By: Gary Wilcox

Date:  Summer 2007

Gary (aka. Gunslinger Gary), a regular at Joe’s Diecast Shack, had put together the following article surrounding some of the common checmicals the Customizer encounters.  It is a great piece and gives the hobbyist a basic understanding of what they are working with.  Again, Safety is Number One. 


Water                                     Essentially hazard free in limited quantities.  Will cause steel axles to rust if you don’t completely dry a casting after rinsing of dye, stripper or wet sanding residue.

Acetone                                 Personal favorite for removing tampos and for some paint stripping. Main ingredient in a lot of nail polish removers. Very flammable but less toxic than some solvents.

Nail polish remover               Base is generally acetone and/or ethyl acetate but often mixed with other stuff to make it less aggressive to skin.  

Brake fluid                             Used as a solvent for stripping paint off plastics.  Flammable, but less so than many others.

Mineral Sprits                        Petroleum derived solvent.  A grade of naphtha.  If you buy something labeled “paint thinner” it is likely mineral spirits.  It generally is  more expensive than naphtha because it is more refined and I don’t think it smells as bad.  (odorless paint thinner is just mineral spirits with the “stink” removed or masked).

Lighter fluid                           Most brands are 100% naphtha.   See Mineral Spirits

Easy-Off                                 Oven cleaner containing a couple of solvents and sodium hydroxide (lye).  Used often to remove vacuum metallized  “chrome.”   The solvent removes the protective topcoat and the caustic dissolves the aluminum.  

Lacquer Thinner                    May contain ethyl alcohol, toluene, xylene and butyl acetate

Xylene                                    Petroleum solvent for paints and rubber cement.  It is flammable, but not as much as some other solvents.  It is toxic.

Toluene                                  Flammable with dangerous fire risk.  Toxic by inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption.  Is used as thinner for a lot of coatings including both enamels and lacquers.  It is a major ingredient in model airplane cements.  ADEQUATE VENTILATION is a must.

Turpentine                             A natural organic thinner for enamel.  It doesn’t work particularly well and because of its strong, penetrating odor, I wouldn’t use it.

Methylene Chloride              Ingredient in many of the better paint strippers.  Non-flammable, toxic by inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption.  Causes almost instant burns if it gets on your skin!

Carbon Tetrachloride            A once widely used solvent, cleaner and fire extinguishing liquid.  It is extremely dangerous, particularly because it causes liver damage.  IT SHOULD NOT BE IN ANY CUSTOMIZER’S KIT.



I don’t know if readers will pick up on it, but the list above is arranged by my personal view of how dangerous a material generally is.   Below I am providing some rules relative to safe handling of chemicals and I have highlighted those that are the most important.

Read and follow the label directions.  I know that most guys, and some women, don’t like to read, let alone follow, label directions or instructions.  In this case, failure to do so can be life threatening.

When the label says “USE ONLY WITH ADEQUATE VENTILATION” that means outdoors, in a paint booth or in a room with the windows open and maybe a fan.

Make sure you have eliminated all sources of spark or potential ignition sources when using anything flammable.  More than one fire has been started when paint stripper was used in a basement with a gas water heater.  

Smaller containers (holding an ounce or two) are generally safer than the quarts usually purchased.  However, never transfer any hazardous material into an unmarked container.  I recommend, as a minimum, the smaller container be marked with the proper name of the product and the primary hazard i.e.  “ACETONE” and “FLAMMABLE”.    I really recommend transferring as much of the original label as possible.  Also, never put a hazardous material in any sort of beverage container where it might be mistaken for a soft drink or other beverage.  

Remember that you are sometimes using a product for a purpose other than intended, for example, using brake fluid to strip paint, you really need to take the time to make sure you know a little about the chemistry of the products you are using.  Brake fluid and some pool chemicals will react violently if mixed so you don’t want to store your painting chemicals in the shed with the pool chemicals.

You also need to keep in mind that some of the chemicals you may be using are really intended for industrial use and are not packaged and labeled for household use.  This is particularly true with some of the automotive finish materials.  Some require a high volume paint booth and maybe a supplied air respirator.   There are some, particularly those containing isocyanate, that are probably not safe to use at home under any conditions.

You probably need to think twice about using commercial carburetor cleaner or other professional shop chemicals, particularly if use is likely to expose others or children.   

The wrong kind of respirator is likely to be more dangerous than not wearing one at all.   A dust mask is generally fine for the small quantity of “Bondo” dust you may encounter, but will do nothing to reduce your exposure to paint fumes.  A respirator with cartridges for solvents likely will not provide much protection if you are spraying acid wash primer.  There you need an acid fumes cartridge and maybe both.  (For what it is worth, I’d think twice about wearing a respirator without some training.   In an industrial situation you must be trained to wear the respirator, be professionally fitted with one, and you must have an annual physical exam to demonstrate you are healthy enough to wear it).  


Eye protection    As a minimum you will need safety glasses, preferably with side shields.    They don’t have to be expensive ones and the ones that factories provide for tours are likely adequate.  

Eye protection should be worn any time you are working with any hazardous chemicals, using power tools or doing any sawing, sanding or filing where dust or shavings are produced.  

Face protection      I keep a simple plastic face shield around to use when I am going to be exposed to splashing of any hazardous liquids.  I always wear it when punching aerosol cans in order to transfer paint for airbrush use.   If I don’t happen to have the full face shield available I will wear my son’s welding mask with the filter flipped up or the automatic one in the un-darkened mode.  

Gloves    I wear rubber gloves when I am expecting a lot of chemical contact, for example if I am stripping a bunch of bodies.  Some have suggested wearing heavy gloves while drilling apart cars, but I prefer not to hand hold while drilling.  A sharp new drill bit will go through heavy leather gloves and into your hand about as quickly as if you weren’t wearing them.  I have mixed feelings about gloves and heat.   Among my other hobbies I do some blacksmithing.   I quickly discovered that I am a lot more careful and less likely to get burned if always working bare handed.  On the other hand, if I am wearing leather gloves I am a lot more likely to get careless and grab a hunk of hot iron and get myself burned.

Your comments and suggestions are encouraged and please feel free to contact me if you have questions regarding specific chemicals.  If I don’t have information on hand, I can usually get it.  I have done my best to make sure the information here is correct, but cannot make any guarantees.  I cannot be responsible for any accidents or damage resulting from use of this information.  

You can contact Gary Directly at

Thanks to Gary for his Contribution!! 

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