It’s easier to remove paint from plastic than it may seem. The trick is knowing the right chemical to use. The method to apply it will vary, depending on whether the item is too big to soak.
This method works for toys and virtually anything else made of plastic. I learned the trick from a hobbyist who restores vintage plastic models. It works on every type of paint I’ve tried: oil and water-based? Check. Enamel, acrylic, and latex? Check. Both brush-on and spray paint? Check.
Remove paint from plastic by soaking
My favorite method to remove paint from small plastic items is to soak it in a purple cleaner like Purple Power. The big 2.5 gallon container is more cost effective if you’ll be doing this a lot. Normally I let them soak overnight, but depending on the type of paint and how long the paint has had to cure, sometimes it only takes an hour or so.
That said, I’ve removed decades-old paint with this method.
Once the item is clean, rinse the item in cold water to remove the cleaner and let it dry. Now you can put the item back into use, or repaint it as you wish. Wear gloves when you handle the item, as Purple Power is really hard on your skin.
There are other chemicals such as brake fluid that will work, but Purple Power has the advantage of being biodegradable and non-flammable, so you can safely pour it down your drain when you’re done with it. It’s also cheaper than brake fluid. And in rare cases, I have heard of brake fluid melting the plastic. I have never heard of Purple Power doing that. Overall, Purple Power is clearly a better choice.
Remove paint when the item is too big to soak
When you can’t soak the item, you have a bit of a problem. Purple Power won’t exactly stay in place on a big item, being a liquid.
The active ingredient in Purple Power is the same as in oven cleaner. Don’t use the fume-free type. The heavy-duty stuff in the yellow can is what you want. Since oven cleaner foams up, it will stay in place for you. Spray on some oven cleaner, let it sit an hour or two, then come back and repeat if necessary. You know it’s working when you see the paint bubble.
To speed things along, you can scrape the paint with a plastic putty knife once it starts to bubble.
When you use this method, be sure to protect any part of the surface you don’t want to remove the paint from. Taping plastic trash bags into place is an effective method.
Oven cleaner is less cost-effective than Purple Power, but it’s more convenient for things you can’t soak.
Once the item is clean, rinse it with water and call it good. Wear gloves if you’re going to come in contact with the oven cleaner.