in a plastic container that will fit the model and spray the dickens out of the model. I let it sit overnight and then wash it off with water the next day. Use a container with a lid that seals so fumes don’t gas you out while you sleep. The treatment may need to be repeated and or some minor sanding to get back to original.

  • Robert Cartersays:

    Brake fluid has always worked for me. It’s easy to buy and non caustic.

  • Steve Sorensonsays:

    I have some 2inch pipe fittings: two connectors and two plugs. I am in HO scale so I use a 15in piece of pipe. You can use whatever method(alcohol or brake fluid) you chose in the pipe. Let them soak overnight or however long it takes inside the pipe.

  • Andrewsays:

    This question came at the best time! I am in the middle of stripping/repainting a 3rd locomotive.

    I can also do a tutorial on how to repaint a locomotive if anyone is interested.

  • Flash215says:

    Another brake fluid user here. It’s a shame that the previous owner painted them because I have found that it’s much easier to remove old paint than it is to remove newer paints. Just submerge them in brake fluid and let them sit overnight. Scrub them off with an old toothbrush under water, then repeat if necessary.

  • Craig Inghamsays:

    There are a number of actions. One that has been successful for me is break fluid. Do a quick test first on plastic bodies by putting a small spot on the inside of the body and watch for a reaction. It may take several hours to show. Metal bodies are not a problem..

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