Saturday, 11 January 2014

How to use Dettol to best clean up painted miniatures


From reading varies online forums and social network accounts, I can see that Dettol is becoming an increasingly popular method with which to strip the paint from wargames miniatures. Part of this is probably due to the novelty of something so familiar and trivial being so good for removing unwanted paint, and part due to the ease of purchase, if you live in the UK anyway, and its relatively cheap cost. Gone, for me anyway, are the days of soaking plastics in breakfluid in the hope to strip away the twenty year old paint job that covers over ninety-percent of the model's detail. This loss of detail was caused as the breakfluid, if soaked too long, would turn 1980s plastic into a slightly soft, flaky material. Re-treatments increased the probability of damage to the miniatures you were trying to clean. Restoring plastic models on any large scale was largely , in my experience anyway, an impossible dream. 

Things were not so difficult when dealing with metal models. I am sure that many of you will have memories of dealing with industrial paint strippers like Nitro-Mors. Yes, the heady fumes and slow jelly like pouring as you coat your batch in the vile stuff. Keep that pot away from the wife and kids, better still, keep it in the garage up the back with all those tins of paint that you just have to keep in case of a scratched wall! Its vicious stuff. Also, Nitro-Mors wasn't very friendly to hands or sinks. The powerful stripping chemicals could permanently stain, or even destroy, kitchen surfaces and plastics, getting you into hot water with the wife upon her return, as stripping paint from models was one of the jobs reserved for when 'she was out the house!'

Dettol changed all this. After all, Dettol itself is an antiseptic, and anything it touches is arguably cleaner than before. My childhood memories of the stuff were purely medicinal in this regard. Sitting, injured in knee or elbow, on the kitchen table as my mother bent to retrieve the dreaded brown bottle from under the sink. The distinctive smell as a little was dribbled on to a cotton wool ball or square of folded tissue, followed by the indescribable stinging sensation. Then it was back out to play, faintly whiffing of the stuff all afternoon. 

Its seems in recent weeks, I have be involved in discussions in several places with sticky paint covered panicking grognards who see before them a kitchen smeared with brown, stinky residue and befouled miniatures that look far worse than before they started! But they had heard that Dettol was some kid of wonder chemical that could bring your 1989 Imperial Guard plastics back from the dead when you'd thought they bought the farm. After explaining how to use the stuff and getting the fellow wargamer out of very hot water with the spouse I always thought to myself, I must do an article about how to use the stuff properly so anyone searching for advice or who was in a fix could easily get themselves out with out the need to install a new kitchen or initiate divorce proceedings. 

So here it is. My guide to using Dettol to strip miniatures cleanly and effectively. If you have any further tips to add, please do so below. One can never stop actually learning, and who knows, perhaps we will one day discover another product with even better stripping qualities (Fairy Power Spray? I have always wanted to use this one, but have yet to find it stocked in a  supermarket when I am shopping!)

Stage 1: Preparations. You will need the Dettol, obviously, but make sure that it is the correct stuff. Its the dark brown liquid that can be used as an antiseptic. The brand do other products too, so make sure you pick up exactly what you need before heading towards the till. Secondly, you'll be wanting a couple of old tooth brushes. I have one soft bristle brush and a much firmer one for stubborn patches of paint. Finally, the most important ingredient, washing up liquid. This is what you use as a lubricant when scrubbing the paint off. NEVER use water! 
Stage 2: Preparing the bath. Find a suitable container, preferably with a lid, and pour in enough Dettol to cover the miniature. Some people dilute the liquid at this stage with water, but I don't. I find that Dettol strips paint much better when undiluted. Don't cram in too many models or you will regret it later. Make sure you leave lots of space around the miniatures so that all sides are in contact with the Dettol.
Stage 3: Add your miniatures. Simply plop in your model and wait, say 4-6 hours before removing it and commencing the scrubbing. For best results though, I would leave the model over night in a safe place. 
Stage 4: Removing the models. You will know when your model is ready for removal when the paint has blistered away like soggy peeling skin. You should be able to brush a good part of the paint away with your thumb  and you may well want to do this before reaching for the brush. Warning! Don't use any water on your model at this stage!
Stage 5: Add the washing up liquid.  Lubricate the model with the washing up liquid. I use a good, healthy blob of the stuff.
Stage 6: Brushwork. very gently, brush away the remaining paint with your brush. It should, if soaked long enough, just fall away with the minimum of fuss. Turn your model upside down and clear out the stubborn pieces of paint that tend to cling there. You might want to use a firmer toothed brush for this. 
Stage 7: Rinsing. Now you are ready t clean off your model in water. This stage is really about cleaning off the washing up liquid really, rather than the paint, but you should now have a really clean looking model ready for painting. 
WARNING: Do not over fill your container like I did the first time I tried this method. I just slapped over loads of Dettol and left it for weeks. The paint turned into a horrible sticky soup that coated all the models and it is areal struggle to get these things clean now. Thankfully I have slowly been working through this pile and am now down to a single container. I had three once! Note the colour of the Dettol! Its lost its brown hue and is really good for nothing else but pouring down that drain. Change your Dettol regularly! 
Trying to clean miniatures in this state is pointless. Just look at the state of this brush after a few minutes scrubbing these! You are much better off using totally fresh Dettol and only adding three or four models to the container before trying to brush the muck off once more. 
So there you have it. I am hoping that this article is useful for those of you trying to use Dettol to strip back those Old School minis that you haven't looked at for twenty years but now quite like the idea of painting. Of course, this is my method and I am sure that there are many others out there that you could try. If you happen to have one, why not share it here for others to try out.

Cheers and happy stripping!

Orlygg


39 comments:

  1. Great and useful article, I wish I had known this before. I was actually thinking about writing one but about my experience with acetone, it could be a good complement.
    As for dettol, I just dip my models until I remember I put them in the box and then just brush them and rinse them with a lot of hot water and soap.

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    1. Acetone? Isn't that the stuff the wife sticks the house out with when she does her nails? Or Nail Polish Remover as it may be commonly be known as. Funny how that is 'okay' eh? When using paint stripper or some other chemical is banished to the shed or garage! I would be very interested in seeing how well it deals with paint on metal and plastic Mr Assless. So hopefully such an article will be with us in not the to distant future!

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    2. there's a before/after comparison in here
      http://leadplague.blogspot.fr/2013/11/the-finishing-blow.html
      but I'll develop this in a near future. I believe nothing beats acetone to strip metal models.

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    3. This looks really promising Mr Ass. If acetone is 1) cheap and 2) effective against abusive use of paints I will find a use for it. Looking forwards to seeing more.

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  2. Does Dettol work on miniatures that have been varnished ? And what about non-acrylic paint ?

    (I have a stack of 80s lead in the cupboard at my parents that are painted mostly with acrylic but have some enamel paint on them. So if Dettol removes everything then I'm in business)

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    1. I've found that it can remove enamel paints as well, just not as effectively and you need to soak it for longer.

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  3. I am fairly sure that I have removed enamel paint from minis with Dettol in the past, but cannot be certain. I don't have anything to test with here with me either, as the hard to shift paint goes in with the Nitro-Mors. Can anyone definitely confirm that Dettol shifts enamel?

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  4. Wondering why you say not to use water ? Dettol is more cost effective than Acetone and in my experience does a better job..

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    1. I have found that if you mix the blistered, slimy paint with water too soon, the stuff just becomes a sticky mess that is hard to shift from your own hands let alone the miniature you are trying to restore!

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  5. Dettol - the 'go to' paint stripper if you can stand the smell.

    I find that leaving the miniatures in a closed container of the stuff for a couple of weeks (a couple of months if you can) will remove all but the very stubborn paints. Then in a bucket of water with a small used tooth brush remove the rest.

    Tony

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    1. I have found that the longer you use Dettol the more you grow to appreciate its scent. I, for one, love the smell of Dettol in the morning... It reminds me of new miniatures ready for the paintbrush!

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  6. After having used both Nitro-mors and acetone (nail varnish remover!), I'm a total dettol convert! The stuff is incredible! Nitro-mors just turned paint into sticky goop and the paint on minis soaked in acetone would re-harden after a few minutes, making removal difficult. Dettol does neither of these things, it actually causes the paint to slough away from the model, meaning you don't have to do too much scrubbing at all. :)

    However, when handling models covered in dettol, I highly recommend wearing rubber or latex gloves. Because apparently prolonged contact with neat dettol can cause skin to dry out and crack quite badly.

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    1. I have never had much worse than dry skin from using Dettol without gloves, and that was quickly remedied by the wife's expensive Clarin's hand cream. But the Ninja is quite correct to point out that you should keep your safety in mind.

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  7. I always used acetone also, after reading this article i will definitively use Dettol for a trym thx !!

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    1. Out of interest, where is this acetone bought? Is it the nail remover stuff that my wife buys or something different?

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    2. I actually buy it in those ''do-it-yourself'' shops. It is quite strong and after use, i think it´s better to dispose of it carrefully, not in any sink or toilets... ^^

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    3. Is it safe on old plastics?

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    4. It will melt it i think :) only metal or lead of course..

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  8. I use Biostrip. It strips metal and plastics, there's no sticky oozey mess, and it's safe to chuck down the drain too. No nasty smell either.

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    1. I have not heard of biostrip. What is it? An environmentally friendly paint stripper or something - judging by the name. Its certainly something worth investigating, thanks!

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  9. This might as well become the listing of miniature paint strippers. I've used Acetone, it's cheap and you can also clean soap grime in the shower with it. But it dries out skin and as I'm allergic to latex have to use plastic gloves, which by their nature don't like the stuff either.

    I'm currently using Simple Green it doesn't smell bad, ruin skin or set off my chemical allergies. It doesn't dissolve paint making it goopy, it just sort of makes it soft and peels off the miniature. So large jars packed with lead wouldn't be a problem. I get it from Bunnings in Australia. Simple Green is an American all-purpose cleaner.

    I'm going to give Dettol a go though. I've got a goblin I think must have been part painted with enamels and it's being persistent.

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    1. I have heard of Simple Green. I am fairly sure a lorry driver I know uses it to clean off oil from his vehicle. I don't think you can get the stuff in Europe can you?

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  10. I use Dettol to strip plastics, and despite its valid reputation as a benign friend of the household, it is in fact poisonous. I only realised after getting some chest pains and difficulty breathing after a cleaning up an old RTB01 Tactical squad. Dettol contains phenols that are harmful if inhaled or ingested. I still use it, I just make sure I have the extractor fan turned on!

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    1. Good advice! I was wondering why I was starting to see my little lead soldiers dancing the can-can in front of me. I'll open the window next time!

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  11. Great article - cheers! I've managed to strip enamel with Dettol - to a degree. Some residue just wouldn't budge, but then these were old Ral Parthas and the paint had probably been on them for 35 + years.

    I've tried own-brand Dettol-a-likes and they don't seem to do the trick as well.

    I'll echo Stephen's warning - I've also experienced chest pains and difficult breathing when scrubbing Dettol for a prolonged period. Stay ventilated kids!

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    1. Glad to hear that Dettol will shift enamel as well as it shifts acrylic. It looks like Dettol is going to have to accept the crown as the greatest all rounder for stripping minis there is. But then I haven't tried Fairy Power Spray yet!

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    2. Dettol also comes in big industrial sized bottles... http://themasterworkguild.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/hobby-supplies.html

      I tried Dettol look alikes from poundland but they were no good.

      I also tried fairy power spray but I remain a Dettol fan. You get used to the smell. ( the wife doesn't though!)

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  12. I remember back in the day my Dad would use a solution of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) to remove paint from plastic minis. It worked pretty well and didn't seem to damage the plastic. Wearing gloves was essential though.

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  13. Have you ever tried with Model Back-Up? I think that is a good solution for plastic models:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6WyCmgfBSY

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  14. I know this is an old article, but with metal figures I just use cellulose thinners.
    Bubbles the paint right off, a quick scrub with a paintbrush (in some cases it just falls off in a sheet), and rinse with water.

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  15. Perhaps worth a mention that Fairy Power Spray changed its formula in 2015 from the excellent (for stripping paint from plastic) gel to a watery citrus that does next to nothing. Although the new formula FPS will soften paint you have to scrape it off with a fingernail or similar that won't scratch the surface - a scrape with a toothbrush doesn't touch it.

    Thanks for the write up, I'm going to give Dettol a try.

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  16. You can get extra life out of your dettol by filtering it through a fine sieve to get all the paint flakes out.

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  17. Can't recommend this guide highly enough!
    I put my models in a dettol-bath inside a mini mason-jar, left them overnight as per the instructions and I've just scrubbed all the paint off with a toothbrush with the greatest of ease. There's no paint left on them at all but I'm going to do the washing-up liquid wash anyway. Hopefully by tomorrow they'll be ready to be undercoated and painted again!
    Thank you!

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  18. Im trying this now.....both methods Dettol and Acetone

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  19. Results in........Dettol..Same mix of pre-slotta and slotta with different paint finishes. Much less mess than Nitro-Mors, nail varnish remover only partialy strips in same amount of time. Great tip, thanks.

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    1. I am glad this post was of use to you. Despite what others say, I still stick with Dettol. Its cheap, fast and easily available (to me at least!)

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  20. Used Dettol for the first time this weekend. Cleaned up the figures today after 48 hours soaking. The washing up liquid tip is golden, thanks.

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  21. Thanks for the info, I'm trying this for the first time, I have just put a large dragon in to soak.

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  22. Hello, your DIY works are awesome! Thank you for sharing the tips! It is very helpful and informative. Would love to see more updates from you.

    airless spray

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