I started by dumping all of the figures in a pickle jar filled with diluted Simple Green. This did an OK job in some cases, but a lot of the paint applied was not affected. I'm no chemistry expert but this is probably due to either a varnish being applied or the nature of the paint. I would guess that something like Simple Green may not work so hot on figures painted with enamel-based paints vs acrylics. If you get figures from anyone that uses hardware store spray paints this will often be the case.
Here are shots of the figures after 24 hours in Simple Green:
|Plastic Fire Warriors after Simple Green|
The metal figures were even worse. You can hardly tell any difference.
|Paint still basically intact on the metal figs|
Note: Many gamers have good luck with Simple Green. Using it undiluted and letting it soak longer may give you better results. I'm impatient and also wanted to show what some other common household cleaners can do so I moved on.
With Simple Green not cutting the mustard for me, I moved on to the next cleaning solution. Citrus-based cleaners & degreasers are still pretty non-toxic and are more powerful than cleaning solutions like Simple Green. I made a solution of 1:1 Orange Clean & water, put it in a glass baby food jar (very useful by the way) and let my figures soak in there for between 15 minutes and an hour.
My metal figures came out very shiny and clean with some scrubbing.
Here's a close-up:
|Where'd all that paint go?|
Still some bits of paint on there but for the most part the citrus cleaner allowed my to get most of the paint off with a short soak. I left the metal figures in there longer and they got very clean. See the picture at the end of this post to see the final state. They're very shiny.
There's an important caveat to remember when using Citrus-based cleaners. They're usually sold as 'de-greasers' for a reason: They are very good at sucking oil out of something, and that something includes both your skin and plastics. So, use gloves if you don't want your fingers to turn white, crack and burn for a while. Also, there are disclaimers against using citrus-based cleaners with plastics like styrene (what GW plastics are made of) for again they chemically alter the plastics. I took a few busted plastic figures and left them in the citrus cleaner for about 30 minutes. When scrubbing the paint came off, but the figures got bendy and the plastic bases had started melting, so my toothbrush started scraping bits off the base and I managed to leave fingerprints embedded in both the top & bottom. If this is all you have for cleaning figures, you can use it, but do not leave your figs in the mix for a prolonged time or you will end up with a jar full of goo. There are better options.
After seeing a bunch of plastic figures still coated in gloppy paint, I decided it was time to pull out the heavy artillery: spray-on oven cleaner. I use Easy-Off Heavy Duty Oven Cleaner. I sprayed it on my plastic figures and let them sit for 10-20 minutes and then started scrubbing them under warm water with my trusty toothbrush.
|Tau Fire Warrior enduring the Rot of Nurgle (i.e. Oven Cleaner)|
Anyway, while Oven Cleaner should probably be banned under the Geneva Convention it's pretty damn effective and loosening up paint without mutating the plastic underneath. Here's what my figures looked like after being scrubbed and rinsed:
|Now we're talking!|
Scrubbing the figures down and soaking them in a variety of chemicals may mean the finer detail bits of plastic figures may snap off. I lost a number of Tau helmet antennas during cleanup. Thankfully I have some spares and also a plethora of those left hands holding a communication device. I can snip off the antennas from those arms and use them as proxy pieces. Won't be perfect, but again the butt-ugly ones will end up as bullet-takers in the front ranks.
So, here are our 4 figures after paint removal. The metal figures are nice and shiny and after re-basing and cleaning up mold lines, they will look good as new. The plastics look more dodgy right now but after doing some more scraping and re-priming them they will look pretty good (hopefully - time will tell).
|Time to move on to rebasing, cleaning mold lines, etc.|
The final step: Clean up after yourself. The process of scrubbing paint off will leave little flecks of dark goop all over your work area.
PS: Galan from the Hitting on 3's podcast told me he likes "LA's Totally Awesome Cleaner," for stripping paint off of figures. It's cheap and can be found in dollar stores around the USA. Just another option for you to look at. Thanks Galan!