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How to Remove Paint from Historical Tin Panels

Hint: It involves teeny tiny sponges!

As seen on episode 1 of our HGTV show
Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House?

In the premiere episode of our HGTV series Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House, Bill and Joe fell in love with an old firehouse in a small town in upstate New York. Inside, the space was outfitted head-to-two in gorgeous, historical tin panels that had been caked in multiple layers of paint that was peeling off. We’d never tackled such a project before, so we had a lot of research to do in trying to figure out how to remove it!

Our Challenge

Before we nerd out on the “what” about SpongeJet, let’s talk about “why” we chose this method!

Why didn’t we just brush off the loose paint layers, desperately clinging to beautiful tin paneling, and hide any imperfections in a fresh coat?

The answer is PRESERVATION! Protecting the integrity of a house’s historic building fabric is a guiding principle for all of our work. Whenever possible, we seek out the specialized expertise best suited to the job to guide us in the right direction.

The tin itself was in great shape when we found it. Underneath the paint, the condition was remarkable! Our goal, then, was simply to clean away the offensive, peelings layers of paint and to repaint the tin in a single, clean coat. Throughout history, tin panels have always been coated in some way to prevent rusting. The original coating was a bronze factory finish on light grey tin panels.

That said, the panels are thin, delicate and plentiful! The ideal paint removal method had to be appropriate for large surface areas, yet non-abrasive enough to respect the fragile nature of the tiles.


Our Options

There are many different ways to remove paint from building surfaces, including the use of chemical strippers and heat guns. In our case, the sheer mass of the space meant that chemical strippers would be incredibly cumbersome, toxic and time-consuming (in most cases, chemical strippers remove paint in layers and require more than one application). Heat guns can be very effective, but the delicate nature of the tin — and the potential to make it brittle using heat so close to it — made us cautious about using them here.

So, could we blast the walls with something? Yes! Sand or even walnuts might come to mind when thinking about the appropriate media for tackling a large surface area. But no, the tin panels called for something gentler. We consulted with our preservation colleagues and in short order were led to the experts at SpongeJet. And yes, it’s exactly as it sounds: using compressed air, a media containing the tiniest little bits of sponge materials are shot at the surface of the tin. Upon impact, the sponge expands, grabs the paint and pulls it off, and then falls to the floor for controlled cleanup. Not only is the process more environmentally responsible, as there are no harsh chemicals in use, but the amount of airborne dust and material is significantly less than with other media blasting techniques.

We are so grateful for the partnership of SpongeJet, who suited us up and allowed us to try our hand, too, at this incredible process.


Expertly cleaned and beautifully sealed in a color that recalls the copper and bronze patina formed over the last century, this firehouse’s tin panels will last for years to come.

See the complete interior transformation of this historic firehouse with tin panels in the episode recap! Or watch SpongeJet in action in Episode 1 of Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House?

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