A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Back from the Bleach – Sterile but Unbowed

This process is tested on Scotsmen
Stripping time again. I recently applied matt varnish and a lot of touch-up paint to a host of very shiny ECW troops I bought on eBay, and generated almost all of what I need to pursue the adventures of the Marquis of Montrose. Good. Thumbs up.

As with all such bulk purchases, I am left with a pile of figures which failed inspection – the original painting is too awful, they need too much rework, the proportion of cat hairs to varnish offends, they are no use for what I need, whatever. Certainly I have the makings of a couple of decent regiments of horse and a few useful generals, but – alas – I’m going to have to strip these to get the best of them.

The gloss varnish they are finished in – apart from the animal impurities - is far too thick, yellowing, smells dreadful (no, really) and is a source of scientific puzzlement to me. What is it? Why would anyone apply it to model soldiers? Just looking at it, I found the whispered words BLEACH PROOF came into my mind from somewhere.

Now, as discussed here before on numerous occasions, I have mixed experience with using thick household bleach for stripping soldiers. I would like it to work, it is relatively inoffensive compared with the alternatives, it is easy to use, you can see what you’re doing (at least a bit), it is only slightly dangerous and you can safely flush it down your indoor drains. The alternatives, in these parts, really come down to just one thing – Nitromors – which certainly strips paint but can also remove your hands and fails pretty much all the criteria mentioned above as plus points for bleach. I once had the experience of being in a room with a mixture of Nitromors and hot water, and have promised my lungs and my eyeballs I shall not do it again. Also – in this particular instance – many of the figures which require stripping are from Tumbling Dice, which means separate, glued-on heads and weapons, and Nitromors will also strip out the glue. I can think of absolutely nothing less enchanting than sifting through the toxic sludge at the bottom of a bean can containing a Nitromors project, looking for the correct number of missing 20mm scale heads and pistols.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the garage...
So bleach would be a nice alternative if it works, and I’d even saved up some cheeky little, transparent chocolate mousse pots which are ideal for keeping an eye on stripping progress with bleach jobs, but in my heart I knew it wasn’t going to work. The Bold Stryker is a great champion of bleach for this sort of work, but I am beginning to suspect it is partly a question of faith. I have had some good experiences with bleach, and some disappointments, and at the start of each new attempt (I have to confess) I find that I am not as optimistic as I would like.

Since I had a plentiful supply of bleach, the cheeky pots and lots of suitable test samples, I decided to try one out. Definitely the right thing to do. The chap at the top of this post is a Tumbling Dice Covenanter of some sort, and he spent almost 40 hours in bleach – well above the health warning in Stryker’s guidelines. While he was in the bleach, there was no evidence that the varnish was suffering at all – he looked the same as when he started. When I took him out and rinsed and dried him, I’m not so sure. The varnish is still there, but it is a lot less shiny, his hat has faded a bit, but some interesting cracks have appeared in the paintwork.


The alloy hasn’t started discolouring, or turning into anything undesirable. Do I think that another soaking in the bleach would result in some better progress? Not sure. I could try it, certainly.

After all, anything is better than Nitromors. In this case, with the glued-on head problem, simply ditching the remaining figures and – if necessary – buying new ones might be a sad but wise alternative to Nitromors. I guess I should try another bleach session – I could leave him in for an open-ended trial – the worst that could happen is that I write off a scrap figure, which is a trifling matter indeed.

It is a question of faith – I am beginning to see that. I am, I believe, scared of proving to myself, once and for all, that there is no future in using bleach, and my confidence will suffer. It is difficult.

While I ponder the matter, the picture at the top is of the most germ-free toy soldier you will ever see.


  1. Tony - I never intended the bleach method for use on Scotsmen for goodness sake - of course it will never work! The figures I strip have paint jobs that are generally 40 years old and I think this makes the job easier but every now and then I come across one that is resistant. These ones have usually been touched up with modern paints but I do find that if you give the figure a good scrub after the first dip the paint will (mostly) come off after a second attempt. Be brave and give him another swim, if that fails learn to love the current paint job!

    1. Thanks Ian - that's useful - you've talked me into it, you silver-tongued devil! You will agree that this particular paint job on Jock the Guinea Pig is beyond "rough charm" and would be a hard thing to warm to.

      I do think that the tips on techniques we pick up on blogs are worth the admission, apart from the eye candy and the historical and rules stuff. I've recently been following a step by step painting guide on "Bicycle News", one of my favourite wargame blogs, and - though for my taste I could have done with a little more detail on the actual drying of the paint - I learned a great deal. It's a wonderful resource, and it's free - well, almost.

      OK, Jock - into the bleach again - get back on yer heid.

    2. Have pity on the poor wee man ! You heartless swine!!

  2. I don't know whether it is available where you are at but in this country (New Zealand) we have this really useful household cleanser concentrate called Simple Green. It shucks off paint a treat with several hours' immersion and a scrub. If you can get hold of some, give it a crack.

    1. Ion - Thanks for this - I've heard of this stuff but never seen it - I've just found out there is a UK distributor for Simple Green - there's a range of products available - which is the one that strips paint? [Thinks: would you clean your kitchen with something that removes paint…?]

      Cheers - Tony

    2. Another vote for Simple Green. A friend of mine used it on a mammoth stripping job and loved it. The general purpose cleaner type was the one he used, though I guess all will work. It's biodegradable so O.K., but I'm not sure the gunk from the stripping will be :O/

      BTW, I'm sure I read something soaking figures in Detol?!?

    3. Thanks Gary - apparently amazon.co.uk have it, but I'm confused - one seller has a 140 oz bottle for £11.99, another has a 32 oz bottle for £29 - research is proceeding...

    4. I think its more a case of a household cleanser that has paint-stripping abilities. I have used it to clean the filter of the stove extractor thingy. I'd be reluctant to use it on dishes 9unless it asays on it somewhere that it is so useable.

      It comes in a concentrate, but I think diluted Simple Green is also obtainable for less ... obdurate ... cleaning jobs...

  3. Never had a problem with Dettol.I use 2 glass jars, put figures in one and top up with Dettol. Leave for as long as I can resist - actually I often leave them for weeks - then decant as much of the Dettol as I can into the second jar. The jar with the figures in then goes under a fast running tap for a few minutes - yes, initial while emulsion but nothing that affects the figures. There may still be odd bits of paint attached to the figure - usually white undercoats and red(?), but that is easily cleared sufficiently afterwards.

    1. Until the last couple of days I'd never heard of Dettol used in this way - thanks for this. Dettol certainly cheaper than Simple Green!

      Still trying to find sensible source of SG in UK.

  4. If you ultimately cannot get the paint off with the products and do not want to go fishing for parts, then I suggest simply re-priming the multi-cleaned figure and paint it over.

    From the looks of the mini there are not too many details on there from the start and you could use some artistic flair to paint them on.

    1. No - the casting is actually quite nicely detailed - it's just buried under about 2mm of swollen paint! I fear I have had the artistic flair bypass operation 8o)