Keeping Old Decorations Safe

With the popularity of trash to treasure decorating these days, I think it’s appropriate to address the topic of safety. I love the look of something aged, but because of the lead that existed in most old painted objects, this can be a serious threat to the health of the occupants of your  household, especially the children.
I love this old bed featured on the Country Living website, but can you spot the potential health problem?
Photo linked from Country Living
It’s important to be sure that the paint on the bed doesn’t contain lead. And even if it doesn’t, it can be a health hazard if it’s flaking. First, if you have any concern about lead, you can test it using a lead swab . If the swab doesn’t change color, then the paint doesn’t contain lead. However, if the paint is flaking, I suggest using several coats of a clear poly to seal the surface and cover over the paint. If you do choose to seal it, use an acrylic poly because it won’t yellow like oil based.
You may have noticed one other possible safety issue. On a bed this old, it’s possible that the bars on the headboard are far enough apart for a small child to wedge their head in between. It was obviously made before there were codes about such things, so use discretion in how an antique such as this is used.
I love my old windows too, but if these were to be hung anywhere in a home with children, I suggest it should be sealed well.
Also, be aware that the glass in old windows is not likely safety glass and when it breaks, the pieces can be dangerous. Living in an all male household, I’m very aware of how a thrown football, or a shoe tossed at a brother, can break wall decoration.
I’ve seen old windows intended for decoration in a baby’s room and I strongly suggest being cautious about checking all possible concerns before doing this. As cute as the decoration might be, it’s never worth the health or safety of your loved ones!
Just as with the items mentioned above, lead is also a concern if you plan to use vintage items for food storage. I love enamelware like this one from Midwest Living:
 Photo from  Midwest Living website
Notice how the surface is beginning to rust? I think it was appropriate to use this for flowers and display rather than for food storage. Some early enamelware had lead or cadmium that is no longer considered safe for food use. You can check out many articles on the web pertaining to this.
Look around at your own trash turned treasures. Can you spot potential safety concerns that you should be aware of?

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  1. Question…. I have an old window and I'm not sure if it contains lead or not, but I'd like to treat it as yes it does. So, can I just strip it and paint over it? It's already crumbling and chipping off. Or is sealing it good enough, if so seal it with what? I have small children. Thanks!!!!

  2. The easiest way to know is to get a lead swab from your local hardware store and test the window. If it's peeling a lot, sealing won't keep chunks from falling off. And small children will eat those pieces. Here's a link to recommendations for stripping paint from old windows

    If you decide to seal them, I have used several (3-4) coats of polycrylic clear finish. Here is a post from the Minwax site about this application,44897

    Laws are constantly changing regarding handling of lead. Just be sure that no matter what you do, there is no chance for pieces of old finish to fall off.

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