Lead was used in some kinds of paint until the mid-1960s – for windows, doors and other woodwork – so old paintwork is one source of lead that you might still come across in your home.
Health problems can occur if you absorb too much lead – so how can you tell whether there is lead in your paintwork?
The age of your home is a good guide. If it was built before the 1960s and still has original coats of paint, there could be some lead around.
If your paintwork is quite thick then lead could be locked into the oldest layers – although if you have recently redecorated then this will probably have sealed any lead in and it poses no risk.
Young children and pregnant women are most at risk – but only if there is a risk of lead paintwork being disturbed and ingested. For example, lead dust can be released into the atmosphere if the paintwork has been damaged or sanded.
If you think your home does have lead paintwork, especially if it's in bad condition (peeling or flaking) or if you are planning any redecoration, it's best to take some simple precautions.
The easiest way of dealing with lead paintwork - if it's in good condition - is to seal it with an overcoat of modern paint.
If the paintwork is in poor condition and needs to be removed before you can redecorate, then use methods that don't create dust or fumes, such as:
- a solvent or caustic-based liquid stripper – follow the safety instructions, and remember that solvent-free, water-based paint removers are now available - ask your DIY dealer for details.
- a hot-air gun – use it just enough to soften the paint without burning it, which can give off fumes. A good guide is to make sure your gun is set below 450C, and keep surfaces moist when removing paint.
Follow some very simple good practice guidance:
- Wear protective clothes, gloves and a good quality face mask with a filter conforming to EN143 P3 – ask your DIY dealer.
- Shut off the work area and restrict access for your family, especially children or pregnant women. Remove furniture and carpets or cover them completely.
- Wash your hands and any other bare skin before you do anything else.
- When most of the paint is removed, moisten the surface and smooth it with a waterproof abrasive paper – don't use dry sandpaper.
- Clean the room and any coverings used with water and detergent. Wash the clothes you've been working in separately from any others.
If you're not sure you can deal with the paintwork safely by yourself, call in a professionally qualified firm of decorators. The Painting and Decorating Association can help you find one - you can find out whom they are from one of the associations representing decorating contractors.
The government also provides advice on lead paint in older homes.