A simple, cheap and effective technique to removing paint from plastic models

Dettol Paint strippingWhy a picture of Dettol on a model railway blog? Read more to find out how a household disinfectant can help your railway modeling.

This is great model making tip I’ve read about a lot in the military diorama and wargaming blogs but not seen raised in the railway modeling community.

Essentially, it’s how to remove acrylic and enamel paints from plastic models but as it’s both cheaper and more effective than standard branded products in the model market I’m sharing it here.

Paint stripping plastic is something all modelers will be faced with at some point.

Whether it’s correcting an earlier accident/mistake or refreshing the paint on an old model the old paint needs removing before applying new coats. (Not doing so leads to loss of detail and a poor seal).

You could just buy the standard off-the-shelf paint removers sold by model shops. They’re good but typically expensive.

But as I’m out to show you, there’s a much cheaper alternative.

And that alternative is non-other that school children’s loathed disinfectant Dettol.

As said I don’t take credit for the idea. I read about some time ago on other model making blogs but it doesn’t seem to have had much attention in the railway space.

A step by step guide is described over on Realm Of Chaos.

Dettol Model Paint

Here’s part of old Ratio signal box I soaked to remove the paint. After a few hours and a scrub the pain came off, ready for re-painting.

But basically:

  • Dunk the model in undiluted Dettol for approx 4 hours.
  • Remove the model from the Dettol and scrub it with a toothbrush and one if the thick washing liquids.
  • Rinse clean in cold water.

That’s it. Simple. Effective. Cheap.

With fresh Dettol and reasonable soaking time, old paint comes off easily and cleanly.

One word of warning, however, as I learned with a Ratio signal box I wanted to repaint (see right), soaking in Dettol will also break down glue. For me, this wasn’t actually bad as it means the model can also be glued again so correcting a couple of gluing errors but it’s something to be wary of.

Read the full guide on the link above but let me know how you get on and if it works for you.

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.


Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.
  1. A great suggestion and certainly worth a good ol’ college try.
    The only snag that came to mind is that the model I need to remove paint is a metre long Submarine in 1/72 scale.
    I’ll ask the Mrs if I can use the bathtub, fill it with enough Dettol to get the job done, I figure a quart should do it and guard the project from prying ladies eyes and clean up thoroughly afterwards to avoid detection and any penalty exacted should my luck were to run out and my darstedly deed discovered.

  2. I have seen this idea in the last few days on the site of a keen modeller and converter I came across. I have a few items that need stripping so I will certainly give it a try. I hope they don’t smell too strongly afterwards!

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