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QUESTION: How do I empty the vacuum container safely (it's bag-less) and test for residue of lead? 19/06/10 New South Wales, Australia

We have a Dyson vacuum cleaner after doing some sanding of wall for painting. Our home is a pre 1970 house. How do I empty the container safely (it's bag-less) and test for residue of lead?

ANSWER: Jun 19 2010

Dear Sir,

A bagless vacuum cleaner is always going to increase the risk of exposure to the vacuum dust for anyone who empties it, compared to a vacuum cleaner that has a replaceable/discardable bag system. The best I can advise is that you get two supermarket-type plastic bags, go out to your council rubbish bin wearing a P1 or P2 mask and clothes that cover the skin or preferably a disposable overall, (that will be washed separately from the family washing), with the plastic bags and with the whole vacuum cleaner. Then release the dust canister from the machine and immediately cover the opening with one of the plastic bags (don't do this in windy conditions). Then tip the canister and plastic bag upside down so the dust falls into the plastic bag, whilst keeping as small a gap between them as is possible by pulling the plastic bag tight around the canister. Allow the dust in the air in the bag to settle for a few moments before taking away the upturned canister. Then slowly tie the plastic bag handles up with two knots, allowing air to escape so it does not explode under pressure (say, in the garbage truck), and drop the tied bag upside down into the second plastic bag. The slowly allow the air to expel while tying two knots with the handles of the second plastic bag. Then drop the bag straight into the bin.

Then take the vacuum cleaner to your laundry tub and wash any part of it that has no electrical components, especially the dust canister and the tubing. Wear rubber gloves for this so that you can use a strong detergent like liquid sugar soap or tricleanium (which will bind to any lead in the dust). Preferably use a bottle brush or force a long thin cleaning rag through the removable tubing sections. Rinse well with fresh water (it's the rinsing that actually takes away the bound lead).

Dry-sanding of pre-1970 paint is not at all recommended - that's probably why you haven't found a description online of how to clean up after doing that - using a domestic vacuum cleaner to clean up what is not recommended to be created in the first place is also not recommended. Only industrial HEPA-filter vacuuming and wet-cleaning is recommended. But even these are not necessary if you do only wet-sanding. Wet-sanding is done by hand, (not by machine) using a water-spray bottle in one hand and the stuff called "wet-and-dry sandpaper" or a sanding sponge designed to be used wet, in the other hand.

Testing for residue of lead can be done according to the Australian Standard (AS 4361.2 - 1998 Guide To Lead Paint Management - Part 2: Residential And Commercial Buildings) by purchasing one of our DIY-Sampling Lead Lab-Analysis Kits ( You can order the kit online) which includes the instructions (from the Standard) for soil sampling and dust-wipe sampling of floors and/or windowsills (though the kit can also be used to test the lead content of any paint that you are yet-to-renovate). There is no point doing dust-wipe sampling of the inside or outside of the vacuum dust canister if that was what you were thinking. Only areas that are actually accessed by young children or which may be accessed by young children in the future should be sampled. 

I would also recommend that you ask your doctor for a blood lead test on anyone who might have been exposed to the dry-sanding dust. Please write again if you want to know what the results mean.

All the best with the rest of your renovation / repainting. Please see "Lead paint & ceiling dust management - how to do it lead-safely" for more details.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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