Taking paint off a brick fireplace, pt. 2
In part 2 we experience our first failed endeavor. We don't have any pictures because it was such a mess and it was so incredibly frustrating that we just wanted to move forward, but we'll still tell you what happened, why we think it was such a failure, and how we recovered.
If you missed part 1, you can find it here.
Sandblasting: a total waste of time
We had the brick stripped down to the last, super stubborn layer of paint. We saw on a couple restoration blogs (mainly this one) that it was possible to "sandblast" the paint off the brick using either ground walnut shells or soda ash. Walnut shells and soda ash are less abrasive than regular sandblasting media. The logic was that it wouldn't damage the brick or mortar, but it would be able to chip away at the paint.
After a few weeks of prep, like lugging borrowed sandblasting machines and media into the house, tenting off the living room with a tarp not once but twice, and Pat suiting up in full protective gear to sandblast for an entire day ... we ended up with nothing but zero progress on the paint removal and a living room covered in soda ash.
We were discouraged. We had sunk a good chunk of change into sandblasting media, and a whole long weekend into a method that didn't work at all.
To make matters worse, we had to spend multiple days on soda ash cleanup. Soda ash is incredibly fine (soda ash is the same texture as baking soda) so it got into EVERYWHERE. We had to sweep, vacuum, dust, and mop the entire first floor of the house.
Why didn't it work?
Ultimately, we're not sure what exactly went wrong. But we think that in order to remove the paint, we would probably have to use a more abrasive media or a higher pressure, which would definitely damage the brick.
We weren't willing to go through the cleanup of sandblasting again, so we decided to abandon the strategy altogether. Other people have successfully used sandblasting. We were not going to be one those people.
Screw it. Let's try oven cleaner.
We tried to recover from the complete failure of sandblasting by finding a method we thought would work: oven cleaner. Yes. Regular old oven cleaner. From the grocery store.
The logic behind this one sounded a bit better: a strong degreaser like oven cleaner would loosen the paint, making it easier to scrub off. Pat bought about 6 cans of oven cleaner from Wegmans and went after it.
After a few days of testing small patches and a few days of scrubbing, the result:
Once again, we were really pleased with the results. We can finally see the color and texture of the brick coming through. As a bonus, all of the paint is gone from the damper handle, so it's nice and shiny again. Yay!
Some things we learned:
Sandblasting inside the house ... never again.
We're confident we can remove most of the paint, but we won't be able to remove all of it. The brick texture is just too rough. Although we're perfectionists, we've made peace with the fact that it won't look perfect. Anything is better than the white paint we started with.
And finally: the truth is that the only way we're going to get the result we want is to scrub the paint off, brick by brick.