Lead in household dust can be caused by deteriorating lead-based paint in your home. It can also be tracked in from outside or carried in on clothing. When lead dust exists on the surfaces in your home or in the air you breathe, it has the potential to cause serious health problems, especially in small children.
Protect yourself and your family by knowing the warning signs and taking steps to keep your home free of lead-containing dust. Keep reading to learn how to identify, test for, and remove lead dust in your home.
Identifying Lead Dust
One of the best ways to avoid the long-term hazards and inconveniences caused by lead dust is simply knowing how to identify it. Unfortunately, lead dust is not all that uncommon. Lead in household dust can result from a variety of sources, including the following:
- Indoor surfaces (such as window frames or doors) that bump or rub against other objects
- Deteriorating lead paint on any surface in the home
- Home repair or remodel activities
- Lead-contaminated soil that’s tracked indoors from outside environments
- Clothing worn at a job site
Finding lead dust in your home is not unusual, and lead-based paint is the most common culprit. That’s partly because so many homes have it. In fact, any home built during the 1970s or before is likely to contain lead-based paint. In 1978, the federal government broadly banned the use of lead-containing paint, following some statewide bans that came earlier. However, many homes built before the ban are still standing, so lead dust is a concern for many homeowners.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to smell or taste lead and it’s not visible to the naked eye. That means there’s no easy way to identify lead dust in your home or on your clothes without a test. So how do you know if you need to test for it? If your home was built before 1978 and you have cracking or peeling paint (or if you plan to remove or disturb paint in your home), it’s a good idea to test for lead paint. It’s also helpful to test for lead dust if you intend to sell or rent your home.
The Risk of Lead Poisoning
The reason it’s important to determine whether or not your household dust contains lead is that, if it does, it can pose serious health risks. Lead poisoning occurs when lead is ingested. It can also be the result of breathing in dust that contains lead.
The health effects of lead exposure are serious. Breathing in dust-containing lead can cause brain, nervous system, and organ damage in children. It can also lead to behavior and learning problems in addition to slowed growth and development.
In adults, lead exposure can cause a number of health issues, including the following:
- Fertility problems (for both men and women)
- High blood pressure
- Hearing and vision loss
- Nerve disorders
- Memory problems
- Brain and kidney damage
- Muscle and joint pain
If you’re concerned you may have lead dust in your home, it’s worth testing for it. The potential impact on your health associated with having unidentified lead-containing dust in your home is simply not worth the risk.
Testing for Lead Dust
When it comes to testing the dust in your home for lead, you have a couple of different options. While professional lab testing is always the safest and most accurate way to determine whether your dust contains lead, there are also DIY lead test kits that offer an affordable alternative.
Each method of testing has its benefits, but it’s important to know what to expect from each option before you rely on the results.
DIY Lead Testing
Using a DIY test kit is a great first step if you suspect you have lead-based paint or lead-contaminated dust in your home. You can typically buy them for an affordable price (about $10 or $15) at your local hardware store or home improvement center. Lead paint test kits typically involve scraping or peeling an area of paint back and swabbing it with the reagent.
If you choose to test for lead yourself, look for a kit that’s recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In order for a test to meet the EPA’s criteria, it must produce an accurate result 95 percent of the time. It’s also a good idea to test more than once, to protect against the risk of a false positive or negative.
Professional Lead Testing
By far the most swift, safe, and accurate way to test for the presence of lead in your home is to have your sample professionally tested at an accredited lab. Many labs allow you to collect your own sample, which involves cutting a section of paint or using a wipe to collect dust, and mailing it in or dropping it off for testing. You can also have a professional come in and collect your sample for you.
We recommend having your paint or dust professionally tested in the following situations:
- If you’ve tested the paint or dust yourself but aren’t sure you trust the results.
- If you notice any signs or symptoms of lead exposure in yourself or a member of your household.
- If you’re planning to renovate, demolish, or otherwise disrupt any paint in a home built before 1978.
One of the nice things about professional testing is that you can often have the same sample tested for multiple toxic contaminants. For example, if you’re concerned about both lead and asbestos, you can collect and submit one sample and have it tested for both on the same day.
Removing Lead Dust
If you discover lead-containing dust in your home, it’s vital that you remove it as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible in order to avoid the adverse health effects of breathing in the dust. Unfortunately, lead dust can’t simply be vacuumed up with a regular vacuum.
First and foremost, you need to remove the source of the lead dust in your home. Is it being caused by chipping paint? Was it brought in on clothing worn at a job site? Was it tracked in on soil from outside? It’s important to get to the root cause of the dust to remedy it and ensure you don’t continue to gather more lead dust in your home.
How do you remove lead dust from surfaces?
The best way to clean up lead dust that’s present on surfaces like window sills, doors, walls, and floors is by wet washing them with household detergent and water.
It’s important to do this as carefully and methodically as possible to make sure you actually remove the dust that’s settled completely, as opposed to simply kicking it up back into the air. Work carefully and purposefully, and put any rags or towels you use into a double-sealed bag and put them outside immediately.
How do you remove lead dust from clothes?
Any clothing that has been exposed to lead dust on a job site or in your home should be put directly into the washing machine. Use detergent to remove the lead from the clothing; don’t mix any other items in with those that have been exposed to lead.
Once you’ve washed the clothes that have been exposed to lead-contaminated dust, run the washing machine through another wash cycle while it’s completely empty to remove any remaining lead dust.
How do you get rid of lead dust in the air?
Unfortunately, your typical household vacuum cleaner or air filter won’t collect small enough particles to clean air that contains lead dust. In fact, a regular vacuum cleaner can actually kick up dust that’s settled on the floor back into the air, increasing your risk of breathing it in and experiencing health issues. The best way to remove lead dust from the air is to use a High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) vacuum. These air vacuums have special filters that capture small pieces of lead.
Could there be lead dust in your air or on surfaces in your home?
At JSE Labs, we’re dedicated to delivering you accurate results as quickly and efficiently as possible. We offer same-day testing, results, and analysis, and our methods can detect even tiny amounts of lead with just one small sample.