How to Scrape Paint That Has Peeled or Loosened

Often, before you can take on the more satisfying part of a painting project — the actual painting — you have to do the less enjoyable part: taking loose caulking and old, peeling paint off the surfaces you plan to work on. A scraper will be your best ally in this endeavor; it may be a simple device, but it can eliminate most of a wall’s previous paint. Eventually, you’ll sand the surfaces in order to make them uniform.

Scraping requires, of course, a scraper, but also a drop cloth (to catch the old paint bits that fall) and safety goggles. Divide the area to be scraped into parts. The idea is to clean up the mess you make while scraping each part before moving on to the next one. In addition, your morale will stay higher if you can achieve small victories along the way to completing the entire project.

Make sure the areas you want to paint are free of irregularities. Nail holes often need to be scraped, since nail removal creates small bumps in wood exteriors. Your objective is merely to bring the wall back to its original flatness; too much vigor can make indentations. Indented spots may need to be filled with spackle in order to ready the surface for painting.

Water can cause bubbling or blistering on painted walls. To scrape all of the bubbles and blisters, you may need to wait until you’ve taken off the paint, since this makes them more visible. If the water hasn’t done much harm, spackle should take care of the problem. If the water’s effects are more extensive, new drywall may be required. Either way, it’s important to know what’s causing the problem, so do your best to get to the bottom of it.

Interiors should be scraped before they’re sanded. Exteriors, on the other hand, can be scraped and sanded as part of the same process. Be careful near doors and windows, and consider adding a dust mask or respirator to your safety gear. When you scrape, you may release a significant amount of potentially harmful paint dust. Don’t do a job like this wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. It’s wise to minimize your exposure to the paint; after it’s pulverized, it can irritate the skin.

It’s especially important to be safety conscious when working on a house constructed before 1978, the year lead paint was banned in the U.S. You may not want to scrape lead paint at all; if you have to, use a respirator certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. A dust mask isn’t enough to shield you from particles of lead paint. Again, long pants and shirts are a must.

Plants and gardens adjacent to a surface being scraped should be protected from harmful substances in the paint. Usually, some kind of covering will suffice. You may simply wish to pick all edible plants before scraping; that way, they won’t be exposed to paint dust or chips at all. If paint chips do end up on the ground, clean them up so they don’t infiltrate nearby plant life or water sources.

The key to indoor scraping is ventilating your work area, then vacuuming after you’ve scraped and sanded. It’s helpful if the vacuum has a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter, and more or less essential if you’re working with lead paint. Furniture, too, may need to be cleaned when the job is done. Remember that no matter what you do, some paint dust is likely to elude your cleaning efforts.