How Do You Get Lead Poisoning From Paint? (Safety Guide)

Last Updated On September 1, 2023

Have you ever worried about getting lead poisoning from paint? 

Well, if you have and you're getting ready to fix some old, peeling lead paint, here are a few things you should know first:

  • Lead-paint poisoning is 100% preventable
  • There is a special encapsulating paint designed to contain lead paint
  • In just 5 steps, you can eliminate the lead paint poison risk from your home
how do you get lead poisoning from paint (1)

So if you want to learn more about how to prevent lead poisoning and avoid lead paint, keep reading to hear all of our recommendations to protect your health!

What Do You Need To Know About Lead Exposure And Paint?

Lead paint poisoning is not a new problem and it's one of the most common sources of lead exposure and high levels of lead. 

In 1978, the United States health department outlawed lead paint because of the health risks it posed. 

But, if you live in a home built before then, it’s possible that there are still a few layers of old paint lurking on the walls.

You may think it’s not a health risk anymore since it’s been painted over many times. But, the paint can still pose a risk during construction, even if it’s not flaking or chipping. 

This is because sanding or stripping a surface with lead paint on it releases lead dust particles into the air that are then inhaled and enter the bloodstream. Once enough of these particles make it into the body, it’s very difficult for the body to get rid of this heavy metal.

This eventually causes lead poisoning, because the body has a toxic buildup that it can’t unload. 

That’s why it’s essential for you to understand the risks of working with lead paint, as well as the proper precautions you can take to keep yourself and those around you safe.

Did you know: Lead dust is the most common source of lead poisoning for every demographic.  But, unfortunately, it's also invisible to the naked eye.

What Are The Health Risks Of Working With Lead Paint?

Lead poisoning is difficult to reverse once it’s started and can have devastating health effects, especially because no amount of lead  in the blood is considered safe for the body. 

Lead builds up within the body's tissues very quickly and chelation therapy is one of the only ways to detoxify your blood cells when it reaches those high levels.

The problem is, the symptoms of lead poisoning in the body can be sneaky and usually would require a blood test to confirm the lead poisoning. Some signs of high blood lead levels are subtle and could seem like a common cold or flu. These can be things like shortness of breath, vomiting, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. 

But once the lead-poisoning reaches a more severe point, the effects of lead on the body can cause symptoms like seizures, hearing loss, and miscarriage. High levels of lead in the body (anything above 10 micrograms) can also cause irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system.

However, even low levels of lead can cause health concerns. This is why it’s important to check your home for sources of lead paint that could cause issues and take extra care before you do any construction work.

Read More >> How to Clean a Paint Sprayer

Young Children Are At Higher Risk For Lead Poisoning And Lead Exposure

kid peeling lead paint

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommends cleaning up any areas that are worse for wear, and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends taking extra precautions if children or pregnant women are in your home. 

Children are often at higher risk for lead poisoning.

This is because kids tend to put everything in their mouths.

Kids have an easier time finding the corners of the room and the framework where paint often peels off. Plus, they spend a lot of time on the floor where they can come in contact with paint dust that is hard to see with the naked eye.

They can also come into contact with lead paint outdoors if there is peeling or cracking paint on the outside of the home.

This is why it’s so important to do a thorough check of the paint and surrounding areas of your home before allowing a child to roam free. Children exposed to high lead levels can have serious developmental issues and health problems, and it takes a much smaller level of lead exposure to cause harm to them, so be sure to take proper measures to keep them safe.

Don’t forget about exterior paint! Porches, siding, and framing can all pose threats as well if the paint chips or lead dust gets tracked inside.

Simple Steps To Lower Your Risk Of Lead Poisoning

Take time to clean often to prevent any household dust from old paint accumulating in your home.

If you’re unsure whether your home might have lead paint, it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume it does. These cautionary steps are easy to take and often inexpensive to fix. Lead poisoning is no joke and causes millions of deaths per year, so it’s better to be safe than sorry and get your blood levels tested if you have any concerns.

Luckily, there are quite a few things you can do to keep everyone in your home safe and lead-free!

Supplies You'll Need To Avoid Getting Lead Poisoning From Paint

Below are a few of the essentials you’ll want to grab before you start painting:

Once you’ve gathered your supplies, it’s time to prep your workspace safely so you can get work while still preserving the environmental health of your home.

Following proper safety protocols here is 100% essential. Even if you’re just a DIYer and you’re not working on a commercial site, it’s worth it to check out OSHA’s guidelines (starting on page 18) for safely working with lead paint in construction.

Read More >> How to Remove Spray Paint From Walls

How To Paint Safely With Lead Based Paint (5-Steps)

Step 1: Prepare the Area

Though it will take a few extra steps to prepare your work area if you suspect there is lead paint present, these steps will keep your home safer for years to come. 

Before you start your painting project, take a look around the room you’ll be working in. Does it have carpet? Rugs? Furniture? If so, make sure you remove as much of it as possible to keep it safe during the construction process. These types of surfaces tend to be magnets for dust and can expose you to lead for long periods if left uncleaned.

Next, make sure any central air, fans, or air exchange devices are turned off. These can spread the dust around your home long after the work is done, and a good filter isn’t good enough to keep lead out of your lungs.  

Then, make sure to seal off windows, doors, and air vents. 

Now it's time to seal the entire room with plastic wrap. It’s a good idea to go with high-density, thick plastic —to prevent any tearing or holes during your work that would allow lead paint dust to escape. 

Use painter’s tape to seal all of the plastic together and contour the plastic around any remaining furniture. A stronger type of tape may be necessary to adhere the plastic to carpet edges. While this step is tedious, it’s also one of the best ways to prevent dust from sneaking through to the room itself.

Step 2: Cover Yourself

Keeping yourself covered is one of the most important parts of the job.

So before you get started, make sure you’re wearing your gloves, goggles, and respirator mask. And be sure you’re wearing clothing that covers your skin to protect it from any lead paint dust.

It’s also important to note that if you leave the sealed workspace, you should remove the protective clothing and items. You don’t want to track the dust to other areas of your house and potentially cause harm to others.

Step 3: Get to Work

Your goal is to completely prep the area for painting. This includes the usual process of scraping and sanding that we cover in other paint prep guides.

The first thing to do when dealing with lead paint is to find any areas where it’s wearing down. Check for chipping on the window sills, trim and railings. 

Scrape off as many paint chips as you can. 

Then, try to limit your sanding to hand-sanding, which causes much less dust than an electric sander. If you must use an electric sander, use the dust collection bag that comes with most sanders.

If any wood trim is too difficult to scrape clean, consider replacing it instead. And if any walls are in terrible condition, consider covering them with new drywall and simply encapsulating the old lead paint wall.

Step 4: Clean The Area (And Yourself) Properly

Finally, you’re done with your prep work! Now it’s time to clean all surfaces and tear down the right way.

To clean the walls, ceiling and trim that you'll be painting, first wipe them all down with a broom or dust mop. Start with the ceiling and work your way down.

Now take a break and go outside to dust your clothes off (or change clothes) and let the dust settle in the room you just wiped down.

Then, peel the plastic sheeting off the floor slowly so you don’t create any rapid air movement that could disturb the dust particles. Fold the plastic inward onto itself to seal in the dust on the plastic and keep it from landing on the surrounding areas.

It's now time to vacuum the ceiling, walls and trim. And it's up to you if it makes sense to do this before or after you've removed all other plastic that's sealing the room off from the rest of your house. If you want to be extra safe, we recommend multiple passes with the vacuum...once with some plastic still in place and once after then removing all plastic.

Alternatively, some people prefer to vacuum each little area as they scrape it.

We recommend using a powerful vacuum, such as a shop vac, with a wide brush attachment and a HEPA filter. But be aware of where your vacuum may blow air out so as to not point it directly at any surfaces that haven't been vacuumed yet. Also, be sure to properly bag and dispose of the filter when finished.

Now you can do a final wiping of all surfaces with some clean rags and some TSP (Tri-sodium phosphate) in a bucket of warm water. Be sure to change your rags and water often.

Once completed with the cleaning, make sure you thoroughly wash your hands, hair, and skin to prevent yourself from ingesting any of the lead dust.

Step 5: Paint The Surfaces To Seal In The Lead Paint

Now you can lay out new plastic or drop cloths to start your painting. Remember, any remaining lead paint hasn't been sealed and protected until you get that first coat of paint on it. So you'll want to paint the prepped area within a few days at most and then do another thorough cleaning of the room.

For the first coat of paint, we recommend a lead encapsulating paint, such as Ecobond LBP Lead Defender or Fiberlock LBC III.

Now you’re ready to safely tackle your next painting project without fear of lead poisoning. 

These steps will not only help you have a healthier home, but chances are they’ll leave you with a cleaner room once all is said and done, too.

Read More >> How to Paint Your Home's Exterior

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

Madison Rude

Madison Rude

I’m kind of a painting nerd. My mom taught me how to paint when I was nine, and since then I’ve painted rooms, name it. I’ve written technical advice for Wagner sprayers, and I’ve spent a lot of time DIYing my own home. I’m no expert, but I love to learn. And here at ProPaintCorner, I learn more about painting every time I work with one of our painting pros to bring you the best product reviews and How To advice available. Together, let’s make your next painting project the best it can be!

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Madison Rude

Madison Rude

I’m kind of a painting nerd. My mom taught me how to paint when I was nine, and since then I’ve painted rooms, name it. I’ve written technical advice for Wagner sprayers, and I’ve spent a lot of time DIYing my own home. I’m no expert, but I love to learn. And here at ProPaintCorner, I learn more about painting every time I work with one of our painting pros to bring you the best product reviews and How To advice available. Together, let’s make your next painting project the best it can be!

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