How to identify lead paint and how to remove it safely
We asked building and construction expert Thomas Goodman to explain how you identify lead paint, and what to do if it's in your home
Modern household paints don't contain lead and are therefore not harmful, but lead compounds were commonly used in paints until the mid-1960s. It was occasionally used in some paints by specialist decorators as late as the 1980s, before it was banned in 1992 (with strict exceptions).
If the lead compounds become air-borne or accumulate in dust, this can cause lead poisoning, so it can be a serious problem. Thomas Goodman, property and construction expert at MyJobQuote, explains how to deal with lead-based paint in your home.
How can I identify lead paint?
If you live in a house built before 1960, lead paint was almost certainly used. It can be found in millions of homes, occasionally hidden beneath layers of newer paint. However, the paint doesn’t need to be removed unless it is flaking away — decaying lead based paint is a potential danger that must be addressed immediately.
Lead paint testing kits are available to determine whether your paint contains lead. However, while they help provide an indication, they're not entirely reliable, and even if the top surface of paint does not contain lead, the older layers beneath it may.
If you want to be absolutely certain that you don't have lead paint, you must have a specialist inspect your home. Even if they find traces of lead paint, there's no need to panic. Only if the paint is faulty is there a risk to your health. If it's in good condition with no chipping, removing it poses a greater risk because it could expose you to lead dust.
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Where is lead paint most likely to be used?
It can be found in many places, but it may pose greater risk when used on surfaces that children can touch, or that are subject to wear and tear, such as:
- Window frames and sills
- Door frames and doors
- Stairs, railings, bannisters, and porches
Make sure to keep all paint in great condition and clean up any dust that accumulates. Lead dust can also get into your home through soil contaminated by decayed exterior lead-based paint.
How do I dispose of lead paint safely?
Only treat or remove old lead paint surfaces if the paint is chipping or peeling. If your paint is in good condition, it's best to paint over the lead paint to cover and seal it. If it's in bad condition, such as chipping, flaking, or has lost adhesion, you must remove it before repainting.
The safest method for removing lead paint is by using a chemical stripper that will bind the lead in the paint and does not create dust. Extracting lead paint with a heat gun is a riskier option that you should avoid if possible. If you want to use a heat gun to remove lead paint, make sure you only loosen the paint before scraping it off.
It's also critical not to let the paint burn, and wear protective clothing and a mask.
The safest method of removing old lead paint is to remove everything from your home and get a professional to remove it for you.
However, if you decide to remove lead paint yourself, here are some things to think about:
- First, put on an overall, gloves, and cover your hair. Then, wear a dust mask or a HEPA-filtered respirator and wash your clothes separately.
- Remove everything you can from the room; cover anything you can't remove with plastic wrap and tape it shut.
To reduce the risk of inhaling dust, use a chemical stripper to connect the particles and soften the area you're working in.
- Work in a well-ventilated location and don't let anyone in who isn't supposed to be there.
- When disposing remnants of lead paint, it's best to contact your local council.
- If the current paint is in good condition, leave it alone! To seal in the lead paint, paint over it.
Thomas Goodman is a building and construction expert. He works at MyJobQuote.com