Removing old paint from staircase - lead paint panic!

7 Jun 2014
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United Kingdom
Hi everyone,
I'm having a bit of a panic, I'm renovating an old house and decided to tackle the staircase which was previously carpeted. My intention was to take it up and have either the old wood patched up and varnished or painted white with a runner.

I pulled up the carpet on the first step to take a look and started to sand through at least 3 layers of old paint (mostly by hand) to have a look at the wood, and carried on to do the rest of the step... until now I had NO idea that old paint contained lead and all the extreme precautions that should be taken to remove it... I was not careful about the sanding, there was a lot of dry dust, I had a paper mask but that's it, I didn't cover the room or myself properly and have probably walked and spread the dust from my clothes into various different rooms.

Safe to say now I'm worried reading how hazardous it is.
My question is should I be panicking this much considering my lack of precautions and the method I used?

I had made the decision just paint the wood white but the surface is pretty rough and uneven so it really could have done with a bit of a sanding before repainting... would this be a no go now?

Thanks in advance for any advice.
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I wouldn't panic myself and I am pretty OCD when it comes to safety, if you read US sites they seem to rank it up there with asbestos and plutonium but here we tend to be a bit more laid back about it.

It is sensible to use chemical strippers rather than sanding or burning off paint which would be worse as the fumes will be much more easily absorbed than with dust.

You did wear a mask and lead is a heavy metal so I doubt the dust would be as airborne as something like asbestos would, Ok I would not paint my kids toys with lead paint I would pick up as much as possible with a damp cloth and then use vacuum with a high performance HEPA filter to clean up.

If you read advise on lead they do give a BS 5145 spec for a cleaner, hard to find that on your hoover from Argos ;) but importantly they do not specify the higher industrial "H" rating that's required for things like asbestos.
I would be happy with a good HEPA machine.

By the by, my Father-in- Law worked a a decorator for donkeys years burning off paint and sanding it, OK he is dead now but he made it to 95!
I used to work with lead pipe and my hands would be black with it when I ate my lunch and I'm still here, also it's my understanding that the the body can excrete lead over a time so i wouldn't loose too much sleep over it.

Hope it helps to relieve your panic a bit.
Normal procedure is to wet abrade and short exposure won't kill you. Its a build up of lead in your body over time that will do damage.
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It's 1920's house so the bottom layers will be very old and top layers must still be 40+ years as the carpet has been there a long time.
Thanks for your replies and sorry Footprints I completely missed yours until now, thanks for the reassurance and advice.
Just when you read all that on the net I was thinking "oh ***" as knew nothing of it and dry sanded the whole step, already have some long term health issues to contend with as it is so was a bit worried. If I do tackle the rest of it I'll look into those vacuum cleaner/filters and be a bit more careful about it.

I do have one question though, you say it's best to use the chemical strippers in general but where I've decided to just sand it to a smooth finish and repaint the steps white again would it be the best thing to do this when I don't need to remove all of the paint? I assume as well it would require some sanding following the stripper which may then also have residue of the lead paint creating, maybe not as much, but some dust.
it's unfortunate that even the top layer of paint is extremely old in this case.
You don't really need to get all the paint off unless you are planning to stain or varnish, just get it smooth which I guess it is more or less now. give it a coat of primer, then use a good undercoat I prefer oil based myself slow to dry but has time to settle out the brush marks more.

Use a dedicated undercoat not a primer/undercoat product they are a compromise. Primer needs to be thin and soak in while undercoat needs a bit of body in it to flatten the surface a light rub down and depending on the finish another under coat might be needed but usually one undercoat and a couple of top coats do the trick.

If you use chemical strippers use one of the paste type that have a film laid over to keep them moist by the time you have pulled off the coating and cleaned down with water there should be hardly any traces of lead left you can sand and hoover at the same time if you like, to keep the dust down.

There are systems that have an abrasive pad you can attach the hoover to if you really want to go to town ;)

This sort of thing for stripping, sorry the US accent is a bit wearying!

And this sort of thing for sanding, used with the grade of pad you require.
Thanks for the advice! It's actually just the first step I did so still need to address the rest of the staircase re getting a smooth surface to paint over but thanks for tips with the undercoat and the stripper. I'm going to strip the banister as well so looking in to strippers for that purpose anyway.

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