7 Things to Do If You Discover Lead Paint in Your Home

Lauren Murphy
Written by Lauren Murphy
Updated December 16, 2021
Remodeled home exterior at sunset
Photo: Bmak / Adobe Stock

Testing for lead paint is only the first step

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You’re in love with your classic home, but it could be hiding a big issue. The federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in 1978, but it’s still present in millions of older homes across the U.S., according to the EPA.

If you inhale or ingest lead dust and particles, it can cause serious health issues, especially in children who still have a developing nervous system and brain. Prolonged exposure to lead can result in high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility, according to the CDC

Lead-based paint that is in good shape typically isn’t hazardous (though you still may want to remove it anyway). But when it begins to deteriorate, it needs immediate attention. Thankfully, you don’t need to up and move as soon as you find it. There are options to remove lead paint and a few things to keep in mind as you move forward.

1. Test for Lead Paint

The only way to determine if your home contains lead-based paint is to test it. If you have any suspicions, consider hiring a lead abatement contractor near you. They will come over, take a paint chip sample, and send it to a lab to confirm whether it contains lead. You can also purchase DIY lead paint testing kits at most hardware stores, which will require you to scrape the paint with a chemical-covered swab that changes color when exposed to lead. However, these kits can have varying levels of accuracy, so hiring a pro is usually recommended.

If your home is older and you’d like to renovate, test for lead paint first. All that sawing and sanding is bound to chip away or otherwise agitate paint particles, which is a serious problem if it’s lead-based paint.

2. Wear Protective Clothing

Avoid exposing yourself to toxic lead entirely by leaving the work to the professionals. But if you have to go into an area with exposed lead paint chips or dust, wear protective clothing. Put on protective latex gloves, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, closed-toed shoes, protective eyeglasses, and an effective face covering like an N95 mask. Lead paint is scary stuff, so avoid ingesting it at all costs.

3. Clean Up Paint Chips

Lead paint peeling off wood in home
Photo: Tab62 / Adobe Stock

Again, you should let a pro handle any work with lead paint. However, if you must tackle some cleanup yourself before they get there, use precautions. Sweep up any lead-based paint chips on the floor and around windows, using a wet rag as needed. Pay special attention to high-traffic areas and places where your kids can reach, like the windowsill. Use an N95 mask, thoroughly wash your hands after cleanup, and vacuum the exposed areas for good measure.

Lead paint chips are considered household hazardous waste. In some states, you can place the chips (and the contaminated rag) into a plastic bag and toss it into your regular household trash bin. Other states may require you to drop it off at your local hazardous waste collection site. Check your local regulations to find out what to do with yours.

4. Remove Lead Paint

If you discover lead paint in your home, finding a lead remediation pro to take care of it is always the best option. Pros will have the right equipment to deal with lead paint and the proper protective gear at the ready. HomeAdvisor reports that professional lead-based paint removal costs between $8 and $17 per square foot on average. For a 2,000-square-foot single-family home, professional lead paint removal runs from $16,000 to $34,000. Small mitigation projects and spot treatments can cost as low as $100

No matter your DIY skill level, we don’t recommend tackling this one yourself. Hiring an experienced pro will help you and your family stay safer in the long run.

5. Get Your Kids Tested If You Find Lead Paint in Your Home

Children are more susceptible to the effects of lead paint. If you find lead paint in your home, contact their doctor and make an appointment for them to get tested for lead exposure. The doctor will perform a blood lead test to determine if your kids have been exposed to lead and go over the next steps with you.

The most effective way to treat lead poisoning is to avoid further lead exposure, which likely means removing the lead paint from your home.

6. Take Off Your Shoes Before Going Inside

Lead can be present in both interior and exterior paint. If you find lead-based paint on the outside of your home, avoid tracking paint particles inside where they can endanger your family. Remove your shoes before entering your house, and consider placing dust mats outside and inside your doors. 

7. Keep Children and Pregnant People Away From Renovations

Kids aren’t the only ones who are more susceptible to lead poisoning. Pregnant people should be careful to avoid lead paint, too. Lead exposure in pregnant people can pass to their developing baby, which can lead to pregnancy loss, low birth weight, and other issues, according to Stanford Children’s Health.

To keep children and pregnant people safe, minimize their exposure to lead-based paint. Test your home for lead paint. If there is lead present in your home and you decide to renovate or remove it, keep children and pregnant people away to eliminate the risk of exposure.

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