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How to remove powder coating

Powder coating provides a hard-wearing, versatile finish, but what happens when you want to remove it?

It may be that removing a powder coating is the first thing you need to do before refreshing or repurposing an item or surface.

Here, we look at the alternative methods for removing powder coatings carefully, professionally and effectively.

Choosing the best way to remove powder coating

There are three main methods for removing powder coating:

  • Chemical stripping

  • Thermal stripping

  • Abrasive blasting

One may be more suitable for a specific project than another.

It also depends on the strength and resistance of the original substrate.

Chemical stripping

There are both hot and cold methods of chemical stripping.

Hot chemical stripping involves immersing the substrate in a caustic bath at around 80°C. In this environment, the coating will start to soften before swelling and falling off the substrate.

Cold chemical stripping typically involves using a solvent-based agent. This, again, can be by immersion in a bath or by applying the agent with a brush.

It is a fast and cost-effective powder coating removal method, leaving a uniformly clean surface.

However, it comes with safety and environmental issues since it involves the use of chemicals and their disposal. Also, the surface will need preparing again before applying a fresh coating.

Thermal stripping

Applying heat to a powder coating can break it down, leaving a residue of ash, which you can then brush away or clean off using water.

There are three thermal stripping systems:

Fluidised bed stripping – you apply a heated medium, such as sand, to the substrate. The item is lowered into a fluidised bed consisting of the chosen medium. At a temperature of 400°C, it breaks down and carries away the coating, leaving the item’s substrate completely clean.

Bake-off stripping – you load batches of powder-coated items into an oven that is heated to between 300°C and 350°C. At those temperatures, most powder coatings will degrade before igniting, leaving only ash after several hours in the oven.

Burn-off stripping – using hot temperatures of around 500°C to 650°C, burn-off stripping ignites the coating rapidly, removing it from the substrate in as little as 10 minutes.

Heat is a fast removal method, and it avoids the disposal issues that come with chemical-based alternatives. But, like them, it does leave the substrate without any surface profile for future coating.

Abrasive blasting

Abrasive blasting is the cheapest way of removing powder coating. An abrasive is shot at the coated substrate at high speeds.

The blasting medium can be crushed glass, steel or glass beads, plastic, water or dry ice.

The nature of the medium, and the speed of the blasting, will vary according to the thickness of the coating and the resilience of the substrate.

You carry the process out in a special sandblast room or cupboard, depending on the size of the item and nature of the coating.

The blasting method leaves behind a surface profile. The gentler the blasting method the more you will preserve the surface profile of the item you are cleaning, but this will also take longer to accomplish.

Blasting can take around 30 seconds per square inch of substrate.

It is important, prior to the blasting process, that you thoroughly wash the parts. If you don’t, it risks dirt or contaminations on the surface becoming embedded during blasting.

Which is the best removal method?

You must first consider what your substrate is made of, what you plan to use it for and what result you expect from removing the powder coating.

Thermal stripping will clean away grease and dirt along with the coating, making it ideal for engine or automotive parts.

Chemical stripping is better suited to more delicate parts, especially if they cannot withstand high temperatures. For example, it is an effective way of removing coatings from aluminium.

Burn-off removal is rapid, should speed be the most pressing concern.

Bake-off and burn-off thermal stripping are more environmentally friendly removal methods than chemical stripping.

The cheapest method for removing powder coating is abrasive blasting, though it can mean more work hours because the process takes longer. 

It is suitable for steel substrates and leaves a rough surface for further coating without requiring additional treatment.

For more information about powder coating, including removing and applying it, please contact Tomburn.

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How to remove powder coating

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