How to Determine if Your House Has Lead Paint

Testing procedure

Dust sample

Dust sample

Wipe the test area in a backward “S” pattern with a moist cloth, picking up dust to use as a sample.

Test kit Inexpensive lead test kits are available at most home centers and hardware stores, and are a good way to get a quick answer. However, before remodeling bring in a pro to look at your house.

Most lead-based paint poisoning in children occurs by exposure to lead dust, and testing dust will determine if you have a lead hazard you have to deal with. The test kits, available at home centers and hardware stores, include step-by-step instructions for collecting the samples, bags for the samples, plastic gloves and an envelope to send the samples to an EPA-certified lab for analysis. Results, mailed back in about two weeks, will tell if the samples contained a potentially harmful level of lead dust. If you have a dust hazard, contact your local health department for remediation guidelines.

However, before remodeling or otherwise disturbing painted surfaces, it's best to have a professional lead inspection and risk assessment done. This will tell if your home has lead-based paint, where it's located and if it's hazardous. Keep in mind that lead paint itself is not necessarily hazardous, especially if the surface is in good condition and the paint isn't flaking or being worn down (along sliding windows, for example). Find certified inspection firms through your state health department or the Environmental Protection Agency.

Don't be discouraged if you have lead paint. You can handle it safely. Follow the guidelines online at or call your local health department.


Key Safety Tips:

How do you get rid of lead paint? Download this authoritative page shows you all the steps you will take, and it comes from a trusted source. Download and read this excellent document from NY State on the risk and the precautions to take.

When in your home, professional lead removers should:

  • Work for 15 minutes, then take a break in another space.
  • Never use sanders or heat guns to melt lead-based paint—this creates toxic dust and fumes with lead.

Indoors, workers must make sure the workroom is well ventilated. They should set up a fan so it blows air out a window, and start by applying stripper near the fan and backwards, so fumes are always blowing away from you.

Never forget (in addition to all the information given here), workers should follow these rules from the EPA:

  • Remove all furniture, carpets, and drapes and use plastic to seal off the work area
  • Never eat or drink in the work area
  • Keep people (especially children and pregnant women) out of the paint removal area
  • Unless there is lead paint to be removed from the floor, cover the floor
  • Wear a respirator with HEPA or “P100” filters (they are the same thing)
  • After the job is done, dispose of the work clothing
  • Do not wear work clothing outside the work area
  • Destroy or wash work clothes separately from all other laundries
  • Clean up using vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters
  • Wet mop after vacuuming
  • Clean well all tools and dispose of all other contaminated materials in accordance with local laws.

How Do You Test Paint for Lead?

You can do the DIY lead paint test yourself with the right testing kit that is EPA approved.

The Klean-Strip D-Lead Paint testing kit and the 3M LeadCheck Swabs are the two well-known lead paint detection kits that are easy to use.

These are available at stores like Amazon, Home Depot, etc.

Either kit is not cheap, but they are far less expensive compared to hiring a professional to do the job.

You should try to do the lead testing yourself and if verification is needed, then hiring a pro is recommended.

With the exception of paints that are red or pink, you can use a rhodizonate-based testing kit that is perfect for lighter colors.

If you have some red or pink-based paints, then a sulfide kit is arguably the best.

However, sulfide kits are not well-suited for dark paints.

You may want to read the instructions or consult with experts in case you are testing a deep, dark red paint that may elicit a false positive.

In addition to the lead paint tester kit, you will need a good, sharp utility blade to make the incision.

You may want to wear gloves or protective gear, but keep in mind that apart from flaking, lead-based paint is most dangerous when ingested.

It is best to ventilate the rooms to minimize exposure. And also keep away your children and pets when testing.

Below is a video that shows how you can use a 3m lead test kit. You can follow the easy instructions here to test yourself if the paint in your home has lead or not.

How Much Does it Cost to Test for Lead Paint?

DIY Lead-paint testing kits vary in cost, but they are usually well under $100.

You can find the right one for around $10 to $20 that best suits the color of paint in your home for the most accurate result.

Hiring a professional will cost considerably more money (usually around $25 to $100), but they will often use the same types of kits more than once.

But if you should get a positive result that is verified by a second test, then you should go through the EPA to find a professional that can test the same areas again.

What Are the Health Risks of Lead Paint?

There’s a good reason that lead-based paint was banned in the United States. Lead is a toxic metal, and if you have it in your home, it’s important to take steps to ensure you limit the health risks to you and your family.

Children are at increased risk for lead poisoning, through ingestion from several sources. They have a tendency to chew on lead-painted surfaces. These may include door edges, window sills, built-in shelving, and even some toys. Lead paint chips and dust can coat their sticky fingers as they play on the ground and subsequently put those fingers in their mouths. Both children and adults are most at risk when lead paint peels, cracks, chips, or deteriorates over time and produces lead dust.

When lead dust particles are inhaled, they can lead to serious and sometimes fatal health problems. Symptoms include the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Developmental problems in children
  • Nausea and abdominal pain
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Memory and focus problems
  • Mood disorders
  • Fertility problems in both men and women

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Does the House You Want to Buy Have Lead Paint?

Chances are good if the house you want to buy has lead paint if it was built before 1978 — unless it’s been repainted, renovated, or restored after that year. Also, sellers must notify you if they know their house has lead paint.

If sellers haven’t checked for lead paint, there is no requirement they need to before they sell their house. In this case, you should ask if the seller has any knowledge of lead paint and ask for an inspection if the house was built before 1978.

Keep in mind that each state has its own regulations regarding the buying and selling of houses with lead-based paint. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website for more information on individual state requirements.

An experienced Clever Partner Agent can help you negotiate with sellers to have them pay for an inspection to test for lead-based paint.

Should You Hire a Contractor to Inspect for Lead Paint?

If you find evidence of chipping and cracking on a house built before 1978, you should have it inspected by a trained professional. You need to know if it poses a threat — especially if you have a child under the age of six.

Most certified inspectors will look deep into the paint using X-ray technology. If inspectors do find lead, they can remove it, but it will cost more money. The EPA estimates it costs $8 to $17 per square footto remove lead paint, according to HomeAdvisor.

If you try and remove the paint yourself, you’re in danger of lead dust forming. Even small amounts of this toxic dust can lead to short and long-term health problems.

When you choose to work with one of our Clever Partner Agents, you’ll receive the services of a skilled agent who knows how to deal with lead paint. If you need guidance on the laws and regulations surrounding lead paint, our Partner Agents can help.

Our agents will address any concerns about lead paint you might have and whether or not it’s safe for you and your family to buy a house built before 1978.

Get the Paint Tested

You can buy at-home test kits for the paint to detect lead. Home test kits are inexpensive and easy to use, but they aren’t 100% accurate. If a home kit tests negative but you still suspect the presence of lead paint in the home, you can pay to have a professional test done. For a professional test, you will be required to send in a paint sample, or a specialist might come to your home.

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Signs of Lead Paint

Unfortunately, there’s no way to simply look at paint and know definitively whether or not it contains lead. Like with most household issues, you’ll have to dig a little deeper and actually get it tested to be sure.

That being said, there are some things you can look for that are common indicators of lead paint, and keeping an eye out for them can help you determine whether or not you should get it tested.

Chief among them is “alligatoring,” which happens when the paint starts to crack and wrinkle, creating a pattern that resembles reptilian scales. This is a sign that your paint may contain lead.

Another sign that you might be dealing with lead p

Another sign that you might be dealing with lead paint is if it produces a chalky residue when it rubs off.

If you notice either of these characteristics in a

If you notice either of these characteristics in any paint in or around your home, you should have it tested right away. Keep in mind that it may be harder to spot scaly or chalky paint if it has layers of new paint covering it, so it’s a good idea to look inside closets, around baseboards, behind appliances, and in other areas where people may not have bothered to paint over.

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