How to Clean PVC Pipe

When you pick up lengths of pipe from the hardware store they’re always dusty, dirty, smudged, and have a few blemishes or grease from shipping, handling and storage. Also, the pipe has the manufacturer’s imprint stamped along the length that should be removed if you want your project to look good. And, if you intend to paint your project, it must first be thoroughly cleaned.

To get rid of imprints and other blemishes from the pipe, it’s best to do it before permanently assembling your project. Otherwise, PVC glue may cover some of the markings, thus making it difficult to remove.

Tip: cut the various lengths of PVC pipe for your project first, then remove the markings. I’ve found that it’s easier and less cumbersome than working on a 10-foot length of pipe.

First, wipe off any loose dust with a damp rag. Then dab a little powdered cleanser onto a green nylon scouring pad, dampen and clean. Rinse with a damp rag. Or, apply a household cleaner like Formula 409 with a scouring pad. This will remove most scuffs and dirt, but not the ink markings.

Now you’re ready to remove the manufacturer’s imprint from the pipe.

Method 1

This is, by far, the easiest, quickest and safest way, and is how I do it.

Simply fasten a length of pipe in a vice, or hold it firm by some other means, and sand it off with a palm sander and  220 grit sandpaper. When finished, wipe it down again with a damp cloth.

Caution: Be certain to wear a proper protective dust mask or respirator and use a shop vacuum in conjunction with the sander as you sand along the pipe. Or use a palm sander that has a dust collector fitting. You don’t want to breath in the fine PVC dust particulates, which can be dangerous to your health. If you’re allergic, or not comfortable with sanding, consider methods 3, 4 or 5.

Method 2

Lightly sand blemishes and imprints with a low-cost sanding pad. Get one with medium grit on one side, fine grit on the other. (I use the 3-M brand.) You’ll find ’em at most hardware stores.

Sanding pads conform to the pipe’s contour and will remove markings with just a light pressure. As far as I’m concerned, this is the second best way rather than fooling around with the following, more dangerous, methods.

Method 3

Apply a very small amount of acetone onto a small chunk of 000 steel wool and begin rubbing. Don’t do the whole pipe at once. Rub short sections (one or two feet) lengthwise because acetone dries quickly and the marking dye tends to smear. Wipe with an old rag before the acetone dries. Replace the ball of steel wool with a new one when you’ve done about five feet of pipe.

Caution: Wear heavy-duty rubber gloves (such as yellow kitchen gloves) and an eye shield. Be sure to follow the directions on the acetone container. Work in a well ventilated area.

Be sure to properly dispose of the soaked steel wool and/or rag immediately.

Method 4

I’ve been told that carburetor cleaner will remove the blue lettering used by some manufacturers, as well as erase other stubborn smudges.

Method 5

Wiping the pipe with lacquer thinner was suggested to me as a removal method.

I’ve not tried methods 4 & 5. But if you do, the same cautions apply as for using acetone in Method #3.

Finally, if you don’t want to attempt removing the manufacturer markings, spray the markings with a coat of primer.

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