5 Steps to Identifying Lead Paint

Lead paint was commonly used in residential facilities to speed up drying and maintain appearance. However, it was later phased out in 1978 due to the threat it posed to human health, particularly young children and pregnant women.

Whether you are a homeowner or business owner concerned about the health impacts of lead-based paint, identifying traces of lead paint on your property is a critical step in ensuring your safety and the well-being of other occupants. This is especially important if you live in a home that was built in 1978 (or before) when lead-based paint was standard. A report by the HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH) shows lead paint still exists in millions of older homes throughout the United States.

But how can you identify if it is in your house or businesses? This article will cover the steps to identify lead paint in your house and related information to provide you with a thorough understanding of the subject.

What Is Lead Paint and Why It Dangerous

As the name suggests, lead based paint is any paint that contains traces of lead. Lead was a cheap, effective, and widely available ingredient that was added to paints to speed up drying, improve durability, and make paints more moisture-resistant.

Lead Paint Example

Lead-based paint in residential and commercial buildings dates back centuries, but its health implications were evident in the 20th century. When ingested, lead chips or dust particles can cause irreversible damage to the nervous system, brain, and kidneys. Children are at higher risk because they tend to chew sweet-tasting lead-painted surfaces.

 Lead can also cause reproductive issues in adults, particularly in women. For pregnant women, ingesting lead increases the risks of miscarriage, low birth weight, and impaired neurodevelopment.

Which Houses Have Lead-Based Paint?

Lead-based paints were banned in the United States in 1978. As a result, homes built before 1978 are more likely to contain lead paint. However, it is not safe to say that all homes built after the lead paints were banned are lead-free. Even a house built in the 1990s can contain lead.

Like most things that pose threats to human health, lead can’t be spotted by the naked eye.

If you are unsure about the presence of lead-based paint in your house, it is best to take steps to identify and assess the painted surfaces. Preventive measures and addressing hazards can ensure a healthy and safe living environment.

How To Identify Lead Paint – 5 Steps

Although modern household paints don’t contain lead, there is no way to look at a paint and rule out whether or not it contains lead. You might have unknowingly painted your home using older paint, or old layers were not correctly removed during renovations. That’s why it is important to be upfront and test if your house has lead paint.

However, it is worth noting that lead paint will start to chip and flake as it deteriorates.

Whether you are a homeowner concerned about the health implications of lead-based paint or a business owner looking to ensure a safe working environment, here are the steps to test for the presence of lead-based paint.

1. Check for Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Recognizing the early symptoms of lead exposure lead poisoning is an important to keep you safe. If you live in an old home or office and you or another occupant is experiencing unusual symptoms, you might need to call a certified professional.

Woman with a headache from lead paint poisening

Some early lead poisoning symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and fatigue
  • Intermittent abdominal issues
  • Weakness and joint and muscle pain
  • Memory problems
  • Unusual mood swings
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression, memory loss, and personality change
  • Acute lead exposure can cause developmental problems, irritability, learning difficulties, and seizures in children.

All in all, it is worth noting that symptoms of lead poisoning can manifest in many different and often nonspecific ways, making it hard to detect in the early stages.

2. Determine the Age of the Structure and Condition of the Paint

Most houses built before 1978 have lead-based paints. If your home is old, even if it was renovated, ask the previous owner or the landlord (if you are renting) when the structure was constructed. Ask if they know if there’s lead-based paint in your home. Of course, the Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Rule requires sellers, landlords, and agents to provide potential buyers and renters with information about lead and lead hazards in residences before buying and renting.

Notably, homes built after 1978 may have lead-based paints. Some contractors and homeowners continued to use them despite the ban.

3. Look Out for Possible Signs of Lead Paint

Regardless of the information you get from the previous owner, check if the paint is deteriorating. Some of the signs to look out for include:

Deteriorating Paint

Chipping and flaking paint is a telltale sign of the presence of lead. Worse, deteriorating lead-based paint poses a serious health hazard as it releases lead dust when disturbed.


Lead paint often creates an alligator scale-like pattern when it starts to deteriorate. Although not a sure indicator of the presence of lead paint, it hints that the paint is old and might contain lead.

Chalking and Multiple Layers

Another sign that you might be having lead paint in your home is if it produces a chalky residue when it rubs off. This is known as hazardous lead dust. Inspect areas that may not have been painted over, like baseboards or closets. This is because it can be tricky to spot chalking paint, especially if there are new layers covering the original lead-based layer.

Of importance, multiple layers should make you more anxious to know the ingredients of the innermost layers. The previous owner might have painted over lead-based paint during renovations, which can be a threat in the future. This is vitally important, considering lead-based paint on “high-risk surfaces” can be hazardous, even when not deteriorating.

Tip: When inspecting for the presence of lead paint, pay special attention to high-risk areas and surfaces like windows, window sill, railings, doors, doorways, frames, stairs, floors, baseboards, cabinets, porches, and handrails. These surfaces are more susceptible to wear and tear due to friction, impact, and moisture, which can increase the risk of exposure.

4. Test With a Lead Paint Kit (YMMV)

If you notice either of these indicators of the presence of lead paint, it is time for lead paint testing. There are three EPA-recognized DIY lead test kits that you can use to check if you have lead paint in your home:

  • 3M™ LeadCheck™
  • D-Lead®
  • State of Massachusetts Test Kit

These test’s might help detect some but we don’t really recommend these kits in most cases. These test kits can only detect lead in the outermost layer of paint – They can’t detect lead covered by other layers of paint. As a result, homeowners should never rely on them to definitely rule out the presence or absence of lead paint. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends hiring a certified lead-based paint inspector or risk assessor to test for lead-based paint in your home or business premises.

5. Hire a Professional Lead Paint Testing Company

Lead is toxic and can have severe health implications. If you live in an old home and have serious concerns about lead paint, it is imperative to arrange a professional test on the paint in your home. 

G3 Environmental Specialists

Professional lead testing service companies provide the safest and most accurate way to identify lead paint in homes and businesses. G3 Environmental offers swift, reliable, and rigorous lead-based paint testing services. Our team of highly skilled professionals can help you determine which locations have lead paint with precision and help you evaluate the inherent risk.

What To Do if You Discover Lead-Based Paint

So you have had a professional lead test done that has come up positive? If you have lead, you can remove it, encapsulate it, or enclose it.

Lead Paint Removal At Home

1. Removal

The best way to prevent lead-based paint from becoming a health risk in the future is by having it removed. Unless you know what you’re doing, it is recommended you hire a licensed lead abatement contractor to handle the job. Depending on the area with lead paint, your contractor might use a variety of methods to remove the paint.

There are three commonly used lead paint removal methods:

Heat stripping: This method utilizes a heat gun. Although it is the easiest, it is the most dangerous lead paint removal method. Precisely, it exposes the paint remover to toxic fumes.   

Mechanic stripping: This method is ideal for removing lead paint from larger surfaces, especially the exteriors of a building. While professionals can use many mechanical stripping tools, Piantshare Pro is arguably the most user-friendly. Some lead abatement professionals use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-filtered vacuums.

Chemical stripping: Faster but more expensive, chemical stripping is a compelling lead paint removal method that can be used for interior and exterior surfaces. It is recommended where mechanical striping isn’t feasible.

Lead paint removal is a risky job that, when wrongly done, can significantly increase exposure to toxic lead. Every person present during removal must be wearing proper protective gear.

2. Encapsulation

If the lead-based paint in your house is in pristine condition, without signs of deterioration, it can be encapsulated so that it doesn’t become a threat in the future. Encapsulation involves applying a special coating to create a watertight seal, which prevents the lead paint from flaking. The protective layers also prevent people from getting into contact with lead-based paint.

3. Enclosure

Enclosing lead-based paint involves covering it with a lasting barrier to reduce exposure. One of the easiest ways to enclose areas with lead paint is by converting them with drywall. A tight enclosure keeps the lead paint from becoming a hazard.

When Should You Be Concerned About Lead Paint Exposure?

Safety is paramount in all situations! If you live in or are renovating an old home built before 1978, you should be concerned about potential lead paint exposure. This is particularly important if you have small children who are likely to scratch, chew, or lick surfaces. However, it is worth noting that lead-based paint in pristine condition is not a health hazard. 

Lead paint is only a concern when it starts to deteriorate. You should also be worried about exposure during renovations that damage or disturb surfaces covered with lead paint. 

Scraping Lead Paint

When flaking off or disturbed, lead paint produces invisible dust that can be fatal when ingested or inhaled.

Whether buying a home or renting, remember that some houses built after the 1978 lead paint ban may have this hazardous substance.

What To Do When Exposed To Lead Paint

Acute exposure to high levels of lead can cause lead poisoning. Sadly, there is no antidote for lead. Seriously exposed people may need to undergo chelation therapy to accelerate the excretion of lead. A person is considered to be severely exposed when blood lead levels exceed 45 µg/dL.

EDTA chelation therapy may also be used to treat adults with severe lead poisoning and children who cannot tolerate conventional chelation therapy. With EDTA chelation therapy, patients are injected with calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA).

If you suspect that you or your child has been exposed to high amounts of lead, inform your healthcare provider. You can as well contact your local public health department immediately. Lead poisoning is no joke and has serious health risks. A blood test can help determine if your health is at risk.

Get the Help of a Professional Lead Paint Testing Service

Knowing how to identify lead paint in your house or business is a crucial step in ensuring a safe living and working environment. The safest, most accurate, and most effective way to test the presence of lead is through a licensed professional. G3 Environmental is Arizona’s leading environmental service provider offering lead paint testing, mold testing, and asbestos consulting to ensure their clients live in healthy environments. Reach out today to get fast and accurate results regarding lead paint in your home or business.

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