Removing poorly applied Plastidip from the Miata

plastidip removal before after

The kid who applied the white plastidip coating to the miata was either in a phenomenal hurry to get it on the car, extremely lazy, or just impatient.  He did a piss poor job of prepping the car.  Very little was masked off.  There is overspray in all of the body creases and the coating near the bottom of the car doesn’t even cover up the silver reliably.  Most of the rubber gaskets around the windows, headlights, etc are covered in white plastidip.  We decided to remove it.  The expectation was that there was something so wrong with the car that would require it be painted or otherwise covered, and we went into the project with the expectation that we would be coating it in plastidip again (except applied correctly and with a real paint sprayer, instead of dozens of spray cans) in a color like a dark grey.  The morning after we brought it home, Craig took it to get emissions done and got it registered.


peeling plastidip

As soon as he got home, we got down to taking the plastidip off.  First we tried peeling it. Part of the allure of plastidip as a coating is that if applied thick enough, it peels off in one big sheet and leaves behind almost nothing. In most places it was just too thin to peel effectively.  It just ripped as soon as you started to get going.  But it turns out that paint thinner will melt plastidip but not hurt car paint.  So we got started.  And it was slow going.  It seemed that the paint was in fine shape.  We kept expecting to find a panel that was purple or filled with huge patches of bondo or something.

removing plastidip with paint thinner

The worst we could find was the front bumper.  Looks like he hit something and broke the chin piece and did a poor job repairing it.  The hood’s also not in great shape, but they both look better than the the too-thin plastidip coating.

removing plastidip with paint thinner

I took over plastidip removal as I have the patience to get into all the seams and I am much better suited to such persnickety pursuits.  Craig started taking things out of the car.  Starting with the hard top.  Then the carpet in the back area.  Spare parts, junk, and otherwise unnecessary weight in a car built for track use were removed, weighed, and cataloged.  Most of it went into the trash.  Some items got tucked away in in case we ever want to use them again. The hard top is white, not silver like the rest of the car, but it nonetheless got a huge amount of plastidip overspray, so Craig focused on cleaning that as well as trying to remove the epoxy left behind by the super fancy rear-window spoiler(!?).

gutting miata

My method for plastidip removal goes as such:  Wear nitrile gloves, have a ton of paint thinner and a ton of paper towels.  You’ll also need a plastic drywall/spackle scraper or a bondo squeegee scraper.  Both are effective. Soak a few paper towels in paint thinner and lay them as flat on the car as you can.  Any place the paper towel doesn’t make contact will not soften. This is pretty straightforward on large flat surfaces like the hood.  Much more difficult for the complex curves found on bumpers.  Let the paper towels sit for a few minutes.  I have found that working in 2 different parts of the same panel is an efficient way of doing this.  Once the plastidip has begun wicking through the towels, it’s probably soft.  Carefully peel the towels off and place them in a new location.  You may need to rewet them so they’ll stick effectively.  Use your scraper to scrape as much of the gooey plastidip off as you can.  Wipe the scraper on a dirty paper towel or in a plastic trash bag.  Use a thinner soaked paper towel to wipe up as much extra as you can.  The rough part of the paper towel can be used to clean off any unsoftened  patches.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Sometimes I will scrape and do a quick wipe, then put new towels over the top of the “treated” are to finish up the soaking area.
using paint thinner to remove plastidip

We spent about 8 hours working on removing the plastidip on day 1.  We accomplished removing it from the hood, windshield frame, front bumper, trunk lid, both rear fenders, and the back bumper.  Craig also managed to peel it off of one of the doors before the area got too thin and it stopped peeling. It was too dark to continue, so we packed up and went to bed.

removing plastidip from miata

Day 2 took about 4 more hours of cleanup to finish the 2 doors, side view mirrors, and front fenders.  We also removed, polished, and clear coated the tail lights.  One of them has a small crack and we are hoping that the clear coat will help to keep water out of it.  The 4 corner markers got removed and polished, and the headlights just got polished on the car.

polished lights miata

As I got into some of the weirder creases, like in the door jamb, and around the mirrors, it became apparent that the car had at one point been plastidipped another color as well.  Someone had done it with black or dark grey plastidip, but it seems as though it wasn’t our young scholar, as this was prepped well and applied thick enough to be peeled off, which is perhaps why the previous owner thought that his halfassed job was going to turn out better than it did.  With a bit more soaking and scraping, we had the majority of the coating off of the Miata.  The paint on the mirrors is damaged beyond salvation.  Since we intend to get the top painted black, we hit them with a satin black spray paint just so they’re not bare fiberglass and flecks of leftover silver paint.  The bumper is irreparable and the fender is pretty heavily damaged.  We have a family friend who works at a body shop and can get pretty good deals on spare parts, so we will have her look for a bumper and fender painted silver, and probably keep these in case something awful happens to the car and we need functional albeit ugly body panels.


After getting the solid plastidip chunks off, we went over the whole car a few more times with “clean” paint thinner soaked paper towels.  Unfortunately, thinner leaves a residue.  After the car was as clean as we could get it with thinner, we went over it another couple of times with chlorinated brake clean.  That got pretty much all of the remaining residue off.  As we poke around at the car, we are finding little areas that still need to be gone over a second time, but for the most part it’s all the way clean.



Next project is the suspension.  The tires are bald to the point that the metal belts are showing, so it’s not really safe to drive the car much.  We have new tires and wheels on their way, but we don’t want to put those on the car with the alignment the way it is.  And we don’t want to get the car aligned until we’ve replaced the godawful suspension.  So, we will get suspension, then get the car aligned, then put the wheels and tires on.  Then maybe the car will look like grown ups own it.

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