Before humans knew the dangers of lead, it was a common ingredient in house paint, where it acted as a pigment and increased durability. Though banned for use in paint in the U.S. in 1978, millions of homes, schools, and businesses still have lead-based paint on their walls, both inside and out. 

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that lead-based paint is present in about 24% of homes constructed between 1960 and 1978, 69% of homes built from 1940 to 1960, and 87% of homes erected before 1940.

If the paint is in good condition and has been painted over, it usually doesn’t pose a problem. But if the paint is peeling or has been disturbed by scraping, sanding, or burning, it can pose significant health risks to you and your family, especially young children.

Symptoms and Health Risks from Lead Poisoning

Lead enters your bloodstream by ingesting contaminated dust, eating paint chips, or breathing fumes or dust from sanding or torching. Symptoms include:

  • Difficulties in pregnancy
  • Headaches
  • Hearing problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of memory and concentration
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Reproductive problems
  • Trouble with digestion

Children, especially those under two years old, are extremely sensitive to lead. In addition to the health problems listed above, children exposed to lead may develop:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Learning disorders
  • Reduction in IQ levels
  • Slowed growth

Long-term exposure to lead also causes permanent learning and behavior disorders in children. Even low levels of lead in a child’s bloodstream impact brain development, IQ, ability to pay attention and academic achievement. The effects of childhood lead poisoning persist into adulthood.

Testing for Lead

Detecting lead paint is the first step toward protecting your family. There are a few options for checking for lead in paint.

Before attempting renovation on older homes or painting that involves scraping or sanding, you should test the paint in your house for lead. You have three options for testing:

  1. Hire a professional service that employs X-ray fluorescence technology ($250-$700)
  2. Send paint chips to a laboratory for testing ($30-$100 per sample)
  3. Use a do-it-yourself test kit ($10-$30)

DIY test kits for detecting lead in paint typically use sodium sulfide or rhodizonate. Sodium sulfide is effective except on dark paints, while rhodizonate should not be used on red paints. Though once seen as unreliable, in 2008, Consumer Reports endorsed two kits for their effectiveness: the First Alert Premium Lead Test Kit (#LT1) with sodium sulfide and the SKC LeadCheck (#225-2404) with rhodizonate.

Today’s Homeowner Tips

For accurate results, all the layers of paint need exposure to testing, especially older ones. Be sure to read and follow the directions carefully and consider conducting tests using both chemicals on dark or red-colored paints.

Professional lead inspection services use XRF technology to test paint, dust, soil, and other materials for lead content. This method is more accurate than DIY kits. An XRF inspection should sample various painted surfaces, joints, and trims throughout your home. Inspectors also test the soil around the exterior where old paint may have chipped or peeled.

Living with Lead Paint

If your house has lead paint that’s intact—neither peeling nor deteriorating—safety is key. Here’s how to safeguard your household:

Ensure your children undergo lead testing. A basic blood test can reveal dangerous lead levels. The Centers for Disease Control advises lead tests for kids at one and two years old.

Maintain the cleanliness of floors and woodwork. Equip your vacuum with a HEPA filter, regularly replacing the bag and filter. For floors and woodwork, you can dampen a mop and sponge with warm, soapy water, rinsing frequently.

Regularly wash your children’s hands and their toys, bottles, stuffed animals, and pacifiers. Prevent kids from picking at peeling paint, consuming paint flakes, or gnawing on painted surfaces.

Steer clear of renovations that can disperse lead dust. If renovations are necessary, hire certified professionals. Refrain from sanding, scraping, or disturbing lead paint yourself.

Cover bare soil with grass in outdoor areas to prevent exposure to lead-contaminated soil.

Lead Paint Removal

When taking on a remodeling or painting project in a house that contains lead paint, hiring a contractor trained and certified in lead paint removal is best. Certifications to look for include EPA Lead-Safe Certification and state and local licensing.

You should consider moving out while the renovation is ongoing or at least have the contractor completely seal off the area under construction from the rest of your house and disconnect any HVAC ductwork that could spread dust.

If you plan to attempt the work yourself, follow these guidelines:

  • Clean up often using a HEPA filter vacuum and damp mop.
  • Cover the floor with tarps or plastic.
  • Disconnect heating and cooling ducts to the area under renovation.
  • Dispose of waste following EPA guidelines.
  • Do not sand, torch, grind, sandblast, or use a heat gun on surfaces with lead paint.
  • Remove all furniture, food, and other items from the construction area.
  • Seal off the area using plastic sheets.
  • Wash your hands often, especially before eating.
  • Wear a NIOSH-certified respirator with a HEPA filter made for lead.

However, full lead abatement should only be done by certified lead removal professionals. They employ strict safety protocols to contain, remove, and dispose of all contaminated materials. Removing lead paint without proper training, equipment, and containment procedures worsens the hazards.

So, Is Lead Paint Dangerous?

Lead paint poses significant health dangers if deteriorating paint creates lead dust and paint chips. Even low lead exposure damages a child’s mental development and health. While undisturbed lead paint is usually not an immediate hazard, the only long-term solution is professional abatement or encapsulation. You should fully remove lead paint risks rather than just manage them. Overall, lead paint is dangerous due to its serious health consequences, but you can control the risks by working with certified lead abatement professionals.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my house has lead paint?

The easiest way is to have a lead inspection and risk assessment done by a certified professional. They can test paint and dust in your home for lead content. Another indicator is the age of your home, with pre-1978 homes at the highest risk.

What should I do if my home tests positive for lead paint?

If lead paint is intact, you can take interim precautions like cleaning with HEPA vacuums and preventing children from touching painted surfaces. However, you must work with a certified abatement contractor to fully remove or encapsulate the lead paint for a long-term solution.

Is it safe to remove lead paint myself?

I do not recommend removing lead paint yourself. Removing lead paint without proper training and equipment worsens hazards. The containment process is complex, so hiring certified lead abatement professionals is best.

How can I limit risks from lead paint in my home?

It’s important to maintain a strict cleaning regime using a HEPA vacuum and to regularly wet mop your floors to minimize the dangers of lead paint in your home. Make sure that the paint is kept in good condition without letting it deteriorate; surfaces should be clean and well-sealed.

Always employ a certified contractor who can safely handle lead paint when considering renovations. Avoid scraping, sanding, or disturbing areas with lead paint. Additionally, ensure your children’s lead levels are tested to monitor any potential exposure.

What are the main health risks from lead paint?

Lead is especially harmful to children’s brain development. It can lower IQ, hurt learning ability, cause behavior disorders, and damage organs. Adults may experience fatigue, headaches, stomach issues, memory loss, muscle weakness, hypertension, and reproductive health problems.

Editorial Contributors
avatar for Abbie Clark

Abbie Clark


Abbie Clark is a writer and blogger. She is the founder of "Hey She Thrives", where she writes about all things motherhood, coupled with expert cleaning tips that echo the warmth and order of a loving home. She is also the co founder of "RideRambler." There, you can find all of the info you'll ever need on DIY car fixes and Auto news.When not writing, you can find Abbie chasing her toddler, trying a new cookie recipe, or fishing with her husband.

Learn More

photo of Amy DeYoung

Amy DeYoung


Amy DeYoung has a passion for educating and motivating homeowners to improve their lives through home improvement projects and preventative measures. She is a content writer and editor specializing in pest control, moving, window, and lawn/gardening content for Today’s Homeowner. Amy utilizes her own experience within the pest control and real estate industry to educate readers. She studied business, communications, and writing at Arizona State University.

Learn More