How to Tell If You Have Lead Paint in Your Home


What Is Lead Paint?

“Lead paint” and “lead-based paint” are common terms used to describe any household paint that contains lead. Prior to the 1980s, lead was commonly added to paints to accelerate the drying process, maintain durability, and add moisture resistance. It was a cheap, effective way to manufacture paint.

In the United States, lead was banned from inclusion in household paints in 1978 due to the serious health risks associated with its use. Non-leaded pigments, anti-corrosive agents, and driers are now widely available and frequently used by paint manufacturers, so you’re not likely to find lead-based paint on the shelf of your local hardware or paint store.


7. Can you paint over lead paint?

Yes. In fact, this is the most recommended solution.

“Most buyers choose to waive their rights to test because we give them the EPA pamphlet on lead-based paint. After they educate themselves, buyers realize that if you just paint over lead-based paint, you’re good,” explains Rourke.

Simply repainting your home is the cheapest, easiest solution to resolve the lead-based paint issue.

Model Law and Guidance for Regulating Lead Paint

6. What is the Model Law and Guidance for Regulating Lead Paint?

The purpose of the Model Law and Guidance for Regulating Lead Paint (or Model Law) is to assist countries to enact new laws (or to modify their existing laws) to establish a single regulatory limit on the total lead content in paints. The guidance describes the key elements of effective and enforceable legal requirements. The Model Law provides sample legal text that incorporates the key provisions and reflects the best approaches currently found in lead paint laws around the world.

In the Model Law the term “law” is used as a general term that means a legal mechanism or set of provisions that establishes a binding, enforceable limit on lead in paint with penalties for non-compliance. For example, “law” can include legislation, regulations, ordinances or mandatory standards, depending on a country’s legal framework.

Key provisions in the Model Law include:

  • Set a low, technically achievable limit on total lead in paint of 90 ppm
  • Provide clear deadlines for compliance with the limit; consider phasing in deadlines for some paint applications
  • Place primary responsibility for compliance with the lead limit on paint manufacturers and importers, by requiring them to obtain testing by an accredited, third-party laboratory and to issue declarations of conformity with the lead limit based on such testing
  • Identify government agency with enforcement authority, enumerate enforcement responsibilities, including authorizing government inspections, testing, and seizure
  • Specify prohibited acts:
    • Manufacture, sell, distribute, or import paint that exceeds the legal limit
    • Fail to cooperate with government inspection
    • Fail to provide declaration of conformity or provide a false declaration
    • Attempt to influence third-party party laboratory’s test results
  • Provide penalties for noncompliance

7. Can countries depart from the Model Law? 

The Model Law is intended as guidance containing suggested best practices for regulating lead in paint. In recognition of the diversity of regulatory structures and legal systems in different countries, the  Model Law sample legal text provisions are intended to be customized to each country’s legal framework and regulatory structure. Several Alliance partners are using the Model Law as a basis to assist countries in developing, establishing or refining lead paint laws.


Key Safety Tips:

How do you get rid of lead paint? Download this authoritative page shows you all the steps you will take, and it comes from a trusted source. Download and read this excellent document from NY State on the risk and the precautions to take.

When in your home, professional lead removers should:

  • Work for 15 minutes, then take a break in another space.
  • Never use sanders or heat guns to melt lead-based paint—this creates toxic dust and fumes with lead.

Indoors, workers must make sure the workroom is well ventilated. They should set up a fan so it blows air out a window, and start by applying stripper near the fan and backwards, so fumes are always blowing away from you.

Never forget (in addition to all the information given here), workers should follow these rules from the EPA:

  • Remove all furniture, carpets, and drapes and use plastic to seal off the work area
  • Never eat or drink in the work area
  • Keep people (especially children and pregnant women) out of the paint removal area
  • Unless there is lead paint to be removed from the floor, cover the floor
  • Wear a respirator with HEPA or “P100” filters (they are the same thing)
  • After the job is done, dispose of the work clothing
  • Do not wear work clothing outside the work area
  • Destroy or wash work clothes separately from all other laundries
  • Clean up using vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters
  • Wet mop after vacuuming
  • Clean well all tools and dispose of all other contaminated materials in accordance with local laws.

How to DIY Test for Lead Paint?

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 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 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.

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 encapsulation process, you will need to use specially designed paints called “encapsulants”.

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 of the old lead paint of 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.

Old apartment with possible lead paint
Old apartment with possible lead paint

Timing of Lead Paint Phase-out

28. Can lead paint limits be phased in over time?

To be effective, lead paint laws must provide clear deadlines for compliance by manufacturers and importers to phase-out lead paint. These deadlines should allow reasonable time for manufacturers to alter paint formulations and production processes. For examples, some countries allow 1 year from the effective date of legislation before compliance becomes mandatory for household paints, and a longer phase-in, such as 2-3 years, for industrial paints. Sample text for provisions reflecting both of these  options are included in the Model Law

29. Can retailers continue to sell lead paint after manufacture and import of paint containing above 90 ppm lead is illegal? 

The Model Law does not include a provision to allow sale of paint that exceeds 90 ppm once manufacture and import become illegal. Immediate enforcement against retail sales of existing stocks that were created or imported legally before the deadline might not be realistic in all contexts. Countries may wish to consider including an “existing stocks” provision in their lead paint laws, which could allow continued sales of paint produced before the deadline for stopping manufacture and import and could include an outer time limit. Some lead paint stocks may ultimately need to be disposed of, subject to applicable disposal requirements.


Does the House You Want to Buy Have Lead Paint?

Chances are good if the house you want to buy has lead paint if it was built before 1978 — unless it’s been repainted, renovated, or restored after that year. Also, sellers must notify you if they know their house has lead paint.

If sellers haven’t checked for lead paint, there is no requirement they need to before they sell their house. In this case, you should ask if the seller has any knowledge of lead paint and ask for an inspection if the house was built before 1978.

Keep in mind that each state has its own regulations regarding the buying and selling of houses with lead-based paint. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website for more information on individual state requirements.

An experienced Clever Partner Agent can help you negotiate with sellers to have them pay for an inspection to test for lead-based paint.

2. Best Lead-covering Paint:

Apply these like any paint, but do not sand the old lead paint: see above.

INSL-X Lead Block, Lead Encapsulating Paint, by Benjamin Moore. Available online.

A extra-thick coating that has very strong adhesion: it contains a bitter taste additive to discourage any child from eating any chips that will contain the lead layers beneath it.

  • prevents lead from bleeding through
  • brush, roller, or spray (see #1 above)
  • interior/exterior (any properly prepared wall, wood, masonry, stucco, wood, or metal)
  • exterior use not approved in Massachusetts
  • so-called ‘low VOC’: but 100 grams/liter is not all that low for me…(wear a chemical filtering respirator)
  • use this paint as a primer or topcoat
  • white only, eggshell finish only
  • clean-up with soap and water
  • stir well before use and do not thin

The number of coats:

The recommended final thickness is 14-16 mils when wet.

• apply with a brush and/or roller in 2 coats for proper thickness (thickness, when brushed, is 6-8 mills and 8-12 when rolled).

• The best method is an airless sprayer (spray thickness when wet is 14-16 mils: this is the maker’s preferred method). (See my airless paint sprayer recommendation).

Download the technical data sheet explains every detail.

This is the best lead encapsulating paint out there today.

Runner-up: EcoBond Lead Defender

Tested using EPA’s methods by a 3rd party, The EcoBond Lead Defender was confirmed to be effective in protecting human health.

By volume, it has 37% solids in the solution (compared to Lead Block above which is 44%), this paint might require a 3rd coat. But it does cost 15% less.

The brushed thickness wet is 4-6 mil (compared to the Lead Block above which is 6-8).

  • seals and treats lead dust
  • contains a bitter-tasting additive that children will never eat
  • low VOC
  • low odor
  • spray, brush, or roll
  • use as an interior primer or top-coat…or exterior primer
  • stir well before using
  • cleans with soap/water
  • 888-520-7132 is the helpline

The not-so-scary dangers of lead paint

Yes, it’s true that lead paint can cause health issues if it’s inhaled or ingested. Luckily, the chances of getting lead paint into your system are slim unless you’re remodeling — or eating paint off your walls.

That fact doesn’t keep some buyers from worrying about lead paint, though. Thankfully, you can ease their concerns by fighting lead paint with paint.

“If sellers are at all uncomfortable about the potential for lead-based paint in their older home, it’s best to simply err on the side of caution and simply paint over it. It’s that easy,” explains Rourke.

Header Image Source: (Yoann Siloine / Unsplash)