Although the use of lead in paint is banned in many countries, harmful lead-based paint can be found in numerous older houses where it poses a threat to the health of millions of people, especially young children, pregnant women, and their unborn children.

The existence of lead paint in your house does not pose an immediate health risk if it is in good condition. However, houses with damaged; cracking, peeling, flaking, or crumbling lead-based paints are considered to be lead hazards and deemed unsafe for human habitation unless lead paint removal or remediation is carried out. Exposure to deteriorating lead paint puts you at risk of lead poisoning.

Accumulation of lead paint particles on surfaces with the most human contact such as light switches, door handles and frames, banisters, window seals, and countertops, can result in high levels of lead accumulation in the body.

Millions of people are exposed to lead each day by touching, eating, or breathing deteriorating toxic lead paint particles, peelings, and dust. Lead is absorbed into the human body, and it is stored in the bones and teeth, where it gradually accumulates, and then spreads to the rest of the body. This condition is known as lead poisoning, and it has severe health implications. Lead poisoning, among other things, damages the reproductive and central nervous systems, resulting in infertility, and neuromuscular manifestations.

Dutch boy white lead paint can

Lead poisoning affects the mental and physical development of young children whose bodies absorb lead at a higher rate than adults. Lead in pregnant women has been known to harm their foetus.

Signs and symptoms of long term exposure to lead includes:

  • Loss of short-term memory or concentration.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities.
  • Anaemia
  • Depression.
  • Nausea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Insomnia.
  • Headaches.
  • Abdominal pain

How lead paint affects children.

Exposure to damaged lead paint can severely impair the growing nervous system of young children, whose bodies can absorb up to 50% of ingested lead. Children’s susceptibility to lead exposure is partly due to their natural curiosity, and inclination to taste or swallow things that catch their interest, such as lead paint dust or peelings. Also, children with pica; a chronic and obsessive desire to eat non-food items may peel off and eat lead paint walls and furnishings within the house.

Making a house with lead paint safe

The effects of lead poisoning on young children and developing foetuses can be very devastating to their overall health and neurological development. Economically disadvantaged and undernourished children are at a higher risk of developing lead poisoning.

Effects of lead poisoning on children are:

  • Damaged brain and nervous system resulting in convulsions, coma, and even death.
  • Children who survive chronic lead poisoning can become mentally retarded or may exhibit behavioural disorders.
  • Delay in brain development, resulting in low educational achievement.
  • Increased aggressive behaviour and antisocial tendencies.

How to identify lead paint

Identifying lead paint is the first step before undertaking any kind of paint removal or remedial process. Sometimes a close visual inspection of paint layers in older houses can indicate the possible presence of lead paint.

However, a complete inspection of all painted surfaces in your house by a certified inspector is the most effective method for identifying lead paints on the interior and exterior walls of your house. Also, DIY tests for lead using a lead paint test kit can be used to identify the presence of lead paint around your house.

There are two ways of identifying wet paint, there are:

Hiring a certified lead paint inspector

You can hire a certified lead inspector to assess your house. This is done to identify areas that are painted with lead paint. During the assessment, the inspector will index all painted areas and surfaces inside and outside your house. Afterwards, a test for lead can be done onsite, or paint samples can be collected and sent to an approved laboratory for analysis.

DIY lead paint identification using a lead test kit

DIY lead paint test kits can be purchased from hardware and home improvement stores. Although testing for lead with a lead paint test kit is cheaper, you won’t get the same level of accuracy and detail that you’d have with hiring a certified lead inspector to conduct a lead inspection.

Should I remove lead paint myself?

DIY lead paint removal can be done if you possess enough know-how to do the job yourself. However, DIY lead paint removal is a potentially risky operation because of the toxic nature of lead. The safe methods of removing lead-based paint from houses are guided by strict safety protocols designed to limit human exposure to lead dust and other hazardous waste generated during the removal process. Neglecting these essential safety protocols could result in exposure to harmful lead paint particles.

Some safe lead removal methods have been outlined below to guide you through your DIY lead paint removal project.

  • Wet scraping/hand sanding

This removal method involves dampening the paint surface to minimize the risk of creating lead paint dust during the scraping or sanding process.

For protection during this procedure, wear a ½ face respirator fitted with an approved P2 particulate filter. Deploy plastic sheeting with raised ends to collect water, sweep and safely dispose of all debris after completion.

  • Chemical strippers

Chemically stripping lead paint using environmentally friendly, non-hazardous, and biodegradable materials are the safest and one of the most effective methods for removing lead paint from your home.

For protection during this procedure, you’ll need to equip yourself with a ½ face biological filtration respirator for organic vapors, industrial-grade safety glasses, a pair of chemically resistant gloves, and overalls. Make sure the doors and windows are open.

  • Low-temperature heat method.

This method utilizes low-level heat to partially melt the lead paint right before scrapping. However, this method can generate dust if the paint hardens during the scraping process. Also, dangerous lead fumes could be generated if excess heat is applied.

For protection during the procedure, use a ½ face respirator fitted with an approved P2 particulate filter. To ensure that toxic lead fumes are not produced, temperatures must be kept as minimal as possible. Use a bucket receiver when scraping paint to control the waste disposal process.

  • HEPA vacuum attachment sanding

Here, an electrically powered sander attached to a high-efficiency particulate air filtered vacuum (HEPA) is used to remove lead paint.

For protection during this procedure wear a ½ face respirator fitted with an approved P2 particulate filter, industrial personal protective equipment with gloves and goggles. Seal all openings to prevent lead paint dust from entering other areas, including outdoors. Dispose of all waste materials safely.

Can you paint over lead paint?

Flat painted with lead paint

Painting over lead paint, or encapsulation as it is commonly referred to, is an excellent paint remediation technique. During encapsulation, lead paint is coated over with encapsulant’s (materials used for encapsulating lead paint), to prevent deterioration, and to act as a protective shield against contact from humans. One thing to note though, encapsulation is not a permanent lead remediation strategy. The expected lifespan of an encapsulation project is around ten years.

There are three types of encapsulant:

  • Chemical polymers

These are chemical compounds that when applied, cover the lead paint with a strong and elastic layer of coat.

  • Epoxy or polyurethane

These are compounds that form a hardened, but also flexible layer on a lead paint surface.

  • Cement-based polymers

Forms a thick and hard coating when applied. Like cement, it is applied with a trowel, and it takes a while to cure.

They don’t of encapsulation are as follows:

  • Do not apply encapsulants over damaged lead paint.
  • Do not use traditional water or oil-based paint as an encapsulant.
  • Do not encapsulate high traffic areas that are constantly being walked on, or rubbed together.

What are the other ways to remediate lead paint?

The enclosure method is another lead paint remediation method. The enclosure method is the process of fixing solid objects like paneling, drywall, plywood, aluminum adding, tile, acrylic sheets, etc. to cover surfaces where lead paint is present.

Like encapsulation, the enclosure method is not a permanent means of remediating lead paint. The risk of exposure to lead paint returns if the enclosure is removed.


Scraping or scuffing can turn lead paint into toxic lead dust. Exposure to lead dust increases your chances of lead poisoning. Following safety guidelines is important when carrying out lead paint removal and remedial projects to minimize your exposure to lead particles.

Exposure to lead found in lead-based paint used on walls of houses can result in lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is a fatal condition that is caused by the accumulation of lead in the human body. Children who suffer from lead poisoning experience developmental delays and neurological disabilities.

Although America banned the use of lead paint in 1978. Figures from The Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed that approximately 35 percent of U.S. homes have lead-based paint.

Lead paint in many pre-1978 houses may have been encapsulated, or entirely removed. Have your home tested by a certified lead inspector if you suspect the presence of lead paint in your home. Apply lead remedial techniques if the paint is in good condition, but damaged and deteriorating lead paint must be removed.

You can put a home with lead paint up for sale. Houses built before 1978 are commonly suspected to have lead-based paint. And during the sales process, you are mandated to divulge the presence of lead paint.

Benjamin McInerny
Author: Benjamin McInerny - is a qualified arborist with 20 years of industry experience. Ben has a wide knowledge of renovation and DIY projects around the house such as lawns, fencing and painting. Ben shares his skills with DIY and gardening enthusiasts.