Stripping old paint in a Victorian house

I would love to be able to sugar coat this post but if you’ve ever spent even an hour scraping really tiny pieces of paint of a wooden object, then you are going to know that stripping paint is one of the less satisfying jobs in house restoration. That and stripping back old wallpaper. It can be excruciating at times. I remember helping a friend strip wallpaper when I was ten. I still remember it! We didn’t have a wall paper stripper. Nothing that fancy! We each had a very small and fairly blunt scraper. It took an entire day and he had the box room! Stripping back paint isn’t any easier.

Stripping back the old paint in your house really is a laborious but necessary task. Good paint work is essential if your house is to look its best. It really can be daunting though. Especially if your Victorian house is on the grander end of the spectrum. Lots of lovely wood to deal with! It could take months to strip back years and years of other peoples paint jobs. Realistically if the woodwork is original you might have ten layers of old paint to get through. Its as fun as it sounds!

Hopefully this post will show you the best way to tackle this job. There are short cuts. Its best to be prepared. It is also best to be realistic with how much work you can get yourself and in what time. If every room needs stripping back, then you are looking at a lot of work. It depends on your budget and your time. If you can afford to get someone in to do the work then get it all done at once. Get the floors stripped back, the skirts, the doors and the balustrade. If you are doing the work yourself and I’m assuming you are of you reading this post, then one job at a time is the way to go for minimum disruption.

You can do this in any order you like. I would always advise that the kitchen is done as quickly as possible. If you have got some money to pay for contractors then spend it on the kitchen and bathroom. You need these rooms on a daily basis. They can’t be out of action for long.

So lets get to it! There are a few tools that you will need and just in case you don’t already have them they are:



The best way to strip back paint is to use a hot air gun and a scraper. Not very scientific but gets the job done! Hot air guns are inexpensive, so no major outlay there. All you need is a gun with two heat settings. Then place the hot air gun over the painted area you wish to strip. Turn it on and wait until the paint begins to warm, raise and blister.

Then with your scraper, just gently pull along the paint and it should just peel away quite easily. At least that’s the plan! If it doesn’t peel off easily just apply more heat. Now you may be able to do this process without removing the boards or door frames. Only if they are in good condition and only need stripping and repainting. Just be very careful as the heat gun isn’t exactly a precision instrument! It will heat up everything in its path!

Keep going until you have taken all the paint off. It will take some time. A lot of time! Good things come to those who wait! You then need to sand the wood. This will further improve the surface. This will make new paint, varnish or whatever easier to apply to the wood. It will also look better when finished. Here is a really useful video that shows you how to use the heat gun effectively to remove old paint. There are some people who really don’t like heat guns as they can obviously scorch the wood. You have to be gentle and patient. There is no fast and easy way to strip off old paint it is just hard work. Lecture over!


Dealing with Lead paint

If you are in any doubt about the paint you are stripping and think it may contain lead, then the best thing to do is get the paint tested. Lead paint is toxic and can be harmful, it is a neurotoxin and is particularly harmful to babies and children. It is also incredibly difficult to strip off because of its durability. This is why it was used and it makes it especially tricky. What you need to do is to find out what you are dealing with and for this you will need a lead paint tester. Once you have tested your paint and it is indeed lead based, then it really is best of you remove it.

Now normally I would say use a heat gun for stripping paint but you can’t do this with lead paint. Instead you will need paint stripper. Then once you’ve got the looser paint off you will probably need some wire wool and elbow grease! Just be really careful not to lose the pieces of lead paint, keep it all contained.

There may be even tougher paint right at the bottom. This is very likely the lead paint and even wire wool will struggle with this. You will need hot soapy water and a scourer and a lot of patience. It is really hard work but you can’t leave lead paint on. So here is a little run down of what you need:

  •  Test for lead paint with a lead paint tester.
  •  Do not use a heat gun or apply any heat.
  • Use a paint stripper to strip the loosest paint off.
  • Clean up thoroughly.
  • Do not burn any of the old materials.


Lead paint is really difficult to deal with. You need to be careful with every piece of paint that you peel off. It needs to be disposed of properly. It is also much tougher than normal paint which is why it was utilised in the first place. Patience is key.

So there we have it. I hope this post has given you an idea of the best way to strip back your paint and also what is involved. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! See you next week.


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