How To: Remove Lead Paint
Rid your home of this toxic additive to keep your loved ones safe from exposure.
Adding lead pigment to paint started way back in the Colonial era, as it made paint extremely durable. By the mid-1900s, however, health officials became aware of the hazards of lead exposure, including brain and organ damage. Lead paints began to be removed from the market, and were completely banned in 1978—yet lead-based paint can still be found on door and window trim, and on painted stairways, in many homes built prior to that time. If you own an old home and think it may be present in the old, untouched paint jobs, you can actually test for lead paint to confirm your suspicions.
The mere presence of lead paint in your home doesn’t necessarily indicate a health risk, though. If the paint is still in good shape, it can simply be repainted to protect residents from exposure. The danger from lead paint increases when it’s peeling or otherwise deteriorating, which can lead to the inhalation of lead dust or the swallowing of lead-based paint chips.
The good news is that you needn’t pay a lead abatement contractor big bucks to banish deteriorating lead paint in your home. If you’re the handy type, you can follow this guide on how to remove lead paint yourself, using safe and approved methods.
Note: This process requires careful preparation to prevent exposing other parts of your home to lead dust and debris. You’ll also need to clean up after the job with a HEPA vacuum designed for lead dust removal—not your home vacuum with a HEPA filter. HEPA vacuums designed for lead dust removal resemble shop-type canister vacuums; you can purchase one (starting at around $300) or rent from a construction rental store for $35 to $45 per day. (Note: Some local community health centers loan out HEPA vacuums at no charge, or for a small fee, as part of a lead remediation program.)
Carefully reading through the following steps for how to remove lead paint before picking up the special tools and diving in. You’ll breathe easier knowing you’ve protected your family from the dangers of deteriorating lead paint.
Remove furniture, area rugs, and all other items from the room you’ll be working on. Unless the house is vacant, it’s a good idea to limit lead paint removal to one room at a time to reduce the risk of spreading hazardous dust to other rooms.
Spread 6 mm plastic sheeting over the entire floor, using duct tape to secure it at the edges to the bottom of the walls or to the baseboards. This prevents lead paint chips and dust from contaminating carpeting or sifting through the gaps in hardwood and laminate flooring.
Turn off your HVAC system and use clear plastic or duct tape to cover heating vents and registers. This will keep lead dust from entering your home’s ventilation system. Close any windows in the room to prevent drafts, which can distribute lead dust.
Fill a large plastic bucket halfway with warm water, and put it in the room—along with a sponge or rags—where you’ll be removing lead paint. Then seal off adjacent rooms by covering doorways with 6 mil plastic sheeting and clear plastic tape.
Protect yourself before you attempt to remove lead paint by wearing a lead-rated respirator mask (not a dust mask), fitted with an approved HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter. You’ll also need to don goggles and rubber gloves and be sure to wear old clothing that you can dispose of when you’re done.
Spray areas of chipped or peeling paint thoroughly with a spray bottle filled with water. The key to removing lead paint is to “work wet,” which reduces the risk of inhaling lead dust. Keep your work area relatively small, approximately two to three feet or so, to ensure that the area you’re working on remains wet at all times.
Scrape away loosened bits of paint with a hand scraper. It’s not necessary to remove all the lead paint, just the paint that is peeling or deteriorating. The paint that is still firmly attached can be painted over without scraping.
Spray the area you’re working on with water again, and then sand with sanding sponges if necessary to smooth down rough areas caused by scraping. The same rule applies here: Keep the area wet while you’re working. Wet sanding takes a little longer than dry sanding but it won’t create toxic lead dust.
Wipe and clean the area with a dampened sponge as you go. This will help remove residual lead dust and debris safely. Change the water in the bucket frequently to keep it clean.
Clean up your work area when you’re done scraping and sanding by vacuuming thoroughly with a certified HEPA vacuum—and, we repeat, not a household vacuum with a HEPA filter. Using the wand and nozzle attachment, vacuum right over the plastic sheeting to remove as much loose dust as possible.
Carefully remove the plastic sheeting covering the floor and doorways. Fold its edges into the center to trap any remaining paint chips or particles before rolling up the sheeting and placing it in a garbage bag. It may be permissible to put the bag in your outdoor garbage can for pickup, but it’s a good idea to check with your local waste authority first—a different disposal method may be recommended or required.