Brownstone Boys: How to Strip Paint Off a Beautiful Marble Mantel

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 82nd installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary about renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

Winter will be here sooner than we want and we’re getting ready for a season inside. We need something to hang the Christmas stockings on! Even though our house had a lot of original features, all of the fireplaces have been removed and we are left with the bricked up and useless bump outs on the wall that many will be familiar with. We knew from the beginning that one day we wanted to right the wrong that someone committed who knows how many years ago and put back in a fireplace and mantel.

marble mantel

Dreaming of our fireplace this winter

Many mantels that were once beautiful centerpieces in a room are now covered in layers of paint. Some homeowners don’t even know what is under it. Then, as if painting them wasn’t enough to hide them from the world, many are then removed completely and left at salvage yards to be passed over by so many people who can’t see the beauty beneath. After a long search for the right one, we have discovered it will be much less expensive to find one of these concealed beauties and restore it.

We had the opportunity to work on several of them recently and we are ready to tackle the process in our own home. The ones featured here are classic Brooklyn brownstone marble mantels from Italianate houses of the 1860s or so. They sometimes show up at salvage yards or on Craiglist, or restorers and homeowners may have some tucked away in their cellars.

before and after marble cleaning

“Before” and “after” of a painted marble fireplace we recently worked on

Here’s the process:

  • proper paint stripping covering (paint suit)
  • Gloves
  • Paint scraper
  • Sponge
  • Steel wool
  • Floor protection
  • Peel Away (5 gallon)
  • Two paint scrapers

cleaning a mantel


  • Dust all debris off mantel with broom. Cover fireplace hearth
  • Wearing gloves and proper protection, carefully apply Peel Away to entire mantel covered in paint. You will want to apply it evenly across the surface. Make sure you do not touch the Peel Away. We recommend doing half the mantel at a time.
  • Once Peel Away is applied, apply the Peel Away paper covering over the chemical.
  • Repeat for the other half of the mantel
  • Let the Peel Away work for 48 hours. (This is the hardest and most tedious part but do not cheat!)
  • After 48 hours, make sure floors are covered and gloves are back on. Remove paper from fireplace. You’ll notice gobs of paint coming off…. that means it worked!

mantel cleaning

  • Take a paint scrapper and carefully scrape remnants into trash can
  • Add salt mixture provided in Peel Away tub to clean water in bucket. With a clean sponge, dip into salt mixture water and wipe entire mantel.
  • Repeat until all paint is removed from mantel. You will need to use steel wool and a scraper to get in smaller areas. You will also need to change the water.

We’re on the hunt for the perfect fireplace and mantel, but we’re not really concerned if it’s covered in paint. With just a few hours of elbow grease we’re confident we can restore it to its original beauty.

[Photos by Brownstone Boys unless noted otherwise]

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