And the Banned Played On

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Feature

What’s up with Methylene Chroride?

If you want strong opinions, you can either ask people about politics—or in our industry, paint strippers. Methylene chloride, widely hailed as the fastest and most effective paint stripper on the market, has come under about a quarter century of fire because it can be hazardous to your health, if not fatal, if used improperly. While the industry has, over time, spawned a lot of alternative chemistry, some people feel it is important to keep MC on the market. And…some emphatically do not. A couple months ago we had some industry experts weigh in on using or not using this particular remover, and the debate rages on.

On top of this, the EPA is still considering banning the substance altogether. But for now, it’s still available even though at least three major national retailers have announced they’ll be pulling it from their shelves. This leaves you, the independent dealer, with the option to sell it and pick up business from people who can’t get it from those national chains. Now, when they come to you to buy paint stripper, maybe you can show them the latest faux finish or long-handled brush, or “green” products they never knew existed because you had them and the box did not.


Out of Hibernation

Franmar, based in Bloomington, IL and makers of the BLUE BEAR® brand, got its start manufacturing safer products—including alternatives to methylene chloride—by utilizing soybeans and other natural elements. Scott Sarver, the company’s Marketing Coordinator, offers his perspective from that particular window. He points out that this shift in retailers eliminating methylene chloride and n-methyl-pyrrolidone (NMP) products is not at the direction of the EPA, but rather in response to calls from consumers and consumer advocacy groups. “A formalized decision from the EPA has not yet been made though it would seem that at some point MC will end up on a banned list,” he said.

He adds that while you as an independent can still offer MC and NMP products, it’s important to make sure you have that alternative for customers looking for safer products.

But he agrees—heck, who can deny it—methylene chloride does perform. “The reality is that MC works well to strip paint, but whether it is the pro or the homeowner using it, the risks are always there,” he points out. “Even professionals using the precautions have succumbed to MC, so we feel that those risks are unnecessary for both the DIYer and the pro.” These safer strippers might even save money! “Because Franmar’s products do not evaporate like MC, an end user ends up using less of our product to do the same amount of work as MC.”


Sales are “Taking Off”

Unfortunately—and this is another “well known fact” of the industry—a lot of the early attempts at replacing MC weren’t very effective; “green” products in general had to prove their mettle after some false starts. Still, as time went by, R&D folks worked their way around the problems, and the Franmar staff tells us they’ve got a winner which will be on the market very soon. “When the green product movement began, often these products suffered from a lack of effectiveness,” Scott said. “When we were developing our new Blue Bear Paint Stripper with Safenol™, we knew that this new product could not be less effective than our other paint strippers. Our final formulation works as well, and in some cases better, than our previous Blue Bear offerings and exceeds other non-NMP paint strippers we have compared it to.”

And it can take it off, even though just like any remover Sarver recommends trying out a test area for evaluation before applying it to the entire surface. This new product removes polyurethanes, enamels, latex, oil based paints, epoxies and just about any other type of paint that one may encounter,” he said. “This paint stripper is very low odor and incredibly safe to use, so it would be appropriate to use indoors, around your family or pets, and even on larger industrial jobs where there are environmental and safety concerns.

“Blue Bear’s New Paint Stripper with Safenol™ will be available for purchase in mid-October at an attractive price to both dealers and customers (MSRP is $12.95 per quart), and dealer inquiries are welcome,” he concluded.



An Emcee for MC

We spoke on the subject with Charley “Chas” Wolfson, Executive Vice President of Sales at Samex, and if you know Chas, to start an article off with “he has a lot to say” is pretty much par for the course. But he did, and all the better for us. Samex, makers of Rock Miracle since 1936, manufactures a wide variety of stripping products, so Wolfson came out of the gate saying he has no agenda other than making sure his customers have the paint removal products they want and need.

From there, he tells us, methylene chloride products are still by far the most popular strippers on the market, and with three large players in home improvement taking it off their shelves, it’s sending a lot of people to the independent who have rarely or never been there before. Suddenly there’s a commodity product that they have to get from you!

“It could, in a positive way, affect the independent who is wise enough to capitalize on the three big guys dropping it, because methylene chloride is the most demanded stripper out there,” he said. Mainly because of your pro customers, MC products have been Samex’s biggest sellers at independent paint stores. “The demand for our methylene chloride product versus MC free products is significantly geared, thru the independent, towards the MC product,” said Wolfson. “Independent dealers have only to gain if they go after the customers that were buying it at those three other retailers.”

Wolfson reported that already many of his independent customers have noticed an uptick in MC business since other stores have told their customers they won’t be selling it anymore. “These contractors have walked and are now shopping at the independent,” Chas observed. While you’ve got them, keep them! “Now that they’re in your store buying something they can’t buy elsewhere, they might go you know I need some brushes…some thinner, some…whatever it is…and if you treat these people with great care they’ll buy from you going forward and not just when they need methylene chloride.”


Is NMP “Not My Problem?”

Methylene chloride’s partner in grime, n-methyl-pyrrolidone, is also under some scrutiny. “We make products with NMP as well,” said Wolfson. “MC and NMP are chemicals that have effective paint-removing qualities, and the truth is that in order for paint stripper to work it has to be effective and strong, so if you want something that’s going to work it’s going to have some consequences elsewhere.” All strippers, he noted, have some negative effects on the human body—we’re just not made to handle these types of chemicals. “However,” he added, “with the proper precautions and safety measures they are all safe and effective to use. Or, you can get a a bottle of cola and take some things off with that,” he smiled.

So where does that leave Rock Miracle? Read the directions, then follow them. “When used as directed on the label it’s safe and effective. We will continue to make the product until we are not legally allowed to sell it,” Wolfson assured us.

But there are alternatives, and in fact, Samex has recently come up with a new one from here, which you can conveniently see in their ad on page three in the magazine. And while it will be effective, he still thinks MC products will rule the roost until the EPA rules it out. “To address the needs and desires of some customers, we’ve had an MC free product for 25 years, but it never really sold well,” he said. “Rock Miracle is one of the fastest and most effective paint strippers on the market. It works on 99% of paints out there. That’s the go-to product.”

And while its still up in the air if the EPA will decide to ban the sale of methylene chloride, Samex is playing it “safe” by having a replacement ready to go. “We have been working for well over a year because we saw the handwriting on the wall,” said Wolfson. “We have two new products that are mirror images of the original Rock Miracle, but they are MC free and non-flammable.” Look for them to be introduced in the next few weeks.

“We’ve been testing them for about six months,” he said. “We do not release products until they are fully vetted in the field—not just in the lab. In my view it’s 95% as effective and fast as Rock Miracle without MC or NMP. You will be satisfied. It’ll be a learning procedure since it is slightly different, but like anything else we have to instruct people on how to use the products correctly.” As long as people are happy with what they’re using already, he doesn’t see them changing over until they absolutely have to. But it’s always good to have an alternative and to be able to tell your customers that in most instances it’s just as effective.

“Being clear and fair, we make all these products, so I have no best interest in needing one vs. the other,” said Chas. “It’s our job to support our customers, so I’ll give them whatever they want. It’s the consumer’s choice. The pro or DIYer will determine what will happen in the future until the government, in its ‘finite’ wisdom, will make a determination.”


What does EPA say?

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced upcoming actions on methylene chloride, but as of yet has not issued a final rule; manufacturers and the product’s users are both waiting to hear if they will be able to continue buying and selling this product. In 2014, EPA addressed the paint stripping uses in its risk assessment, then in January 2017 it proposed prohibiting the consumer and commercial paint stripping uses for methylene chloride.

From here, EPA intends to finalize the methylene chloride rulemaking and is working to send the finalized rulemaking to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).