How to Remove Lead Paint

How to Remove Lead Paint

It wasn’t until I actually started to try and remove the paint from the stairs that I realised it must be lead paint – it would not simply chip or scrape off, nor would it budge with liquid based paint removers.

Lead was commonly added to paint pre 1960’s/1970’s, therefore if you are renovating an old house you need to be extremely careful when removing old paint layers.

As you can see the stairs were painted a mixture of delightful mustard yellow and pale yellow.

Lead Paint on Stairs

Lead Paint on Stairs

The only thing that will actually remove lead paint is a heat gun and a scraper – I found the liquid based paint removers that you paint on, leave for a period and then scrape off, didn’t work – I was left with a sludge which was not only messy but it did not leave a clean paint free surface.

It took me about 6 weeks (on and off) using the heat gun and scraper to remove the stairs of lead paint, although the wood was not left completely clean – I was left with a green residue which you can see on some of the spindles in the photo below.

When using the heat gun, hold it over the paint only until it starts to bubble then scrape the paint off straight away otherwise it will cool and harden. It is important not to direct the heat in one place for too long otherwise the wood will scorch and it will be difficult to remove.

Please note that when using a heat gun to remove lead paint you should always wear a mask because as the paint melts it gives off lead fumes which are not good for your health!


Once I had removed as much as possible with the heat gun, I sanded the stairs (and the spindles), albeit only relatively lightly so that the surface was smooth enough for the paint to be applied.

I then applied two coats of water based acrylic primer, and followed with water based white gloss – we used a hessian coloured floor paint on the actual stair treads.

Removing the lead paint from our stairs (bearing in mind that we have two stair cases) was one of the most tedious jobs of the whole renovation. Looking back, I still think it was necessary to remove the lead paint as it was cracking and would not leave a smooth surface if we were to paint over it. If however, the lead paint was crack free and smooth I would simply recommend painting over it rather than removing the lead paint altogether as it is a very time consuming job!

Below are some photos of the finished stairs – similar to those I had dreamed about on pinterest.

Finished Ground Floor Hall and Stairs

Finished Loft Stairs

Finished First Floor Hall and Stairs

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