The One-of-a-Kind Piece
But that changed on one recent night at work as a radio newscaster. I was scheduled to play a government-produced Public Service Announcement on the dangers of lead paint, especially around small children and babies. I must've played this particular PSA dozens, if not hundreds of times before, but this time I paid attention. I was fresh off the high of one of my favorite purchases ever:
A vintage cowboy-themed toybox with bright paint colors. It was just $12 at a local thrift store and came just as we were re-doing our son's room, and could not be any cuter. But after hearing that PSA, the toy box became a big concern because it's painted (whereas many of my furniture makeovers until now have started out only stained), it clearly came from an era when they might've still been using lead paint, it's chipping in some areas, and most importantly, was destined for my two-year-old's bedroom.
The Lead Paint Ban
Lead paint was only relatively recently banned in the United States, in 1978--the year my husband was born. That date came as a shock to me; my own mom, the daughter of a housepainter, had guessed the ban at at least a decade earlier. And much like asbestos, just because lead paint was banned in a certain year doesn't mean people no longer used it...cans of the stuff likely hung around in garages and sheds waiting to get used up. That means furniture painted as late as the 1980s could contain lead.
As for why it was banned, I'll let Wikipedia do the talking:
Lead paint is especially hazardous to children under age six, whose developing bodies are susceptible to lead poisoning. It causes nervous system damage, stunted growth, kidney damage, and delayed development. It is particularly dangerous to children because it tastes sweet, encouraging children to put lead chips and toys with lead dust in their mouths. Lead paint is also dangerous to adults and can cause reproductive problems in both men and women.
A myth regarding lead-based paint claims that children must eat lead-paint chips to develop lead poisoning. In actuality, ingestion of lead dust, which can be dislodged from deteriorating paint or can be generated during painting, also occurs when children get lead dust on their hands and then touch their mouths.Does It or Doesn't It?
I came home from work on that night I heard the PSA and did some Internet searching on vintage furniture with lead paint, and found this awesome and helpful article from Country Living. It's a must read for parents who love vintage and antique furniture, and it's not all bad. While it said lead furniture does not belong in home with small children, it said you can keep your beloved lead furniture as long as it's where kids don't go, or if you seal the paint with a varnish (re-painting would mean sanding, which would mean releasing lead-laden dust, which isn't healthy for anyone). Those options weren't good enough for my concerns, but it again gave me hope when it said lead tester kits are available at most hardware stores.
Finding and Purchasing the Lead Paint Tester Kit
I was afraid how cost-prohibitive these tester kits might be, and we found just two options in the paint section at our local Home Depot; this $28 kit by Klean-Strip that included six tests and appeared more to be for testing walls and trim in old homes, and one from 3M for about $9 that contained about two tests. We went with the latter based on affordability and that I appeared easy to use, especially on furniture.
The tests remind me of these teeth whitening samples I once received: they're little cardboard tubes with glass inside that you break. Once broken, liquid saturates a cigarette-style filter which you rub on the paint. If it turns red, that "means lead."
Alright, I've written this entire post up until here prior to administering the test. Time for me to make a video so you can see first hand along with me whether or not the toy box has lead...
(Spoiler alert: lead free! Can't wait to clean and fix it up and get it in his bedroom.)