What We Are Not Being Told About Furniture Strippers

We have all second guessed ourselves when it comes to the safety of chemical products.  It looks great, works fantastic, perhaps a little smelly…. could it be that bad?  That is what we tell ourselves, over and over and over again through the years.

Today, checking facebook, I stumbled upon yet another person I know battling with cancer, my heart just sank.  About 10 years ago, it was easy to say that we all knew one person who was or is battling cancer.  Compare that with today, when most of us know a handful or more people who have cancer personally.  Cancer is a frightening thought, making this article even more important to read.

While there are many reasons why cancer develops, you cannot discount the use of chemicals in our lives.  What is more shocking is these substances that we think are safe are on the shelves, yet in other countries they are banned.  So how do you know if what you are using is safe?  If you know the answer, comment below.

We rarely read product labels when we are young and aren’t told about products that CAN do damage until it is too late.  It seems as though when we turn 50, we know better, but at that point, I have found that most people are fighting for their lives when something does appear.  We trust that if a product is on the shelf, it is safe. That is far from the truth.

Furniture Strippers… Case in point.  Maybe you are the type of person to strip one piece of furniture throughout your lifetime, or you could be the person who works with furniture every day and often needs to strip wood, metal or other salvage pieces on a regular basis.  Either way, this article is for you.  The more we know the better.

Toxic Products

Chemical Strippers

There is a certain chemical that has been banned in the European Union, yet, it still remains on American and Canadian shelves today.  The chemical is called Methylene Chloride, which is also called dichloromethane, or DCM which are in the fastest strippers, and other cleaning products.

In an article By Safer Chemicals, they mention that this chemical does cause cancer:

“several federal, state, and international agencies have identified methylene chloride as a cancer-causing substance. Unlike the poisonings, cancer in people caused by methylene chloride can take years to develop and is more difficult to document. Despite decades of knowledge about these toxic health effects, methylene chloride remains poorly regulated.”

If a product is considered deadly, why do they sell it?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Household Products Database lists 27 consumer products containing methylene chloride, most with concentrations greater than 50 percent. These products include automotive cleaners, adhesive removers, paint strippers and graffiti removers.

Sadly, we do have safer alternatives such as water-based adhesives, soy-based strippers, and benzyl alcohol which are safer substitutes for methylene chloride-based paint strippers.   So why aren’t they being used?  Unfortunately, this toxic substance is still found in most common store chains.

Chemical Strippers

– The Faster Strippers That Contain DCM Are Deadly Without Ventilation –In this link, 13 Deaths Tied To Chemical Methylene Chloride, 3 Dead in Florida, Georgia and Michigan using Klean-Strip KS-3 Premium Stripper available at Home Depot It was found that each death occurred in a residential bathroom with inadequate ventilation. Protective equipment, including a respirator, either was not used or was inadequate to protect against methylene chloride vapor.

-Methylene Chloride Can Cause Blindness – Description On Klean Strip Stripper- “May be fatal or cause blindness if swallowed. Eye and skin irritant. Vapor Harmful. Use only with adequate ventilation to prevent buildup of vapors. If the work area is not well ventilated, do not use this product. Causes formation of carbon monoxide in blood which may affect the cardiovascular system and central nervous system

-Methylene Chloride Will Burn – A Home Depot customer review of Klean-Strip K-3 Premium stripper, “to say this stuff is toxic is an understatement. If it touches you anywhere, you burn immediately. If it gets in your eyes, you will be in the hospital, no question. Steer clear of this stuff. It is overly toxic for a product that really does not work well”

-Methylene Chloride Can Only Be Used With Ventilation, Industrial Masks, Gloves and Eye ProtectionAfter reading this article, do you think you would even want to buy any products with this ingredient?  Is it worth the risk?  Any strippers should always be used in open air, such as a garage that has the overhead garage doors opened at the very minimum. Outside is the best place to strip furniture.  Wearing an industrial mask is imperative. HEAVY duty gloves are needed, along with safety glasses, and after reading below, a respirator with an oxygen machine…..!  Oh yes!   A little splash of this product causes burning instantly, and the area will be very vulnerable for several days after. This product eats through regular painting gloves, layering your gloves doesn’t help. I have bought my gloves at an auto body parts store in the past, but you can find gloves made for chemicals on Amazon. Over the years using stripper, I have learned that wearing glasses is of utmost importance, along with ventilation, with an industrial mask. Using newspaper allows  paint shavings to be dried out over night, and thrown away. This certainly is an effective stripper, but toxic on the other hand. Not certainly the best choice.

-Methylene Chloride Is Cancer-Causing “Numerous poisonings and deaths have been reported over several decades among workers and consumers using furniture strippers or other products containing methylene chloride in unventilated areas. Easily inhaled, methylene chloride converts to carbon monoxide once inside the body—making it especially dangerous for people with heart or lung disease, and pregnant women. Furthermore, several federal, state, and international agencies have identified methylene chloride as a cancer-causing substance. Unlike the poisonings, cancer in people caused by methylene chloride can take years to develop and is more difficult to document.” See the LINK Safer Chemicals

Workers Can Quickly Become Desensitized To The Smell “Workers are exposed to methylene chloride by breathing it in and by absorbing it through their skin. If workers smell methylene chloride, they are being overexposed because methylene chloride cannot be smelled until the level in the air is higher than OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs). However, the human body can quickly become desensitized to the smell of methylene chloride, and a worker may be overexposed even if he or she can no longer smell it.” SEE the link osha.gov

– Strippers Often Contain High Percentages (40 % or more ) Of Methylene Chloride – “Use of these chemicals in bathrooms is extremely dangerous, particularly because bathrooms are often small, enclosed spaces with little or no ventilation. Since methylene chloride is a volatile organic compound that will evaporate faster when sprayed, brushed, or poured, the chemical vapors can quickly build up in small spaces. Moreover, because methylene chloride evaporates quickly (it has a high vapor pressure), vapors can collect in the bottom of a bathtub and in the worker’s breathing zone when working in the bathtub. This situation creates dangerously high concentrations of methylene chloride and even replaces the breathable air. Exposure to as little as six ounces of methylene chloride-based material has been enough to cause death.” See the link osha.gov

-What Products Contain Methylene Chloride?  It is found in consumer products such as spray shoe polish, water repellents, spot removers, wood floor and panel cleaners, adhesive removers, lubricants, wood stains, varnishes and finishes, paint strippers and graffiti removal products, rust removers, glass frosting/artificial snow, and some automotive parts cleaning products.  It is found in degreasers in manufacturing, paint strippers , and a polyurethane foam blowing agent. It is also an extraction solvent for spices, caffeine, and hops. It is also used in nail salons as an artificial nail solvent. Information from osha.gov

Have You Been Over Exposed To Methylene Chloride?

– Exposure Means You Have Breathed It In, Or It Has Landed On Your Skin “Exposure to methylene chloride from consumer products occurs when a person breathes the vapors given off by the product or from direct contact of the skin with liquid material. The highest exposures usually occur in workplaces where the chemical is used in large volumes over long periods of time.”  osha.gov

– Dizzy, Headaches During Or After While Stripping Paint?  You Have Been Exposed- “When methylene chloride enters the human body, it affects brain function, such as not being able to concentrate. At high enough levels, it can stop breathing. At lower levels, methylene chloride exposure causes dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and nausea. Methylene chloride breaks down into other chemicals in the body, such as carbon monoxide.” osha.gov

– Damages Your Baby- “When inhaled or absorbed through the skin, methylene chloride can reach the developing fetus through the placenta and it also can enter breast milk.” osha.gov

– Effects Can Last For Long Periods Of Time “Effects on the nervous system can be long-lasting and possibly permanent if exposures are high and if they occur frequently over months or years.” osha.gov

  • Exposure to Methylene Chloride may cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, eye, nose and throat irritation.
  • Long-term exposure may cause cancer in humans. Animal studies have shown that exposure to methylene chloride may lead to liver and lung cancer, as well as tumors in the breast and salivary glands. Like many cancer-causing agents, any level of exposure, even concentrations below applicable occupational exposure limits, may increase the risk of cancer osha.gov

What Protection Is Needed For These Strippers? 

Gosh, as you start looking at what is required to use these strippers containing this chemical you start to think back to what you used, now compare that to the pictures of the products you see in this link

  • Full-face respirators, that has a self-contained breathing apparatus.
  • Laminate gloves that resist chemicals
  • Face shield, to protect the eyes
  • A methylene chloride-resistant apron

Let me ask you?  What did you have when you used strippers?

Full Face Multi Purpose Respirator

MSA Safety Works Full Face Multi Purpose Respirator – Amazon

What’s The 101 On Strippers?  What Can I Use?

– The Basic’s When Buying A Stripper From The Store “Most paint stores and home centers stock dozens of liquid- and paste-type chemical strippers. Basically, the three things you need to know are, 1. All of them will eat through almost any finish. 2. The safer the stripper is, the slower it works. 3. Pastes don’t generally work as fast as liquids, but because they stay wet longer, you have more time to scrape off the sludge.” This Old House

-Other Stripping Options “Methylene-chloride strippers are not the only option for removing old varnishes. Furniture re-finishers–wax-free solutions containing a blend of solvents such as lacquer thinner, denatured alcohol and mineral spirits–are a good choice for removing varnishes such as shellac and lacquer. To determine whether a particular finish can be dissolved with furniture refinisher, perform this test: Moisten a cotton ball with a small amount of solvent-based fingernail-polish remover, and rub it on a small area of the finish. If the cotton ball turns brown, the finish is dissolving–indicating that it can be removed with a furniture refinisher. Furniture refinishers contain no wax and evaporate quickly, so it’s best to work on small sections at a time” DIY Network

– In this article, they categorize the strippers by groups of 4.

  •  Group 1 Preferred – Benzyl Alcohol Strippers, Soy-Based Strippers, Dibasic esters- Use with chemical goggles and gloves
  • Group 2 Use With Caution -Sodium Hydroxide, Magnesium Hydroxide, Calcium Hydroxide, use Chemical goggles and face shield Apron.  Gloves must be caustic-resistant
  • Group 3 Extreme Caution – N-Methyl pyrrolidone (NMP) -Chemical goggles, Ethylene-vinyl alcohol laminate for gloves, and a respirator which has a organic vapor cartridge.  See pictures here
  • Group 4 Not Recommended: Methylene chloride, Toluene and Methanol.  These cause neurological effects, heart attacks, and may cause death.  Chemical Goggles are needed with this chemical,along with gloves with are ethylene-vinyl alcohol laminate. Ventilation is required mechanically.  Respirator in addition to supplied-air if used

(Did you notice Toluene in the bottom group?  “Despite what some labels suggest, refinishers, or removers, are strippers, although they only work on shellac or lacquer. Refinishers liquefy these finishes on contact. Most refinishers contain either acetone or tolulene, so be sure to use gloves, goggles, and a respirator, and provide plenty of ventilation Examples: Formby’s Furniture Refinisher, Gillespie Antique Restorer, Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher”  This Old House

-In this article by This Old House, they categorize the strippers into different categories.

  • Group 1 Fastest “Most of the strippers in this category contain methylene chloride, which is also called dichloromethane, or DCM.  Examples: BIX Quick Strip, Cabot Paint and Varnish Remover, Formby’s Paint and Poly Remover, Klean-Strip Stripper, UGL Paint Remover
  • Group 2  Medium-Fast “These strippers contain smaller amounts of methylene chloride or other chemicals, such as methyl-2-pyrrolidone and gamma butyrolactone” Examples: Citristrip, Olympic
  • Group 3 Slowest – “This type can be used indoors without special ventilation, a respirator or gloves. The downside is that these strippers take as long as 24 hours to work and, because they’re water-based, they will raise the grain and loosen veneers.” Example: Safest Stripper

Advice tipsBelow is A FANTASTIC guide found on this site cdph.ca.gov which lists out all the paint strippers by groups.  At least we all can have access to the safety info, so we can make the best choice for ourselves.  You can go to the link so you can see the product names more clearly.

Paint-Removal-Methods Paint-Removal-Methods2