Lead Paint Safety: What You Need to Know

Becca Stokes
Written by Becca Stokes
Updated November 17, 2021
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Learn the ins and outs of lead paint safety

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If you live in a house built before 1978, there’s a chance that you’re living with lead paint. If it starts to chip or leave dust on the floor, you’ve got a problem. From monitoring your lead paint to getting it removed by a professional, here’s what you need to know about lead paint safety.

Why Is Lead Paint Dangerous?

Lead is a highly toxic metal that causes serious health problems, such as lead poisoning, and kidney and brain damage when it’s inhaled or ingested. If that weren’t enough, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it is most harmful to young children. When lead gets absorbed into your bloodstream, it causes damage to organs like your kidneys, liver, and even your brain.

Taking Precautions in Houses Built Before 1978

If your home was built before 1978, that means that it was constructed before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put an official stop to the regular use of lead paint in homes. If your paint is in good condition, meaning it isn’t chipping or cracking, you can most likely continue to live there safely. If you suspect lead paint exists in your home, here are some steps you can take to ensure your family’s safety:

  • Take your shoes off in the home to prevent spreading lead dust

  • Use moist paper towels to wipe down flat surfaces in the house and dispose of them promptly

  • Throw away paint chips using a paper towel, so that you do not touch the chips directly

  • Vacuum regularly to keep lead dust to a minimum, using a HEPA-certified vacuum

  • Mop uncarpeted surfaces weekly to help banish dust

Testing Children and Homes for Lead

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If you have reason to suspect lead paint exposure in your home, the best thing you can do is test for lead. Test for it in your home, and test for it in your young children. Children should be examined at ages 1 and 2 for lead levels. If you have a child between the ages of 3 and 6 and you suspect lead exposure, get them tested immediately. 

To determine the amount of lead paint present in your home, you should have it professionally tested with a lead clearance test. The average cost to have your home inspected for lead is $320. That price includes testing inside and outside of your home. If you want to have your soil or water tested, it will add an additional $100 and $300 to your total bill.

4 Tips to Safely Remove Lead Paint

Once you've identified the presence of chipped or cracked lead paint in your home, it’s time to find a removal specialist to remove it. Take the following guidelines into account when working with a pro to rid your home of this potentially harmful paint.

1. Hire an EPA Lead Certified Professional

Per the EPA, any contractor who touches lead paint needs to be certified to do so. If a contractor hasn’t been certified by the  EPA Lead-Based Paint Abatement Program, you should hire a different removal specialist. That certification from the EPA guarantees that the contractor has gone through a training course on how to work with lead paint (and lead paint dust) in houses built before 1978.

2. Ensure Proper Safety Measures

Before the work to remove the lead paint begins, check the space to make sure your contractor has taken the appropriate measures to keep the lead debris contained and to a minimum. Proper lead paint and dust containment is hard to miss: Your pro should affix plastic tarps throughout the space to contain any lead.

In addition to taping off the rooms and sealing them, you should make sure that you remove everything from the rooms beforehand, including furniture and children's toys. For safety purposes, no one should eat, drink, smoke, or vape in the room where the lead paint is being removed.

3. Remove Lead Paint From One Room at a Time

When removing lead paint, the pros should work in one room at a time and make sure that that room is completely isolated from the rest of the house. Pregnant women and children should never go into the room where the pros are removing the lead, as the risk level is too high for these at-risk groups.

4. Use the Right Respirators

While pros use many kinds of breathing masks and respirators, those used to remove lead paint need to be HEPA certified to keep workers safe from lead exposure. If you think a respirator isn’t passing muster, don’t be afraid to ask the pro to swap it out. Keeping workers safe on the job protects everyone involved.

Can You DIY Lead Paint Removal?

While some states allow homeowners to remove lead paint themselves, it’s not recommended. For your family’s safety, it is best to hire a contractor who is certified in lead paint inspection and removal to rid your home of the dangerous metal.

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