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"Tin Ceiling Restoration Help Please"

An ongoing discussion beginning back in 2000 ...


Q. How do I restore (strip/paint) the tin ceiling in my 100 year old kitchen? Is it possible to restore the natural metallic finish?

Wilma Nachsin
- Evanston, Illinois


What's your ceiling like at the moment?

Ian Brooke
university - Glasgow, Scotland


Q. Thanks for asking. The painted surface of the tin ceiling has large bubbles where the paint is pulling away. We poked through one of the bubbles and found the dark gray tin surface underneath. Under the paint, the ceiling seems tarnished, but otherwise in great condition.

Wilma Nachsin [returning]
- Evanston, Illinois


A. While looking for info on this same topic, I came across a snippet on another board about using Easy-Off Oven Cleaner...

We had tried to use a few other things (Strypeeze, not thick enough to adhere to an upside-down surface; Citrustrip, less caustic and supposedly strips with a very thin layer - didn't work well; RediStrip, a paste like remover that works upside down and is not caustic, but is very expensive and did not work well on the pressed detail of the Tin)...

After seeing the tip about oven cleaner, we decided to give it a try... it was just short of amazing compared to the other products "designed" for paint-removal...

Our ceiling had at least 5 coats of paint, the first one having been put on around 1910 or so... The first application of oven cleaner completely loosened the top 2 heavy layers of paint. After cleaning that with a plastic putty knife, another application of oven cleaner was applied that loosened most of the rest of the paint which we then took off again with the plastic putty knife. There was still quite a bit of paint left in the recesses of the decorative tin, so we applied one more application of oven cleaner and used a stiff plastic bristle brush to get into the crevices. Then wiped the whole surface with damp rags to remove the residue. It came out beautifully.

We waited about 2 hours after applying the oven cleaner before removing the loosened paint and made sure to have plastic sheeting below as the cleaner would eat into the hardwood floors. NOTE: The cleaner is supposed to be safe on metal (it is designed for ovens) but, do not leave the last application on for more than a few hours as it may leave minor pock marks in the old tin.

Joe Varga
- Rochester, New York

sidebar 2002

Glad to hear that it worked, Joe, but also concerned about working overhead with oven cleaner because it's really strong stuff; one drop in your eye and you are blind. It works better than products "designed for the job" because it's much stronger.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey


Yes, I suppose that's true... oven cleaner in the eye could blind a person, but I do believe that just about any chemical that can strip paint could blind you if gotten in the eye... hence the common sense use of good eye protection ( goggles [affil. link to info/product on Amazon]) when working with any caustic chemicals whether overhead or not...

Joe Varga [returning]
- Rochester, New York


A. I did this on two ceilings about 8 years ago. I tried everything for removal; Chipping, propane torch, Methylene chloride. I finally found a product called "Peel Away [affil. link to info/product on Amazon]". It is a Sodium Hydroxide paste that is troweled on and a paper-plastic film that is pressed against the paste. The next day the film is peeled off with the paint sticking to the paper. Sometimes it will just fall down from the weight. No toxic fumes but use rubber Rubber Gloves [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] and eye protection; NaOH burns the skin. Applying thicker paste means less work cleaning in the details but this has to be balanced against the cost. At that time a 5 gal bucket was about $125. It was still a lot of nasty work but I could not have completed the project without this product.
There were too many different shades of gray to leave the metal unpainted. I used some kind of white primer, I think it was a Zinsser oil base that cleaned up with water. The finish coat was a latex base with metallic powder mixed in. One room was done in bronze, the other with brass color. It was applied with a HVLP sprayer and I was very pleased with the result.I think the paint was called Chromatone from Cresent Bronze Powder Co. in Chicago and it was also expensive. Our building inspector commented that this was the only remaining original residential tin celling in town that he knew of.

Bob Kesley
- Lake Geneva, Wisconsin


Q. Hi, we installed a new tin (unpainted) tin ceiling in our kitchen about 6 years ago. Despite fairly meticulous care it has become rusted in spots where steam from cooking has reached it. It is also very dirty and is not easy (to say the least) to clean. Are there any products out there that may help? Thanks for any info.

Lisa Aurello
D-I-Y-er - Brewster, New York

January 23, 2008

Q. I have a very old copper ceiling, probably from around the turn of the century. it is rather ornate and has many ridges and dentils. Can anyone please advise me as to how I could restore, or remove the layers of paint. Can I power wash it? I have tried chemical strippers but the paint seems to be so thick that the chemicals just seem to move the paint around. It is rather beautiful would be unfortunate to have to get rid of it! what should I do?

Mark English
homeowner/carpenter - Astoria, New York

January 9, 2009

Q. I have ceiling tiles dating back to 1916 that were removed from an old school house. I hope to install them in my kitchen and dining room. They need to be cleaned up and have several layers of old cracked paint that needs to be removed. What would you recommend as a spray or dip perhaps that could be used on them. It was suggested that perhaps a steam blast or baking soda blast would work but I don't want to damage them further.

Lorrie Reed
- Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

April 23, 2009

A. I also have been restoring a very large pressed tin ceiling in our federation home. After trying many products, I have started using oven cleaner. This appears to be be the most economical and also effective paint remover. However it still requires many man hours and patience. Is it possible to have the area cleaned with abrasive sandblasting?

Cheryl-Lee Ferguson
- Wee Waa, NSW, Australia

May 28, 2010

A. I have a house built in 1908 that has tin walls as well as tin ceilings. I started peeling the cracking layers of paint in my bedroom and ended up with a huge ugly mess. I'm now in the process of having someone soda blast the room, like sand-blasting, only with baking soda. I have yet to see the final results, as it's taking the guy longer than he thought, but I'm hoping this is my solution.

I'm intrigued by the oven cleaner idea that others have posted, but it does sound a bit dangerous.

Jennifer Jones
- Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

October 11, 2011

Q. My name is Bonnie Wallinga. My store has a beautiful tin ceiling above a drop ceiling. My building is about 75 years old. I would like to take the tin ceiling down and put it in my home. Is it hard to take down or any special tools needed to remove it?

Bonnie Wallinga
hobbyist - Sutherland Iowa U.S.A.

January 3, 2016

A. We recently unearthed a hidden tin ceiling in the kitchen and decided, like idiots, to restore it. It's not a particularly fancy ceiling, luckily, comprised of "corrugated" panels with cross bars and rosettes. 90% of the paint had already fallen off inside the false ceiling, but the remaining paint was a nightmare to remove. Obviously, it was lead.

I investigated dry ice blasting, but frankly didn't want to spend $15 per sq ft for lead paint removal. Had we been able to, we would have left it bare, or urethaned it. We had to admit defeat and ended up painting it with Glidden (Ralph Lauren) metallic silver paint with sponges.

We stripped it, FOR A SOLID WEEK, with a variety of scrapers, some custom ground, and a variety of chemicals. We used oven cleaner that we read about here. It does work, but there's no one cure-all. We tried peel away #1 (had it already) and just didn't have the patience after discovering 24 hours was not enough. People, this is not easy work. It's a real labor of love. You couldn't pay me enough to do this in someone else's home. For the bits that we simply couldn't get off I used oven cleaner and brillo pads to soften the edges. Obviously, we used HEPA masks the entire time and TSP for cleanup. Max strength oven cleaner was good for quick passes because it's quick acting. Spray it on, wait a few minutes, scrape/scrub, wipe it off before it hardens. Repeat.

Now I know why the tin was abandoned.

Todd Beaulieu
- Boston, Massachusetts, US

August 17, 2019

A. I had 60 tiles I bought from an antique dealer. They had many layers of paint.

I got an old oil tank which had been cut in two (an old bath tub would also work)

I filled the oil tank with water and poured in 8 kilos of baking soda. I used two propane burners to bring the water to boiling. I boiled the tiles for 30 minutes.

I then pressure washed them. The paint poured of them and left them looking new.

Robert J Russell
- Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

February 22, 2020

A. I'm in the same place as most of you. Right now I'm trying to scrape it off with a weedwacker, it works but the auto feed on those things are a joke. If your tin ceiling isn't yet installed you're lucky! Take the tiles to someone who does glass bead blasting (ask an auto body shop if you can't find one.) Be sure to use a metal primer before you paint it.

Linda Psomas
artist, home restorer - TROY, New York

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