Remove years-old splattered paint from stained wood trim without damaging the finish?
February 23, 2010 8:31 AM   Subscribe

How does one remove years-old splattered paint from stained wood trim without damaging the finish?

My wife and I recently purchased our first home. It is 103 years old and has gorgeous stained wood trim that has never been painted. However, the last owner, or the one before them, did a terrible job painting the walls--they definitely did not use painter's tape. Consequently, there is a fair amount of old dried paint on the edges of the trim, as well as some splattered paint here and there on the trim.

I want to remove the splattered paint without removing the finish on the trim or removing the stain.
posted by dvrcthewrld to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is the finish just stain? Or is there more to it?
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:38 AM on February 23, 2010

I'd recommend you try a squirt of WD40 on a white terrycloth rag, and rubbing vigorously. Check this in an inconspicuous place, to see that the WD40 does not dissolve the original finish, but with the kind of light, indirect, spot application that spraying to a rag, and then rubbing paint spatter should give, I doubt you'll have noticeable problems with the original finish, be it linseed oil, varnish, or shellac (three of the most likely top coats for woodwork of that vintage).
posted by paulsc at 9:32 AM on February 23, 2010

I have a 20-year-old house where the previous owners never masked off the oak woodwork when they painted. Lacquer thinner seems to work the best. It softens the paint enough that it can be gently scraped off but it doesn't damage the varnish underneath. It does take some elbow grease to get the paint off of the woodwork in this matter, but it makes a difference.
posted by Ostara at 11:43 AM on February 23, 2010

I used Goof-Off in similar circumstances. Worked best to rub it on, wait a bit, then come back and work on it some more.
posted by theora55 at 11:53 AM on February 23, 2010

There is an actual finish, but I am not equipped to say what it is. It certainly isn't poly; it is the original finish, I'm sure.

paulsc, why does the terrycloth matter?

Goof-Off seemed to remove the finish.

Also, I''d like to reiterate that the paint splatters are very old, some atleast 12 years.
posted by dvrcthewrld at 12:35 PM on February 23, 2010

"paulsc, why does the terrycloth matter?"

White cotton terrycloth is a fabric with a basic "loop" pile, like a bath towel. The white color shows very quickly if you are wiping away paint, or finish, or a combination of both. The cotton fiber is fairly soft, and generally both equally absorbent and yet capable of wicking solvent sprayed into it back to a surface it is cleaning in a gradual way. And the pile fibers provide a bit of "bite" to your rubbing, like cheesecloth, or polishing cloth, which flannel (diapers), polyester and paper/synthetic wipes don't.

You can, of course, augment this with a fine small scraper for big drips, which will save you some elbow grease, and hurry things along, at a greater risk of scratching up the finish under the paint drips. WD40 does act as a mild penetrant, however, so wiping down paint splatters, and leaving them sit for a few minutes, to a few hours, can soften old oil based paint significantly. WD40 is also capable of penetrating latex paint, given enough time, and although it doesn't really soften latex paint like it does oil base, it does seem to loosen latex's grip on the underlying surface/finish.
posted by paulsc at 6:08 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, WD-40 didn't work in my case. So, now I'm at the point where I'm willing to accept some effects on the finish, as long as nothing happens to the stain.

If there is something I can do to eliminate the paint splatters while minimally altering the finish, that would be good. End result is really the issue now. I want the paint gone and the wood to look the same, even if the finish is slightly different. Does anyone know how I can accomplish this?
posted by dvrcthewrld at 6:48 AM on March 4, 2010

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