How To Safely Tackle Lead Paint Removal in Your Home

Lead Paint Removal

photographer / Getty Images

Overview
  • Working Time: 4 - 6 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to $100

Lead paint, which is a significant health hazard, was banned by the Federal government in 1978. But that doesn't mean that your home doesn't have it. Even though homes built before the ban are especially prone to have lead-based paint on the walls, any home might have this paint on sills, door frames, banisters, or just about any other paintable surface.

Hiring professionals is almost always the safest way to remove lead-based paint, but do-it-yourself lead paint removal is another option that some homeowners opt for. Given the serious health risks, removal of lead paint requires attention to detail, great care, and adherence to safety rules.

Determining If Your Home Has Lead Paint

 Year House Built  Chance of Lead Paint
 Prior to 1940  87%
 1940 to 1960  69%
 1960 to 1978  24%

Newer homes are statistically less likely to contain lead-based paint. Still, some homes built after 1978 may contain lead paint, as contractors or homeowners used existing supplies of lead paint until they ran out.

Some older properties may still have paint cans in attics or basements. Many of these cans will indicate on the label that they contain lead. If you find cans like this, there is a higher likelihood that someone used lead paint in your home at some point.

If you're still not sure, suspected lead paint can be tested by a laboratory. Small samples of the paint dust are sent to a lab for analysis. This is very easy to do and can be accomplished with an inexpensive kit picked up at your local hardware or home improvement store.

Safety Considerations

As a do-it-yourselfer, practicing containment, protection, dust reduction, and cleaning techniques will help you safely remove lead paint from your home. These are the same EPA-recommended techniques used by professionals.

  • Containment: The work area must be contained behind an air-tight plastic curtain. Dust should not be allowed to leave the worksite.
  • Protection: Anyone on the worksite who is removing lead paint should wear full protective gear.
  • Dust Reduction: Water, delivered in mist form with a spray bottle, helps to contain the dust when lead paint is being scraped or sanded off.
  • Cleaning: The work should be cleaned up with a HEPA vacuum, typically found at a rental yard. Do not use your home's vacuum. After the work has concluded, anyone who was in the worksite should clean off and either wash or dispose of any protective gear.

Warning

When it comes to removing lead paint, there are methods you should avoid. Do not use an open flame or try to burn off the lead-based paint. Do not use a heat gun.

Before You Begin

Make sure that all children and pets are out of the house when removing the lead paint. Turn off any forced air heating or cooling systems. Close interior doors. Take special care with nurseries and children's rooms. Make sure that no food is left out on the kitchen counters. Remove furniture and all unnecessary items from the worksite.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Wet/dry HEPA vacuum (rental)
  • Spray bottle
  • Full disposable coveralls with hood and booties
  • Latex gloves
  • Putty knife
  • Staple gun
  • Respirator
  • Cordless electric sander
  • Sanding sponge or block

Materials

  • Duct tape
  • Painter's tape
  • Sheet plastic
  • Lead testing kit (if desired)

Instructions

  1. Set up the Containment System

    Staple or tape the sheet plastic against the walls, ceiling, and floor to create an air-tight barrier. Cover the flooring. If you are working outside, cover the ground with a tarp.

  2. Put on the Protective Gear

    Put on the one-piece coveralls with booties. Place the hoodie over your head and put on the respirator. Put on the gloves. All protective gear must be tight. If the connection between the gloves and coveralls is not tight, tape them down.

  3. Spray the Surface and Scrape It

    With clean water in the sprayer, mist the surface of the area. Keep the sprayer in one hand and scrape away the paint using the other hand. Keep the lead paint continually wet.

  4. Sand the Surface

    Whenever possible, scrape away lead-based paint rather than sanding it. It is always preferable to remove lead paint in large sections. If scraping fails, though, switch to either the hand-held sanding block or the cordless electric sander.

    As with the scraping method, liberally wet down the surface before sanding. All removed debris should be wet; it should never be dry or powdery.

    Warning

    Do not use a corded electric sander because of the danger of electric shock with the large quantities of water needed to hold down the dust.

  5. Clean the Worksite

    After removing the paint, clean up the worksite thoroughly using the HEPA vacuum. Carefully remove the plastic wall. While still wearing protective gear, wipe down all surfaces with a wet cloth. Wet mop the floor.

    Dispose of all protective gear and plastic wall coverings in a safe manner. Wash all contaminated clothing. Wet-clean all tools.

    Do not put the debris in the household trash. Contact your city or county for information about how to safely dispose of lead-based paint debris.