How to remove lead-based paint

Lead paint can be bad news when it comes to your health and your family’s health, and it’s a silent threat that many homeowners are unaware of before it’s too late.

However, knowing how to remove lead-based paint is extremely important because improper removal can dramatically increase the rate of exposure to lead.

Below, I’ll share information on identifying lead-based paint, its dangers, and the benefits and drawbacks of removing it yourself or hiring a professional.

house painters in hazmat suits removing lead paint from an old house

How to Remove Lead-Based Paint: Identifying lead paint

Before looking at how to remove lead-based paint, it’s essential to determine if a home has it. Lead-based paint is mainly found only in most homes painted before 1978. During this year, lead-based paints were banned entirely and taken off the market. Using several methods, you can test for lead paint if you have an older home.

There are many ways to test your home for lead. You can purchase a DIY lead testing kit, hire a certified risk assessor or inspector. Some people contact a laboratory certified under the EPA’s National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program or have the paint tested by a private company, such as one that specializes in lead paint removal.

You’ll need to mail a few safely sealed samples to the EPA-certified labs. You’ll also need to let the post office know that you have “hazardous material” you are shipping.

As for at-home DIY lead tests, the Environmental Protection Agency only recognizes three lead test kits. However, those kits are not on the consumer market but rather used only by Lead-Safe Certified professionals such as the Minneapolis Painting Company. So, any DIY lead testing kit may not be as reliable as certified testing.

You can also view a list of NLLAP accredited labs near you here.

Detecting lead-based paint using an XRF analyzer

How to Remove Lead-Based Paint: The Health Risks Associated with Lead Paint

Lead poisoning is usually a slow process that takes months or years for the substance to build up in the human body. However, lead can lead to severe health issues in small amounts. Kids younger than six years old are especially at risk for lead poisoning, and the adverse health effects can severely impact their physical and mental development.

Lead-based paint and dust contaminated with lead in older structures are the most common areas where children become exposed. Other sources can include contaminated water, air, and soil.

Adults who do home renovations, work with batteries, or in auto repair shops also have a higher risk of negative health effects due to lead poisoning.

The symptoms of lead poisoning

A few symptoms and signs of lead poisoning to look for in children can include:

  • Learning issues
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and sluggishness
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of hearing
  • Eating paint chips (pica)
  • Delayed development
  • Irritability
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Seizures

Symptoms of lead poisoning in unborn children:

Infant exposed to lead before birth could experience:

  • Premature birth
  • Lower birth weight
  • Delayed growth

Symptoms of lead poisoning in adults

While children are most at risk, lead poisoning can also present a danger to adults. Symptoms and signs include:

  • Muscle and joint paint
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty with concentration and memory
  • Headaches
  • Kidney damage
  • Mood disorders
  • Abdominal pain
  • Brain Damage
  • Abnormal or reduced sperm
  • For pregnant women, premature birth, stillbirth, or miscarriage

For more information on lead poisoning symptoms, please visit the CDC website.

How to Remove Lead-Based Paint: Professional Removal vs. DIY Removal

When looking at how to remove lead-based paint, there are a few abatement methods.

Abatement Activities: Option #1 Removal

The first option is the most obvious, removing the paint. However, this option is also the riskiest, especially if you’re doing DIY lead paint removal. While DIY removal is considerably cheaper than hiring paint professionals, it does carry significant risks.

Bob Villa, one of the most prominent DIY experts globally, advises against removing lead-based paint yourself. Villa recommends calling abatement contractors like The Minneapolis Painting Company to tackle this project. The reason behind his strong advice against DIY lead-based paint removal lies in the risk of creating a more significant problem — namely, spreading lead dust into your air and onto surfaces.

The removal of lead paint isn’t like removing oil or latex paint. Even if you’re using a wet scrapping technique, scraping away paint, you are still introducing microscopic lead particles into the air.

You’ll need specialized equipment like a commercial-grade HEPA vacuum, which can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the model.

And no, unfortunately, your regular vacuum with a HEPA filter won’t cut it. Lead particles are small and can slip through most HEPA filters. You can rent these specialized vacuums for about $35-$45 per day.

A few local community health centers will loan out HEPA vacuums to the public for free or at reduced cost as part of a lead remediation program.

There’s also the labor involved. You’ll need to remove all furniture, appliances, and anything else, and for safety, it’s advisable to remove the carpet. You’ll want to cover the entire floor with a plastic drop sheet which you’ll need to dispose of after removing the paint safely.

You’ll also need a high-grade respirator designed to filter lead dust. Masks with P100 filters are popular choices for filtering lead and asbestos. These masks can cost between $15-$80.

Another consideration is clothing. You’ll want to protect yourself by wearing a full-body suit, and these suits will help reduces tracking lead particles outside your work area.

And that leads to another point for those conducting DIY lead-based paint removal. One thing we often don’t give a second thought about when working on a DIY project is taking breaks, whether to rest, eat, or go to the bathroom.

This can be tricky when working in the middle of a room filled with lead particles because if you leave your sealed environment, you could track lead particles to other parts of your home.

It takes great care not to cross-contaminate your home with lead particles as you move in and out of the lead removal area. It’s not unlike those sci-fi movies where someone makes a mistake and accidentally allows a virus to leak out of a contained area.

While lead dust isn’t as dangerous as Ebola, it’s still something you’ll need to take significant measures to control when removing lead-based paint.

Abatement Activities: Option #2 Do Nothing

This point brings me to the second option: to do nothing.

Doing nothing could be the best option if you don’t have the expertise or funds to hire a professional. With lead paint, it can be dangerous if it’s peeling, but you can easily clean up paint chips. Lead dust is created when the paint is exposed to friction, such as chipping, scraping, and sanding.

If the lead paint is still in good condition and you do not have small children who might interact with lead paint chips, this might be an option worth considering.

Abatement Activities: Option #3 Encapsulation

This option is the most straightforward and least expensive method for dealing with lead paint. Encapsulation involves rolling a brushing a special coating that bonds to your painted surface, creating a watertight seal with the lead paint.

However, if you treat doors and window sills with this method, the coating will eventually wear off the more they are opened and closed. However, this could be an ideal option for ceilings and walls.

That said, encapsulation can still cost hundreds to thousands of dollars just for the coating, which runs about $50 a gallon. For example, a 1,200 to 2,000 square foot home could cost between $800 to $1,400 for the coating alone, not including your other materials.

Abatement Activities: Option #4 Enclosure

With this method, you basically cover the old surface with a new surface. It can be as simple as covering windowsills using vinyl or aluminum cladding or enclosing a surface with new drywall. But, if the enclosure’s ever removed, you’ll still have had to deal with the lead paint underneath.

To find out which abatement strategy is best for you, contact the Minneapolis Painting Company for a consultation.

How to Remove Lead-Based Paint

How to Remove Lead-Based Paint: Conclusion

As you can see, when it comes to removing lead-based paint, you have a limited number of abatement activities.

DIY removal is extremely labor-intensive and requires specialized equipment and plenty of precautions not to spread lead dust. It also carries the most significant risk to your health, and it also can affect the health of those in that environment as you’ll be releasing lead particles in the air and onto surfaces.

Encapsulation might be the next best option, as it can seal lead paint, but that protection could easily wear off, especially when sealing doors and windows.

Enclosure, in many cases, is impractical and can be very costly, especially when you’re talking about sealing off an entire area with drywall.

And, of course, there’s the “do nothing option,” which may not be a good option if you have small children and pets you care about due to the high risks.

Thankfully the professionals at the Minneapolis Painting Company are here to help. They can come out and look at your lead paint issue and recommend the best solution.