Which Sandpaper Grit Should You Use for Paint Removal?

sandpaper pieces

If need to remove paint from a surface, choosing the correct sandpaper grit is highly important to getting the job done properly. Not understanding what grade of coated abrasive is best for the project, coarse or fine, can cause you to unintentionally score and ruin wood or other underlying surfaces as you sand away the paint.

For paint removal, the coarseness of your sandpaper will be most significantly influenced by the amount of paint you are looking to remove and the type of surface underneath it. If you’re lucky and have nothing more complex than a thin, clean layer of paint in your way, you may want to forego grits and sanding altogether and just use a liquid paint remover.

NOTE: Despite the word “grit” usually being associated with being rough and strong, on the sandpaper or glasspaper scale, increasing grades actually represent finer, gentler forms of the coated paper abrasive.

The Right Grit for the Job

Determining what grit for what job is also dependent on the job itself.

Coarse Sandpaper

Usually graded at about P40 to P80classed as being coarse, this type of sandpaper is used take off thick layers of paint and is ideal if used with a power sander. This is a smart choice if your initial inspection of the wall tells you that you’re going to have to get through multiple thick coats of finish, paint, and primer.

While it’s true that paint stripper could accomplish that same task, the precision of sanding by hand requires less taping and worrying about messes.

Coarse sandpaper would also be useful if you wanted to take the paint off only a doorframe or trim and leave the walls covered.

WARNING: Be cautious when using course grit sandpaper because it can seriously damage the underlying surface and create large score marks in the softer materials such as wood.If you end up using the sander, exercise caution, follow the product instructions, and wear protective gear.

Medium Coarse Sandpaper

Medium coarse sandpaper is graded between P80 and P180 on the grit level and offers a good level of paint removal, which is less likely to destroy the underlying surface. If your surface is an intricate design, you are better advised to use medium course grade to protect the carved design beneath the paint.

Medium Sandpaper

This has a higher grit grading of between P180 and P500 and will not be as effective at removing the majority of a painted surface. However, this grade will be more useful assuming you've eliminated most of the paint. Medium grade sandpaper will take the next level of paint and reduce it further by sanding the final layers away.

This is also the best sandpaper for already chipping paint.

Won’t Get the Job Done

fine sandpaper

In addition to knowing the best sandpapers to complete your paint removal project, it's also important to know what won't get the job done.

Fine Grade Sandpaper

This grade of sandpaper is not effective at all for removing paint. Since it’s graded between P500 and P1200, it’s much more useful once you’ve already gotten the paint off and can see the underlying original surface. Fine sandpaper is perfect for clearing away the residue left from your paint removal project and for producing a smoother surface, which can then be painted over.

Very Fine Sandpaper

This type of sandpaper has a grade of P1200 or higher. Very fine grade sandpaper is completely unsuitable for the removing of paint, but it does offer a highly fine finish to a job once new paint has been applied and dries. This grit grade of sandpaper is also ideal for rubbing out small blemishes on newly-painted materials or for flatting down a final topcoat while the surface is still capable of being manipulate. Use very fine grade paper to make these last minute touches before applying protective varnish or sealant.

Liquid Sandpaper

Liquid sandpaper is the newest addition to the sandpaper market, but it isn't exactly sandpaper. It’s actually a liquid mix of chemicals that will de-gloss a painted surface in order to provide a bond for a new coat. It can be used alongside regular sandpaper, but it won’t do the job by itself.

WARNING: If you choose to use liquid sandpaper, follow the directions very carefully, as it is highly combustible and should not be used in enclosed spaces.