Does your home contain lead paint? Are you not sure if it does or doesn’t? Painting over existing lead paint is a proven remediation technique. When you follow all the necessary steps and safety precautions, painting over it is a great way to seal in lead-containing paint, spruce up your home, and protect your family from the potential dangers of lead poisoning.

Keep reading to learn how to find out if you have lead-based paint in your home and the dos and don’ts of painting over it!

How to Identify Lead Paint

Before you can decide how best to deal with it, you need to know how to accurately identify lead paint. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to discover you have lead-based paint somewhere in your home. In fact, any home built before 1978 is likely to contain lead paint, so if you live in an older home or you don’t have a clear record of what projects have been done in your home over the last few decades, it’s a good idea to test any paint for lead before you do anything to it.

You have a couple of options when it comes to lead paint testing:

Once you’ve identified whether or not your paint contains lead, it will be much easier to go about painting over it, armed with the knowledge you need to be safe and sure.

Is Lead Paint Dangerous?

Lead paint can be dangerous when it begins to deteriorate, crack, or peel or when it is sanded or demolished. Lead is a toxic metal that can lead to a variety of health problems in humans, especially young children, and other at-risk groups. When lead or lead dust is ingested, inhaled, or otherwise absorbed into the body, it can damage the brain, kidneys, nerves, and blood. In extreme cases, it can also cause learning disabilities, seizures, and even death.

The first symptoms of lead poisoning can include:

  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue or irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite

If you or a loved one experiences any symptoms of lead poisoning, consult a medical professional for confirmation then remove yourself from the home or work environment. If you suspect the lead exposure is from your home, seek an experienced environmental consultant or industrial hygienist to perform an investigation to identify the source. Once identified, it is recommended to hire a certified lead paint abatement contractor to perform the remediation.

Can You Paint Over Lead Paint Safely?

You can absolutely paint over lead-based paint in your home, but it’s important to follow specific steps, guidelines, and safety protocols. Painting over lead paint is known as “encapsulation,” and it’s frequently used as an effective remediation technique. In fact, it’s less expensive and safer than lead paint removal, since it doesn’t disturb the existing paint and doesn’t tend to release lead dust or toxic particles into the air.

painting over lead paint

Just remember that conventional oil- or water-based paints are not sufficient for encapsulation. You’ll need to use specific paints called “encapsulants” during the process, and follow the necessary steps to ensure the job is done correctly and that you, your family, and any on-site workers are protected from the potential dangers of lead paint and lead dust.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Painting over Lead Paint: Steps to Follow

1. DO Test the Existing Paint for Lead

Before you do anything, you need to determine whether or not the paint in question actually contains lead. You can pick up an at-home DIY test kit from your local hardware store or home improvement center for around $10 to $15. These kits typically involve peeling or scraping the paint back and swabbing it with a reagent.

Keep in mind, however, that DIY test kits aren’t as safe or reliable as professional testing and analysis. For the most accurate results, it’s a good idea to send your sample to a laboratory for Flame AAS testing.

2. DON’T Chip, Scrape, or Sand Lead Paint

When preparing the lead paint surface to be painted over, it’s extremely important that you don’t disturb the existing paint. Any sanding, scraping, chipping, or other forms of friction against a lead paint surface can release particles of lead dust into the air, which can be hazardous to human health.

Instead, simply wipe down the existing surface with a warm, wet towel to prepare it to be painted over. If the paint is already significantly chipped or deteriorated, you’re probably better off hiring professionals for lead paint removal.

3. DO Take Safety Precautions

Take steps to protect your home, family, and any on-site workers. It’s a good idea to prepare the area by laying down drop cloths and securing them to the floor with painter’s tape. You also may want to wear gloves, protective clothing, and/or foot coverings to make sure you keep the paint off your clothes.

In order to ensure the process is as safe as possible, here are some steps to take:

  • Keep children and at-risk adults away from the worksite.
  • Wear respiratory protection for lead dust.
  • Keep the area as clean as possible.
  • Consider running a High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) in order to filter any lead dust out of the air while you work and for a time after.

4. DON’T Spread or Carry Dust Away From the Worksite

Although the goal is to avoid disturbing the existing lead paint as much as you can, it’s still a good idea to take precautions to ensure you don’t carry any lead chips, dust, or debris away from the site.

Throw away any disposable gloves or protective gear you wear and immediately run your clothes through the wash to ensure you don’t contaminate other parts of your home with lead-containing materials. Also dispose of any drop cloths, tape, or other tools you use when painting over lead paint. Call your residential waste disposal company first, however, due to the very low lead paint disturbance, most waste companies will be able to accept your debris or at least forward you to an operator that will.

5. DO Use an Encapsulant

Using encapsulants is the best and safest way to cover lead paint in order to prevent it from producing dangerous lead-containing dust. Encapsulants are thicker than regular paint primers and work to seal or “encapsulate” the lead paint behind a membrane. There are three types of encapsulants: traditional polymers, epoxy or polyurethane polymers, and cement-like substances that contain polymers.

You can typically find encapsulant primers at your local hardware or paint store. Just make sure you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when it comes to testing, preparation, and application.

Keep in mind that encapsulants are not guaranteed when applied to the following types of surfaces, as they cannot provide permanent protection due to friction or deterioration:

  • Floors or other walked-on areas
  • Areas that rub together, like drawers or door frames
  • Badly deteriorated areas

Do you have lead paint in your home?

JSE Labs offers accurate, professional, and efficient lead paint testing and analysis, in addition to a wide variety of other residential and commercial services. If you’re unsure if your home contains lead-based paint or another toxic contaminant, we can provide you with quick, reliable results, every time.

Protect your health and the safety of your family. Collect and mail in or drop off your own sample or have one of our specialists collect it for you, and feel free to contact us with any questions.