*DISCLAIMER* First of all, please read this post all about lead paint and do some research about the safest way to get rid of paint in your home and for your household. A lot of info online will tell you NOT to use heat to get rid of lead paint. However, DEFRA say it’s OK as long as you follow safety advice.
It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with my heat gun. I find the bubbling and peeling the paint layers enormously satisfying – what that says about me I’m not sure! It’s probably not the safest, or quickest option, but for us – with no kids, no pets, no soft furnishings, no money(!) and lots of lockdown time – it’s been the best option.
Because I’m reasonably confident the paint I’m scraping off contains lead, make sure the area you’re scraping in is well ventilated. When I’m scraping the bannisters, I have the front door open and make sure all the doors to the other rooms in the house are closed.
- A mask, with filters conforming to EN143 P2. I have asthma and dust allergies – and nothing gets through this bad boy, doesn’t even tickle my throat. I can’t even smell the paint burning, and trust me – it stinks.
- Personally, I wear goggles because it makes my eyes sting and I don’t want to get any paint scrapings in my eyes.
- Gloves! You will accidentally catch yourself with the heat gun when you’re scraping, so make sure your gloves are not going to catch fire.
- Crappy clothes that cover you up to protect you from any accidental heat gun mishaps. And because you will pong of burning paint! DEFRA advise keeping these clothes in a sealed plastic bag – I suppose to minimise the risk of anyone ingesting lead paint chippings.
- Once you’ve finished, thoroughly wash your hands and face/any skin you had exposed while scraping.
Tools for the job
OK, safety stuff out of the way what tools do you need for the job?
1. A Heat gun! I’m using a Bosch heat gun that I’ve borrowed from my mum. You can pick them up cheaply from around £15-20 and most of them come with different nozzles for better directing the hot airflow. I don’t have any of those, but thinking about it – they would be incredibly useful!
2. Scrapers. Now – don’t laugh. But for a long time, I was using a fish knife that was left in the house to scrape paint. I KNOW, I KNOW. BUT it did the job! And I stand by the fish knife and still use it to get to parts that my other scraper can’t reach.
The rest of the time I use an actual paint scraper AKA a shave hook, which has a sharp triangular-shaped head and means business. They’re not very expensive, but mine is actually a family heirloom – my great grandfathers to be precise!
3. Sandpaper, a sponge, and clean water. Because you’re dealing with paint dust, you’ll want to keep all your protective gear on whilst sanding. I use a 120 grit paper, followed by a damp sponge to pick up the dust. Using wet/dry sandpaper would be a good idea.
I think it’s safe to say there’s not a huge amount of skill involved in using a heat gun and scraping paint, it’s pretty straightforward. Once all your safety precautions are in place, turn your heat gun on, and point it at the paint you want to take off, and start scraping!
My biggest tip is to not burn the paint, because that’s when it gets fumy and could scorch and damage the wood underneath. You just want to loosen the paint, scrape it off, then loosen the next layer.
In my case, the top layer has been very thick and glossy (probably to seal in the lead paint underneath) so that’s been coming off quite easily with not much heat. The lead paint underneath is really sticky and will burn much quicker so it’s best to go over it a few times. Most of the time I apply the heat and scrape simultaneously, being careful not to hold the heat gun too close.
Work in small sections, and have something to clean the paint gunk off your shave hook regularly – I scrape mine off with the fish knife (honestly, it’s SO handy) but some wire wool or sandpaper will do.
With more detailed areas like spindles, I try to get the majority of the paint off just roughly in the first go, sand it all, then go back over with the heat gun and scraper. I repeat this a few times until it’s just the most hidden sections. When the last scraps of paint bubble and burn, don’t spend ages trying to scrape that off (like I did at the start) just sand it.
Another technique for getting the paint out of hard to reach details is with wire wool. You soften the paint with heat then go over it with the wire wool to pull out the paint. I’ve not tried this yet myself but it sounds like a lot less faff!
The clear up
Once you’re done with scraping and sanding for the day, make sure you safely dispose of all the toxic lead scrapings. I sweep up the worst of it, then hoover the rest making sure I thoroughly hover the whole area I’ve been working in to get as much of the dust as possible.
DEFRA recommend storing your scraping clothes separately, I definitely store my manky work clothes away from everything else, but always give my scraping gear a really good shake off and frequently do a ‘work clothes wash’ of mine and Ross’ stuff!
Obviously, if you’ve not quite finished your paint scraping, there is going to be exposed lead paint in your house so just be mindful of that if you have pets or kids visiting.
And that’s it! I’m sure I’ll do a post at some point about what comes next once you’ve finished scraping paint, but I haven’t got there yet – so stay tuned!