Since I’ve been documenting my scraping off layers of old paint off various things in the house on Instagram, I’ve had some panicked messages from people who didn’t know about the dangers of lead paint. And because I’m a massive kill-joy, taking all the fun out of heat gun paint scraping, I thought I’d do a round-up of everything I’ve learned about lead paint and how to safely remove it.
What is lead paint?
**DISCLAIMER** I am not an expert on lead paint! This is just what I’ve found from research. If you’re thinking of using a heat gun for lead paint removal, please research thoroughly what the best and safest options are for you and your home.
According to DEFRA in the UK up until the 1960s, lead paint was commonly used around the home particularly on woodwork and in some cases on metal. If your house is from the 1960s or earlier (though it wasn’t made illegal until the late 1980s), chances are it’s got lead paint in it and should be treated as such.
In most cases, lead paint has been covered with very thick modern paint to ‘lock in’ the older lead layers. This is fine, as long as the paintwork is in good condition. If the paint becomes chipped or damaged, exposing the lead paint layers, this is a problem and needs to be dealt with.
Lead paint is dangerous because if it gets into the body (by consumption, or inhaling dust or vapours) it can lead to serious health problems, particularly in pregnancy and in children. Here’s a link to the NHS website with some information about lead poisoning.
How can I tell if it’s lead paint?
Like I said above, the age of your house is the biggest tell. Lead paint wasn’t banned until 1989, but it was most commonly used up until the 1960s. So just to be on the safe side if your house is 1980s or older, it’s probably got lead paint in it.
In our house, most of the rooms hadn’t been touched since the 70s. We uncovered our banisters from underneath 60s/70s cladding and they were all quite chipped. Even if the top layers weren’t lead, there’s a good chance what’s underneath is.
Another sign of lead paint is that is flaky or scaly in appearance and brushes off when you touch it.
The only true way to know if it’s lead paint or not is to get it tested. You can call in the professionals, or you can buy home testing kits from your local DIY shops, here’s a link to lead paint testing kit on Amazon (affiliate link).
What’s the best way to get rid of lead paint?
The safest thing to do with lead paint, if it’s in good condition, is to seal it in by covering it with modern paint.
If it’s not in good condition, you’ll need to get rid of it. Ideally you want to do this without creating dust or fumes (by sanding and using heat) – as that’s what’s dangerous with lead paint as that could lead to ingestion.
Yes, I have been using a heat gun to get rid of our lead paint, which is definitely not always advisable. BUT that’s our decision and we’ve decided it’s safe enough in our specific circumstances. DEFRA says it’s OK to use a heat gun to get rid of lead paint if you follow all the safety advice. I’ve covered the safety equipment I use in this blog post, How to use a heat gun to get rid of old woodwork paint.
I hope that’s been useful! To see how I’ve been (safely) using a heat gun to get rid of lead paint, take a look at this blog post.