Should You Be Worried About Lead Paint in Your Home?

We asked an expert how to tell–and what to do about it.

Man fixing lead paint wall with paint, mask, and gloves
Photo: RazoomGames/Getty Images

Lead paint: If there's a bogeyman lingering inside your house, it's the fear that some part of it is coated in this dangerous substance.

Lead Paint Risks

Lead can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs, as well as behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures, and even death. Young children and pregnant women, in particular, are at risk, but people (and animals) of any age can experience lead-caused health problems.

Homes With Lead Paint

There's a large amount of lead in lead-based paint, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it's one of the most common causes of lead poisoning. The EPA estimates that 87 percent of homes built before 1940 contain lead-based paint, compared to only 24 percent of homes built between 1960 and 1977. In the United States, the federal government banned the use of lead-containing paint in consumer settings in 1978 (some states banned it even earlier), but many, many homes and rental units across the country still contain traces of it.

How to Protect Your Family

If your home was built after 1978, you are most likely fine. (Though if you're seeking peace of mind, a quick swab test is not inordinately expensive.)

Even if your home was built before 1978, you may not be immediately at risk. Just be sure that the paint on your walls is not deteriorating and is in good shape. Household dust can contain lead from the paint on the walls, but if you are diligent about dusting and vacuuming (and maintaining the paint in high-traffic areas such as windows, window sills, doors, door frames, and stairs), the lead-based paint should not be a problem.

"You do not have to treat an area for lead-based paint if you're not going to disturb the surface," says Mark Lambert, the owner of Five Star Painting of Colorado Springs and an EPA lead-safe certified contractor.

If you have children in your home, though, make sure they are not chewing on railings or other paint-covered surfaces, or touching walls and then putting their hands in their mouths. To keep children completely safe, consider treating any lead paint–covered surfaces.

When Lead Paint is Most Dangerous

Lead-based paint is most dangerous when it is deteriorating—peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, etc. Take extreme caution if you plan to disturb the paint for a big renovation, a repair, or simply a new coat. These activities can create toxic lead dust.

"If you're going to disturb the surface and create dust and flakes that will become airborne, the concern is that you would breathe it in," says Lambert. "So you have to treat it for lead."

To avoid contact with toxic lead dust, painters must wear filtered masks, specialized suits, and gloves, Lambert says. They also must seal the area (if it is not a whole-house renovation), so the dust doesn't spread to other rooms, and properly dispose of any materials, especially if demolition is involved.

Lead Paint Laws

If lead paint is present, contractors are legally obligated to follow these steps and other lead-safe work practices (governed by the Renovation, Repair, and Painting, or RPR, Rule) to reduce risk to employees, residents of the home, and the surrounding environment. Failure to follow these rules can lead to a hefty fine. (Chip and Joanna Gaines's home renovation company, Magnolia Homes, settled with the EPA in 2018 for not following these rules.)

It sounds like scary stuff, but knowledge is power. Being aware of the presence of lead paint allows you to take appropriate actions, whether you're planning a home update or not.

When to Hire Professionals

You can hire an inspector or risk assessor to check your home for lead hazards in a particular area or every surface in your home. You can find a certified inspector near you at If you are considering buying an older home, include a lead paint test in the inspection. Sellers are required to disclose the presence of lead paint, but they might be unaware that it's there.

If you already own a home and know (or suspect) it was built before 1978, ask potential contractors about lead paint tests. Not all are certified to deal with lead paint, and some may not think to ask if a house was built after 1978. Dealing with lead-based paint makes jobs more difficult and costly; Lambert says it can raise a quote by 25 percent or more. Some contractors may forgo suggesting a test because they would have to raise their bids and risk losing the job.

DIY Lead Paint Removal

It may be tempting to take care of lead paint yourself, but that can also be dangerous.

"I advise customers, 'Don't do it yourself,'" Lambert says. "It's possible, but it poses several hazards." Before any painting project or home update, do your research. If your home tests positive for lead paint, hire a certified contractor to repaint the walls with lead-free paint. This temporary solution lasts only as long as the new coat of paint is in good repair. The permanent solution is a long and costly process called abatement, which permanently eliminates lead-based paint hazards. Abatement can be ordered by a state or local government (if a child gets lead poisoning, for example) or be voluntary.

If you are unsure about the rules in your state, you can find more information on the EPA's website. This is also an excellent resource for all things related to lead for homeowners and renters, including testing your family's exposure and finding certified contractors.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles