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Paint, preparation, and existing paint safety

Most interior paint, stain and stripper fumes can be flammable and hazardous to health. Always open several windows or provide better-than-adequate ventilation when painting, paint stripping, staining or cleaning up. NEVER paint or use solvents, solvent-based paints, strippers, stains, caulking or clean-up supplies near an open flame or pilot light including furnace, and water heater. When working with solvent-based materials it is best to wear a respirator (type of clean air mask) which will be available at major paint stores. Do not sleep in a freshly painted dwelling for at least two days if at all possible.
When sanding, wear a proper dust mask to prevent particles from entering the lungs and, if possible, use a power sander with a sawdust collection bag. Read below for other considerations or click to browse other safety articles.

What you Should Know About Lead-Based Paint in Your Home: Safety Alert - CPSC Document #5054

Lead-based paint is hazardous to your health.
Lead-based paint is a major source of lead poisoning for children and can also affect adults. In children, lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain damage and can impair mental functioning. It can retard mental and physical development and reduce attention span. It can also retard fetal development, even at extremely low levels of lead. In adults, it can cause irritability, poor muscle coordination, and nerve damage to the sense organs and nerves controlling the body. Lead poisoning may also cause problems with reproduction (such as a decreased sperm count). It may also increase blood pressure. Thus, young children, fetuses, infants, and adults with high blood pressure are the most vulnerable to the effects of lead.

Children should be screened for lead poisoning.
In communities where the houses are old and deteriorating, take advantage of available screening programs offered by local health departments and have children checked regularly to see if they are suffering from lead poisoning. Because the early symptoms of lead poisoning are easy to confuse with other illnesses, it is difficult to diagnose lead poisoning without medical testing. Early symptoms may include persistent tiredness, irritability, loss of appetite, stomach discomfort, reduced attention span, insomnia, and constipation. Failure to treat children in the early stages can cause long-term or permanent health damage.

The current blood lead level which defines lead poisoning is 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. However, since poisoning may occur at lower levels than previously thought, various federal agencies are considering whether this level should be lowered further so that lead poisoning prevention programs will have the latest information on testing children for lead poisoning.

Consumers can be exposed to lead from paint.
Eating paint chips is one way young children are exposed to lead. It is not the most common way that consumers, in general, are exposed to lead. Ingesting and inhaling lead dust that is created as lead-based paint "chalks," chips, or peels from deteriorated surfaces can expose consumers to lead. Walking on small paint chips found on the floor, or opening and closing a painted frame window, can also create lead dust. Other sources of lead include deposits that may be present in homes after years of use of leaded gasoline and from industrial sources like smelting. Consumers can also generate lead dust by sanding lead-based paint or by scraping or heating lead-based paint.

Lead dust can settle on floors, walls, and furniture. Under these conditions, children can ingest lead dust from hand-to-mouth contact or in food. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air through cleaning, such as sweeping or vacuuming, or by movement of people throughout the house.

Older homes may contain lead-based paint.
Lead was used as a pigment and drying agent in "alkyd" oil based paint. "Latex" water-based paints generally have not contained lead. About two thirds of the homes built before 1940 and one half of the homes built from 1940 to 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Some homes built after 1960 also contain heavily leaded paint. It may be on any interior or exterior surface, particularly on woodwork, doors, and windows. In 1978, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission lowered the legal
maximum lead content in most kinds of paint to 0.06% (a trace amount). Consider having the paint in homes constructed before the 1980s tested for lead before renovating or if the paint or underlying surface is deteriorating. This is particularly important if infants, children, or pregnant women are present.

Consumers can have paint tested for lead.
There are do-it-yourself kits available. However, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has not evaluated any of these kits. One home test kit uses a sodium sulfide solution. This procedure requires you to place a drop of sodium sulfide solution on a paint chip. The paint chip slowly turns darker if lead is present. There are problems with this test, however. Other metals may cause false positive results, and resins in the paint may prevent the sulfide from causing the paint chip to change color. Thus, the presence of lead may not be correctly indicated. In addition the darkening may be detected only on very light-colored paint.

Another in-home test requires a trained professional who can operate the equipment safely. This test uses X-ray fluorescence to determine if the paint contains lead. Although the test can be done in your home, it should be done only by professionals trained by the equipment manufacturer or who have passed a state or local government training course, since the equipment contains radioactive materials. In addition, in some tests, the method has not been reliable.

Consumers may choose to have a testing laboratory test a paint sample for lead. Lab testing is considered more reliable than other methods. Lab tests may cost from $20 to $50 per sample. To have the lab test for lead paint, consumers may:

Get sample containers from the lab or use re-sealable plastic bags. Label the containers or bags with the consumer's name and the location in the house from which each paint sample was taken. Several samples should be taken from each affected room (see HUD Guidelines discussed below).

Use a sharp knife to cut through the edges of the sample paint. The lab should tell you the size of the sample needed. It will probably be about 2 inches by 2 inches.

Lift off the paint with a clean putty knife and put it into the container. Be sure to take a sample of all layers of paint, since only the lower layers may contain lead. Do not include any of the underlying wood, plaster, metal, and brick.

Wipe the surface and any paint dust with a wet cloth or paper towel and discard the cloth or towel.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends that action to reduce exposure should be taken when the lead in paint is greater than 0.5% by lab testing or greater than 1.0 milligrams per square centimeter by X-ray fluorescence. Action is especially important when paint is deteriorating or when infants, children, or pregnant women are present. Consumers can reduce exposure to lead-based paint.

If you have lead-based paint, you should take steps to reduce your exposure to lead. You can:

1. Have the painted item replaced. You can replace a door or other easily removed item if you can do it without creating lead dust. Items that are difficult to remove should be replaced by professionals who will control and contain lead dust.

2. Cover the lead-based paint. You can spray the surface with a sealant or cover it with gypsum wallboard. However, painting over lead-based paint with non-lead paint is not a long-term solution. Even though the lead-based paint may be covered by non-lead paint, the lead-based paint may continue to loosen from the surface below and create lead dust. The new paint may also partially mix with the lead-based paint, and lead dust will be released when the new paint begins to deteriorate.

3. Have the lead-based paint removed. Have professionals trained in removing lead-based paint do this work. Each of the paint-removal methods (sandpaper, scrapers, chemicals, sandblasters, and torches or heat guns) can produce lead fumes or dust. Fumes or dust can become airborne and be inhaled or ingested. Wet methods help reduce the amount of lead dust. Removing moldings, trim, window sills, and other painted surfaces for professional paint stripping outside the home may also create dust. Be sure the professionals contain the lead dust. Wet-wipe all surfaces to remove any dust or paint chips. Wet-clean the area before re-entry.

You can remove a small amount of lead-based paint if you can avoid creating any dust. Make sure the surface is less than about one square foot (such as a window sill). Any job larger than about one square foot should be done by professionals. Make sure you can use a wet method (such as a liquid paint stripper).

4. Reduce lead dust exposure. You can periodically wet mop and wipe surfaces and floors with a high phosphorous (at least 5%) cleaning solution. Wear waterproof gloves to prevent skin irritation. Avoid activities that will disturb or damage lead based paint and create dust. This is a preventive measure and is not an alternative to replacement or removal.

Professionals are available to remove, replace, or cover lead-based paint.
Contact your state and local health departments lead poisoning prevention programs and housing authorities for information about testing labs and contractors who can safely remove lead-based paint.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) prepared guidelines for removing lead-based paint which were published in the Federal Register, April 18, 1990, page 1455614614. Ask contractors about their qualifications, experience removing lead-based paint, and plans to follow these guidelines.

Consumers should keep children and other occupants (especially infants, pregnant women, and adults with high blood pressure) out of the work area until the job is completed.

Consumers should remove all food and eating utensils from the work area.
Contractors should remove all furniture, carpets, and drapes and seal the work area from the rest of the house. The contractor also should cover and seal the floor unless lead paint is to be removed from the floor.
Contractors should assure that workers wear respirators designed to avoid inhaling lead.

Contractors should not allow eating or drinking in the work area. Contractors should cover and seal all cabinets and food contact surfaces.

Contractors should dispose of clothing worn in the room after working. Workers should not wear work clothing in other areas of the house. The contractor should launder work clothes separately. Contractors should clean up debris using special vacuum cleaners with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters and should use a wet mop after vacuuming.

Contractors should dispose of lead-based paint waste and contaminated materials in accordance with state and local regulations.

Government officials and health professionals continue to develop advice about removing lead-based paint. Watch for future publications by government agencies, health departments, and other groups concerned with lead-paint removal and prevention of lead poisoning.


What you Should Know About Using Paint Strippers - CPSC Document #4423


Paint strippers contain chemicals that loosen paint from surfaces. These chemicals can harm you if not used properly. Some paint stripping chemicals can irritate the skin and eyes or cause headaches, drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, or loss of coordination. Some may cause cancer, reproductive problems, or damage of the liver, kidney, or brain. Others catch fire easily. Proper handling and use of paint strippers will reduce your exposure to these chemicals and lessen your health risk.

General Safety Precautions
Paint strippers contain different chemicals, and the potential hazards are different for various products. Each product has specific safety precautions (see the section below on paint stripper types). However, there are some general safety steps to keep in mind when using any paint stripper. If you use paint strippers frequently, it is particularly important that you follow these steps:

1. Always read and follow all the instructions and safety precautions on the label. Do not assume you already know how to use the product. The hazards may be different from one product to another, and the ingredients in individual products often change over time. The label tells you what actions you should take to reduce hazards and the first aid measures to use.

2. Wear chemical-resistant gloves appropriate to the type of stripper being used (see manufacturer's instructions). Common kitchen latex gloves do not provide enough protection.

3. Avoid getting the paint stripper on your skin or in your eyes. Wear protective clothing and goggles appropriate for the project and type of stripper.

4. Use paint strippers outdoors if possible. If you must use them indoors, cross-ventilate by opening all doors and windows. Make sure there is fresh air movement throughout the room. Ventilate the area before, during, and after applying and stripping. Never use any paint stripper in a poorly ventilated area. If work must be done indoors under low ventilation conditions, consider having the work done professionally instead of attempting it yourself.

5. If you must work indoors, always work so the stripper fumes are blowing away from you and to the outside. A fan can be used to improve cross-ventilation and to ensure fresh air movement. A fan is particularly important for nonflammable products that evaporate quickly, such as methylene chloride. Electrical sparks from fans may increase the chance of flammable paint stripper's fumes to catch fire.

6. Do not use flammable paint strippers near any source of sparks, flame, or high heat. Do not work near gas stoves, kerosene heaters, gas or electric water heaters, gas or electric clothes dryers, gas or electric furnaces, gas or electric space heaters, sanders, buffers, or other electric hand tools. Open flames, cigarettes, matches, lighters, pilot lights, or electric sparks can cause the chemicals in the paint strippers to suddenly catch fire.

7. Only strip paint with chemicals that are marketed as paint strippers. Never use gasoline, lighter fluid, or kerosene to strip paint.

8. Dispose of paint strippers according to the instructions on the label. If you have any questions, ask your local environmental sanitation department about proper disposal.


Solvent-based strippers
Most paint strippers are solvent-based. Solvents dissolve the bond between wood and paint. Solvents also can dissolve other materials, including the latex or rubber of common household or dish washing gloves. Some solvents will irritate or burn the skin. Some solvents may cause serious health effects even if contact does not immediately cause pain. In addition, many solvents evaporate quickly and you can easily inhale them. Inhalation of these solvents can produce health effects immediately or years after exposure.

It is especially important to use paint strippers containing solvents that evaporate quickly either outdoors or in an indoor area with strong fresh air movement. Some paint strippers contain solvents that do not evaporate quickly. When using these strippers indoors, be sure to open windows and doors to provide fresh air movement in and out of the work site. You should always follow the manufacturer's instructions and safety precautions. Use the amount of stripper recommended by the manufacturer to avoid buildup of harmful fumes.

The different types of solvent-based paint strippers and their potential hazards and safety precautions are:

== Methylene chloride (also called dichloromethane, or DCM) --
Methylene chloride is the most commonly used chemical in paint strippers. Methylene chloride products come in two varieties. One type is nonflammable, while the other type is flammable. The flammable paint strippers have less methylene chloride but have other flammable chemicals, including acetone, toluene, or methanol.

Methylene chloride causes cancer in laboratory animals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) consider the chemical to be a potential cause of cancer in humans. Methylene chloride evaporates quickly, and you can inhale it easily. Breathing high levels of methylene chloride over short periods can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, and lungs. It can also cause dizziness, headache, and lack of coordination. Your body changes some inhaled methylene chloride to carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide lowers the blood's ability to carry oxygen. This can cause problems for people with heart, lung, or blood diseases who use methylene chloride paint strippers indoors without fresh air cross-ventilation. High exposures to methylene chloride for long periods can also cause liver and kidney damage.

  • It is very important to reduce your exposure to methylene chloride vapors.
  • It is very important to have a lot of fresh air when using methylene chloride products.
  • Use methylene chloride paint strippers outdoors if possible. If you must use them indoors, open all doors and windows to ensure that the fresh air is moving in and out of the room.
  • For indoor use of nonflammable methylene chloride strippers, also use a fan to keep fresh air moving throughout the work area. Electrical sparks from fans may increase the chance of flammable paint strippers fumes to catch fire.
  • The safest place to use flammable methylene chloride strippers is outdoors away from any source of sparks, flame, or high heat.

== Acetone, toluene, and methanol --
These chemicals are commonly used together. All three chemicals evaporate quickly and are very flammable. Breathing high levels of these chemicals can cause a variety of effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, and headache. Breathing high levels of toluene may harm unborn children. Breathing very high levels for a long period may cause brain damage. Toluene and methanol are poisonous if swallowed.

To avoid fire and health problems, it is very important to use products containing these chemicals only in areas with plenty of fresh air.

Do not work near an open flame, pilot lights, or electrical sparks when using flammable paint strippers. Do not use strippers near gas stoves, kerosene heaters, gas or electric water heaters, gas or electric clothes dryers, gas or electric furnaces, gas or electric space heaters, sanders, buffers, or other electric hand tools.

== N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) --
Excessive contact with NMP may cause skin swelling, blistering, and burns. These skin reactions may not appear until some time after exposure. N-methylpyrrolidone can readily get into the body through the skin and may cause health problems. NMP may cause reproductive problems and harm to unborn children.

  • It is very important to wear chemical-resistant gloves and avoid skin contact when using this solvent.
  • Wash hands immediately after use, even when wearing gloves.
  • Gloves should fit properly and be chemical-resistant. Common kitchen latex gloves do not provide enough protection.
  • Avoid using this product for extended periods in an enclosed area without open doors or windows to the outside for cross-ventilation.

== Dibasic esters (DBE), including dimethyl adipate ester, dimethyl succinate ester, and dimethyl glutarate ester --
Much less is known about the possible health effects of these chemicals than about most of the other paint stripping chemicals. Some people using DBE products without fresh air have reported temporary blurred vision. Repeatedly breathing DBE damages the cells lining the nose of laboratory animals. Some strippers include a mixture of DBE products and NMP.

  • Avoid using this product for extended periods in an enclosed area without open doors or windows to the outside for cross-ventilation.
  • Use appropriate protective clothing and provide fresh air to the work site when using these products.


== Caustic alkalis --

Caustic alkalis react with the paint coating and loosen it from the surface. One of the chemicals in this type of stripper is sodium hydroxide (lye). Some people do not use caustic alkalis because caustic products can darken wood and raise the grain. Caustics can cause severe burns to skin and eyes even on short contact. Therefore, be very careful to keep caustic chemicals away from skin and eyes and wear protective clothing. If contact occurs, wash off immediately with cold water. Caustics are also highly toxic if swallowed.

  • It is very important to avoid skin and eye contact when using caustic alkalis.
  • Use gloves that fit properly and are appropriate for caustic alkalis.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing and goggles when using caustic alkalis.


Some paint strippers have a citrus smell or make "environmentally friendly" claims. However, these paint strippers may be hazardous despite the smell and environmental claims.

It is important to use appropriate protective clothing and fresh air for cross-ventilation when using these products.

For more information on indoor air quality, contact:

U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency
Washington, DC 20460

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Washington, DC 20207

TTY for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing or people with speech impairments: 800-638-8270.

Consumers can report product hazards to
This document may be reproduced without charge, in whole or in part, without permission, except for uses that imply that EPA or CPSC considers one type of paint stripper to be better or worse than another.

CPSC 423
EPA 747-F -95-002
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