DIY lead paint removal for mortals
February 20, 2007 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I need to strip many layers of paint out of my old house. Does anyone have any experience with the "new" (in America) infra-red heat-strippers? They seem like a good idea, but I'd feel more comfortable with a few recommendations from regular folks before spending $500. The two brands I'm aware of are the "Speedheater" system, and the "Silent Paint Remover."

These 2 methods attract me since they don't kick up all the fumes/dust of heat-guns, gel-stripper, or sanders.

Or should I just give up and hire someone? I've done most of the [extensive] plumbing and electrical upgrades on this house myself, but for some reason paint seems a whole different ballgame
posted by markhu to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Silent Paint remover got a positive writeup on Cool Tools
posted by adamrice at 3:58 PM on February 20, 2007

Watch out for lead paint. There are inexpensive test kits you can get. How much you freak out if you find it is up to you, but if you have kids or pets, it's probably better to know so that you can take some precautions.
posted by ulotrichous at 4:06 PM on February 20, 2007

woops, missed the title. sorry.
posted by ulotrichous at 4:10 PM on February 20, 2007

I spent sometime working in restoration and we were certified to remove lead paint and personally I would recommend against DIY. It’s one of the few DIY things I would honestly recommend a Pro for in almost every circumstance. Lead poisoning does happen, especially to children; and containing lead can be very difficult.

That said…

Infra-red heat-strippers are awesomely cool, and very effective. They are however cumbersome so if you do go this route know that you will still have a bit of hand working to do even after you whisk away the large slabs.
posted by French Fry at 4:21 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to do it yourself, you could make your own infrared stripper.
posted by kindall at 4:29 PM on February 20, 2007

beaten to the punch by kindall.

If you decide to go for it, you might find some advice in this previous thread on building the same DIY paint stripper mentioned in kindall's link.
posted by dihutenosa at 4:33 PM on February 20, 2007

We removed a lot of lead paint when I was a child and me is still very smart.

Seriously, don't be afraid of lead paint. As long as you aren't letting a child eath the chips don't worry about it. There are more dangerous things in the world and you are more likely to burn the house down with the infrared stripper than you are to suffer any ill effects from lead pant.
posted by Megafly at 4:34 PM on February 20, 2007

Those heat-strippers sound great, but I have always found exterior house painting (especially lead-paint related) is best left to the professionals. It is an absolutely grueling job, made much more difficult if you don't know exactly what you are doing. The quality of the final result is all in the prep work, so be willing to pay a premium for someone who seems to value that portion of the project.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:34 PM on February 20, 2007

Mark, where are you located? Many of the members of our houseblogs network own the Silent Paint Remover (as do we) and love it. If there is someone in your immediate area, perhaps they can demo it for you.

That said, DIY lead paint removal is about the method you use for removing the paint AND about containment and disposal. It isn't rocket science to do it correctly, but the techniques can be tedious and time consuming and safety is of absolute importance. Even more so if the removal is on the exterior of the house OR children and pets are present. There are steps to follow to prep the area, do the work and clean the area after removal.

My email is in my profile if you need more info.
posted by jeanmari at 5:01 PM on February 20, 2007

As a partial derail, do these systems work on milk paint? I was able to strip lead paint but the milk layer has resisted my efforts and the resulting wood has raised grain.
posted by jadepearl at 6:17 AM on February 21, 2007

We used an much older variation of these when I was a kid to repaint our house - it looked like a rectangular stove burner element that you held against the paint for a few seconds. Even back then it worked fantastically - the paint came off better than anything else I've seen. Taking the time to strip an entire house exterior that way on the other hand... god that was a horrible summer. Quicker and more effective than sanding, though. Don't know about the other methods you mention.
posted by chundo at 8:01 AM on February 21, 2007

Best answer: Hi jadepearl--

Milk paint is a pain to strip...argh! The only thing that worked for me re: milk paint was milk paint remover. I even tried Peel Away, which is great but as expensive as all get out (and don't ever let it dry before you scrape it off or it makes an enormous mess.)

The Silent Paint Remover (SPR) was pretty helpless when applied to milk paint. The SPR works best on flat siding or trim (no intricate details in the wood work) and on many layers of paint. Makes the paint come off like icing off of a cake and it is very fast. For intricate details, I use a heat gun on the low setting.

I also have used the SPR to pull up old vinyl tile (it softens the glue on the back) and a few other things. Saw guys at a jobsite once use it to heat chicken for their lunch. :) But I don't think that is an approved use.

It's sometimes possible to buy a used one on eBay or off of Craigslist, btw. Or make one, as the link up there suggests. Ocean Manor House (the maker of the DIY one) did a very neat job on that.

Full disclosure: We did a review of the SPR on our site years ago and now the US distributor links to that review. But we didn't ask to be linked, we didn't receive any goods for free, they didn't know that we were going to do the review and we don't receive any compensation from them. In fact, I don't think that the SPR is the solution for all situations. YMMV.
posted by jeanmari at 11:44 AM on February 21, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, guys. I am in Los Angeles, so will check CraigsList or something for local borrow options.
posted by markhu at 1:53 PM on February 22, 2007

Response by poster: Also forgot to mention that I am exclusively working on interior trim. FWIW, the exterior was sanded down and painted in the late 1990's, so presumabely contains little lead. Although now that I think about it, I better test the soil around the place in case they didn't clean up after themselves very well. And we do have a baby in the house, which is why I'm wanting to address this.
posted by markhu at 5:07 PM on February 22, 2007

Hey markhu--

Been there, doing that. Lead paint and baby in the house. Unless it is peeling or flaking, it might be better to encapsulate it.

Lead paint is only a risk when it is peeling or creating dust. Otherwise, it is better not to disturb it at all. Fiberlock makes a lead encapsulant and there is also Child Guard encapsulant.

We had used the home lead test "swab" kits and got some positives before we had the baby, which sent us into a panic. Then we had an inspector come through with a portable X-ray fluorescence analyzer and he showed us that we had less lead paint than we had previously thought. Those swab kits can be helpful but they aren't always accurate. And the x-ray analyzers are very accurate and can show you quickly if there is lead paint behind other layers of paint.

Here is a great primer on lead paint removal.

I think that it is smart that you are being concerned about lead paint. Many folks are so afraid of it that they don't want to think about it, they don't have their kids tested and they don't address it. But it can be contained and kids can be kept safe from lead if parents are educated about it.

Here are the housebloggers from California. The folks at the 1912 Bungalow have a Silent Paint Remover and they are really great. If you need an introduction to them, let me know.
posted by jeanmari at 6:39 PM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

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