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 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.
While many such homes have had the lead paint removed, it may still be present underneath more recent coatings of non-lead-based paints.
If you are moving into an older home, a home old enough to have used lead-based paints, then you should have it tested.
What Will You Need for Testing?
You can do the DIY test yourself with the right testing kit.
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 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.
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 testing yourself and if verification is needed, then hiring a pro is recommended.
In addition to the 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 mostly dangerous when ingested.
It is best to ventilate the rooms to minimize exposure.
Steps for Testing the Lead Paint
Once you have the kit, all you need to do is make an incision into the paint about a quarter-inch deep.
Be sure you are testing a thicker area of the paint.
The areas you test should include places such as the following.
Now, 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 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 at least twice to ensure full coverage.
What to Do if the Test is Positive?
If the swabs report the presence of lead, then you will need to follow the guidelines as set out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
They offer specific 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 or Contain 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.
It’s important that if you are considering the purchase of an older home to have it tested for lead paint.
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 remove it.
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.
How Much Does It Cost to Test for Lead Paint?
Lead-paint testing kits vary in cost, but they are usually well under $100.
You can find the right one that best suits the color of paint in your home for the most accurate result.
Hiring a professional will cost considerably more money, but they will often use the same types of kits.
But if you should get a positive result which is verified by a second test, then you should go through the EPA to find a professional that can test the same areas again.
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.
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 these are stained or painted with old paint.
All these testing and steps will ensure better safety for your completely family.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls. He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.