Before being banned in the late 1970s, lead was a common additive to paints. It helped make it more durable and long-lasting.
Its ability to look fresh, dry quickly, and its resilience to moisture made lead paint highly desirable until its harmful health properties were fully appreciated.
And while lead paint has not been used in decades, it still exists in many homes that were built before 1978.
Lead Paint Hazards
Lead was used in many different products, most notably gasoline until it was revealed through extensive testing that it had a detrimental effect on the brain.
This is especially true of children whose development was severely curtailed due to lead exposure.
The consequences of lead exposure are such that they cannot be fully treated even today.
Although short-term exposure to a minimal amount of lead is generally nothing to worry about.
Long-term exposure may have dire consequences for you and your family.
While many such homes have had the lead paint removed, it may still be present underneath more recent coatings of non-lead-based paints.
What this means is if you are moving into an older home, a home old enough to have used lead-based paints, then you should have it tested.
How Do You Test Paint for Lead?
You can do the DIY lead paint test yourself with the right testing kit that is EPA approved.
The Klean-Strip D-Lead Paint testing kit and the 3M LeadCheck Swabs are the two well-known lead paint detection kits that are easy to use.
These are available at stores like Amazon, Home Depot, etc.
Either kit is not cheap, but they are far less expensive compared to hiring a professional to do the job.
You should try to do the lead testing yourself and if verification is needed, then hiring a pro is recommended.
With the exception of paints that are red or pink, you can use a rhodizonate-based testing kit that is perfect for lighter colors.
If you have some red or pink-based paints, then a sulfide kit is arguably the best.
However, sulfide kits are not well-suited for dark paints.
You may want to read the instructions or consult with experts in case you are testing a deep, dark red paint that may elicit a false positive.
In addition to the lead paint tester kit, you will need a good, sharp utility blade to make the incision.
You may want to wear gloves or protective gear, but keep in mind that apart from flaking, lead-based paint is most dangerous when ingested.
It is best to ventilate the rooms to minimize exposure. And also keep away your children and pets when testing.
Below is a video that shows how you can use a 3m lead test kit. You can follow the easy instructions here to test yourself if the paint in your home has lead or not.
How Much Does it Cost to Test for Lead Paint?
DIY Lead-paint testing kits vary in cost, but they are usually well under $100.
You can find the right one for around $10 to $20 that best suits the color of paint in your home for the most accurate result.
Hiring a professional will cost considerably more money (usually around $25 to $100), but they will often use the same types of kits more than once.
But if you should get a positive result that is verified by a second test, then you should go through the EPA to find a professional that can test the same areas again.
Steps for Testing the Lead Paint Yourself
The areas you test for lead should include places such as the following…
Be sure you are testing a thicker area of the paint.
Once you have the right lead testing kit, all you need to do is make an incision into the paint about a quarter-inch deep.
Open the swab and press it to the cut in the paint so that it comes into contact with all the layers.
You will need to press down the soft tip of the swab into the incision itself.
Hold it into the incision for a few seconds or as long as the instructions direct you to do so.
The swab should generate a particular color that you can interpret using the instructions that come with the kit.
No matter the result, use another swab and perform the test again to ensure that the results are the same.
Rhodizonate-based testing swabs will turn red if the lead is present. But then again, they will turn red if the paint is that color.
Sulfide-based testing swabs will turn black or a dark grey when touching lead, but then again, they will also turn that color if they touch dark paint.
So, be sure to use the right type of testing kit.
Most of the time, the swabs will come back clear which means no indication of lead paint.
Just remember to test each area of your house for the lead at least twice to ensure full coverage.
What to Do if the Test for Lead is Positive?
When testing for lead paint, keep in mind that not all DIY lead test kits are created equal.
This means some of these kits can be inaccurate and you will need to choose the one that is EPA-recognized.
To be completely safe and to reduce the associated risks, it’s good to test the same area more than once.
If the swabs report the presence of lead, you will need to follow the guidelines as set out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
They offer specific sanding and paint removal steps to follow to have the lead paint removed from your home.
- Find a Certified Inspector or Risk Assessor Through the EPA
- Read Their Written Report
- Hire a Certified Professional to Remove the Paint
If you have yet to move into the home, you should be fine.
But if you or your family have been staying in the home for a while, then everyone should get a blood test to check for the presence of lead.
The earlier it can be treated, the better for your health.
How Can You Remove Old Lead Paint Safely?
If you are a kind of DIY homeowner who plans to deal with lead paint in your old home yourself, it’s not a bad idea.
Assuming you have already tested for the presence of lead paint in your house (using a lead paint testing kit), and you have lead present, the very first step to do is DO NOT PANIC.
If the old paint is still in good condition, you do not need to worry about it.
The only way lead paint and lead dust can prove hazardous is when – it’s flaking, chipping, or showing the signs of peeling.
In that case, you will need to get the lead paint removed carefully.
- The safest way to remove lead paint from wood, metal, or walls is to use a chemical paint stripper.
- But if the paint adhesion is too strong, you can use a heat gun to soften the paint first.
- If you want to remove the paint from surfaces like doors or windows (that can be removed), I would suggest taking them to a stripping company where they can be stripped professionally.
Lead paint stripping companies can strip the old layers of paint from doors by dipping them in a stripping bath.
Although it may cost you much (if you have a large number of doors, windows, or furniture items to be stripped), it can save you a lot of time and effort.
Plus, you will rest assured about the safety of your family members.
Can You Paint Over Lead Paint Safely? (The Do’s and Don’ts)
Absolutely, you can paint over lead-based paint in your home provided the old paint is still in good condition.
This means if the old paint on the surface is not chipping, flaking, cracking, or releasing any lead dust you can safely paint over the surface following all the guidelines and safety protocols.
The process of painting over lead paint is known as “encapsulation,” and it’s less expensive than lead paint removal.
And since you are not disturbing the existing lead paint on your walls or wood furniture while painting, the process does not release any toxic particles that are unsafe.
Below are a few dos and don’ts of painting over lead paint.
Make sure you read them carefully and follow them to be completely safe…
1- Use an Encapsulant
When covering the lead paint surface, do remember that any regular oil or water-based paints are not safe even when they are non-lead-based.
Even finishes such as polyurethane, shellac, or other varnishes are not recommended to cover lead-based paint on your old wood furniture with lead paint.
For the encapsulation process, you will need to use specially designed paints called “encapsulants”.
Some of the best lead encapsulating paints are now manufactured by popular brands like Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams, LEADX™, Fiberlock, and a few others.
These encapsulants are thicker than regular paint primers and are available in different varieties (and brands) at your nearby local hardware or paint store.
They are effective enough to seal (encapsulate) the lead paint properly so that no dangerous lead fumes or dust is produced in the future after its application.
2- Follow the Manufacturer Guidelines
When using encapsulants, make sure that you follow the guidelines provided by the specific manufacturer while testing, preparing, and applying the paints.
If you do so, you can make the encapsulation of lead paint last for about 15 to 20 years depending on your location, surface usage, and environmental conditions.
Although you can apply the encapsulants to most surfaces in your home, most manufacturers say that it’s not a good idea to encapsulate badly deteriorated surfaces and high traffic areas like floors.
Due to regular friction, your hardwood floors are prone to release lead dust in the future.
And hence it’s better to remove the old lead paint completely before painting such surfaces.
3- Follow All the Safety Rules
When encapsulating lead-based paint on your old furniture, walls, or other surfaces, you will need to take proper steps to safeguard your family and any on-site workers you may have.
- Keep your pets, children, and seniors away from the Jobsite
- Prep the area by laying drop cloth and use painter’s tape to secure them to the floor
- Wear gloves, a respirator, and other protective clothing to ensure that the paint does not touch your body parts
4- Don’t Sand, Or Scrape the Lead Paint
Scraping, stripping, or sanding the old lead paint on the surface can be dangerous.
The friction caused can release harmful lead dust into the air that can be extremely hazardous if inhaled.
You should therefore leave the paint as it is if you are painting over it.
What you can do is clean the surface by simply wiping it down gently with warm water and a piece of foam sponge.
Do not ever use a pressure washer to wash, clean, or remove lead paint.
The heavy pressure can blast the paint which can make them stick to surrounding surfaces.
5- Do Not Forget to Dispose of and Clean the Area
After you are done with painting, dispose of the drop cloths, tape, rags, gloves, etc. immediately so that they do not contaminate your house.
Also, consider using a HEPA vacuum and an air purifier to make the area free from lead chips, debris, or dust particles in the air.
Lead dust can still be present in the air or on surfaces in your home.
Using a High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) vacuum and the air filter is therefore important as its capable of capturing even the smallest pieces of lead in the air that can cause health issues later.
What if You Plan to Purchase an Old Home that May Have Lead Paint?
It’s not at all safe for you and your family to live in a house with lead paint.
It’s therefore, important that if you are considering the purchase of an older home to have it tested for lead paint first.
You may insist upon this before writing up the contract which puts the onus on the seller and not you.
It is far better to be safe than sorry when it concerns the presence of lead paint.
In all likelihood, the inspector or assessor who tests for the lead paint can recommend a professional to neutralize or remove it completely.
Be sure to read their written report first and follow their recommendations.
However, it may not be possible or feasible to have the lead-based paint removed.
In such cases, you will have a set of maintenance instructions to keep the paint sealed which will protect you and your family from lead exposure.
Should you rent an apartment with lead paint?
While it’s not a good idea to rent a place with lead paint, you can choose to, provided you are willing to deal with the old lead paint safely before moving your family in.
Also, check that the paint is in good condition and can be repainted easily without any issues.
Basically, there is no law that requires landlords to strip lead paint in their apartment or property before renting.
But it’s the duty of the landlord to inform the renter about the presence of lead-based paint in the apartment and this should be mentioned clearly in the written lease agreement.
Can a landlord be sued for lead paint?
As a tenant, if you are not informed and you suspect the lead presence in your rentals you can get a lead hazard inspection.
If the lead test comes out to be positive, you can break the lease for lead paint violations.
In that case, you can even sue your landlord if there are any damages or harm caused due to lead poisoning.
Huge penalties for not disclosing lead-based paint, can also be imposed on landlords under the regulations that can sometimes go as high as $19,500 and over.
The bottom line
Remember that lead-based paints may have been used in some places, but not others.
This means you will need to test paint chips for lead paint in different rooms to ensure full coverage.
It’s good to even test the old wooden toys in your kids’ room if they are stained or painted with old paint.
All these testing and steps will ensure better safety for your complete family.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.