Updated: Nov 2, 2018
I'll tie this back to Pine-Sol in a moment - hang tight.
When I was debating on #pushbutton #switchplate cover finishes, and which type to order for the house a few months ago, my dear dad mentioned he had a bunch of old ones in his garage if I wanted to take a look. I did not anticipate much, as I knew I didn't want bright the shiny brass plates they have in their house, but he surprised me this time.
He pulled out a bunch of old ivory plastic #Leviton switchplate covers that I had never seen before. I asked him where these came from and he said they were the original covers in their house when they bought it and they had replaced them with the brass ones there currently. Well, my mind was blown (I had never known this - and I thought I had seen everything in this garage). My switchplate search was over.
He had a few different designs and I settled on one with a diamond and dot border and thin vertical lines in the field. They were perfect! Except for the fact that he did not have enough of that style to finish my project. The switchplate search was back on.
After a couple of weeks of scouring E-Bay trying to match these plates without much luck, I ventured down to my local, B & B Antique Hardware, to rummage through their offerings, figuring this would be a giant needle-in-a-haystack search. To my surprise, I was able to find matching switchplates, even a double-gang one, and enough coordinating outlet covers for the visible outlets in the house. One of the outlet covers was covered in several layers of thick, old paint. But it was the last one they had. I figured I'd try my luck for $5, and if it didn't work, not too big of a deal.
I did some Googling about how to remove paint from old plastic. A few sites I found suggested brake fluid (this was specific to #bakelite). I thought this couldn't hurt, and if it was safe enough for bakelite, it would be fine for these, but something in the back of my mind wasn't too sure about brake fluid. So after I couple of weeks, I went back to the (Google) drawing board.
This time I found a solution that recommended Pine-Sol. (I told you I would get there in a moment). Apparently the formula was developed so that it would not affect the finished surface (ie, wood floors) underneath, but would remove problematic materials above (ie, loads of old paint). Pine-Sol also seemed a lot less toxic than brake fluid. I headed to the grocery store and purchased a bottle of the original scent Pine-Sol (which smells less pine-like than I remembered and more like a strong aftershave). I put enough into a plastic bucket to cover the outlet cover and let it soak for 30 minutes.
I did not have high hopes for this, so I was totally shocked when I went back and the paint was starting to melt off. Not bubbly, peel-able sheets, mind you, but just kind of disappearing. I put it back in for a while and then came back to it. I decided it needed some help, so I took a stiff scrub brush to the plastic plate. That first layer of paint came right off...and then displayed a super thick hot pink layer that I didn't know about. Great.
The scrub brush was stained with the pink paint now, so before I put the plate back in the bucket for another soak, I scrubbed the brush on a bar of Fels-Naptha (best stain remover ever) and scrubbed the cover plate and brush. Brush came out totally clean. Cover plate looked better and went back into the bucket.
Now this process took longer than I thought, but I kept repeating these steps (in addition to swapping out the old Pine-Sol for new Pine-Sol every few rounds) for the better part of an afternoon. By evening, I had myself a totally clean outlet cover. I was shocked - and pleased.
So, before you give up on a certain piece of hardware because it is covered in paint, give the Pine-Sol a try. And, if you are ever tempted to slap a sloppy layer of thick paint on top of something - don't.
I apparently forgot to take the "before" photo - but the after photo is below (with a sneak peek of my #marmoleum floor).
P.S. - The search is still on for a three-gang pushbutton version of these. So if you happen to find one in your own antique adventures, please let me know!