Experts agree—there is no safe level of lead exposure, even for adults. But there is a safe way to cover lead: lead paint sealer, a.k.a. lead encapsulating paint. We have another article to find out if you have lead: read how to test for lead paint.
Can you paint over lead paint?
Yes, if having it removed is not feasible, you can encapsulate it and seal it by painting over it with a lead paint sealer. It’s not quite as good as the total removal of the old paint, but it costs a whole heck of a lot less.
1. How to paint over lead paint in 3 Steps:
- De-gloss but…Important: do not sand the old lead paint: other websites tell you to do this…Don’t !! Use Liquid Sandpaper, then throw away the rags you wiped the paint with. in accord with local laws. For this nasty de-glosser, you need a respirator chemical filter in the 3M mask linked above. I snap in this 3M filter which has a HEPA layer as well (P100=HEPA).
- Clean the surface like for any other paint: a damp rag (then throw away the rag in accord with local laws.).
- The best painting method is airless sprayer: only 1 coat needed; or apply with a brush and/or roller in for proper thickness (thickness and the number of coats will depend on the chosen products, see below). I’ve written short articles about painting trim and some tips on painting a room.
Let the coat dry and apply a second coat if using a brush and roller. Rarely will you need a 3rd coat with the paints below.
2. Best Lead-covering Paint:
Apply these like any paint, but do not sand the old lead paint: see above.
INSL-X Lead Block, Lead Encapsulating Paint, by Benjamin Moore. Available online.
A thick coating that has very strong adhesion: it contains a bitter taste additive to discourage any child from eating any chips that will contain the lead layers beneath it.
- prevents lead from bleeding through
- brush, roller, or spray (see #1 above)
- interior/exterior (any properly prepared wall, wood, masonry, stucco, wood, or metal)
- exterior use not approved in Massachusetts
- so-called ‘low VOC’: but 100 grams/liter is not all that low for me…(wear a chemical filtering respirator)
- use this paint as a primer or topcoat
- white only, eggshell finish only
- clean-up with soap and water
- stir well before use and do not thin
The number of coats:
The recommended final thickness is 14-16 mils when wet.
• apply with a brush and/or roller in 2 coats for proper thickness (thickness, when brushed, is 6-8 mills and 8-12 when rolled).
• The best method is airless sprayer: only 1 coat needed (spray thickness when wet is 14-16 mils: this is the maker’s preferred method). (See my airless paint sprayer recommendation).
The technical data sheet explains every detail.
This is the best lead encapsulating paint out there today.
Runner-up: EcoBond Lead Defender
Tested using EPA’s methods by a 3rd party, The EcoBond Lead Defender was confirmed to be effective in protecting human health.
By volume, it has 37% solids in the solution (compared to Lead Block above which is 44%), this paint might require a 3rd coat. But it does cost 15% less.
The brushed thickness wet is 4-6 mil (compared to the Lead Block above which is 6-8).
- seals and treats lead dust
- contains a bitter-tasting additive that children will never eat
- low VOC
- low odor
- spray, brush or roll
- use as an interior primer or top-coat…or exterior primer
- stir well before using
- cleans with soap/water
- 888-520-7132 is the helpline
These paints are adhesive coatings. This is more than just a coat of paint, in that the thick coating is bonded to the lead paint. It is important to follow product instructions exactly to be sure that a strong, long-lasting bond is created.
3. DIY Removal and Supplies
Can I remove lead paint myself?
Yes, but you need training. I will only advise you as to where you can get the training: you should only trust the EPA and not handyman-websites. This work comes with much danger.
- How to: To learn the method of safe lead paint removal, please read these documents. Jump to these document links.
- paint stripper
- plastic sheeting
- respirator face mask and the right filters*
- HEPA filters in your respirator
- vacuum with HEPA filters
- safety goggles
- nitrile gloves
- duct tape
- plastic buckets
* The world of respirator filters and masks is complicated, but I simplified all that in this post.
Things you have already:
- old clothing
- garbage bags
- window fans (blowing OUT)
Key Safety Tips:
How do you get rid of lead paint? This authoritative page shows you all the steps you will take, and it comes from a trusted source. Before you start, make sure you know the risk and precautions to take.
- Work for 15 minutes, then take a break in another space.
- If you have trouble breathing or feel sick etc, leave immediately.
- Never use sanders or heat guns to melt lead-based paint—this creates toxic dust and fumes with lead.
Indoors, make sure the workroom is well ventilated: set up a fan so it blows air out a window. Start by applying stripper near the fan and work your way back, so fumes are always blowing away from you.
Never forget (in addition to all the information you should read from the EPA listed below):
- Remove all furniture, carpets, and drapes and use plastic to seal off the work area
- Never eat or drink in the work area
- Keep people (especially children and pregnant women) out of the paint removal area
- Unless there is lead paint to be removed from the floor, cover the floor
- Wear a respirator with HEPA or “P100” filters (they are the same thing)
- After the job is done, dispose of the work clothing
- Do not wear work clothing outside the work area
- Destroy or wash work clothes separately from all other laundries
- Clean up using vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters
- Wet mop after vacuuming
- Clean well all tools and dispose of all other contaminated materials in accordance with local laws.
4. Basic facts about lead
2.1 million homes with lead paint and a child under six. Not good.
- Do I need to worry about lead paint?
Yes, for any dwelling painted before 1979, and it can be either exterior or interior paint. I recommend to my customers to test any old paint. Lead paint testing doesn’t cost much. If the paint is latex, it is probably safe.
- How do you know if the paint is latex or oil (alkyd)? Put some acetone (most nail polish removers have it). If the paint gets gooey, it’s latex. No: it’s oil. Leads almost solely found in oil-based paints.
- How do you know if you have lead paint?
There are 2 main ways to test: DIY kits or by sending a sample to a lab (info in this post).
- How can a homeowner get rid of lead paint?
I would say no, but people want to do it anyway! When I do it, I use paint strippers as there is little or no dust to breathe. Still one should always wear a respirator with HEPA filters (more below). There are many other safety concerns you absolutely must know before you do this yourself. See the EPA docs just below.
- Is it dangerous to live with lead paint?
Yes, it is for all of us, but especially for pregnant women and small children. Simply opening and closing a window frame or waking on paint chips can liberate lead dust into the air. Whether we breathe it or swallow it, it causes permanent brain damage.
Lead affects the brain and there is no way to be safe if you have lead paint exposure in your house. Remove it or encapsulate with special paint it right away.
List of EPA documents on how to remove lead paint.
It’s very pleasing to know the EPA is trustworthy on lead issues.
For any info at any time, call the hotline: National Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD. They will have the most current list of accredited labs and removal contractors.
- How to find a lab for testing.
- Everything you need regarding renovations.
- The EPA’s search page for lead removal companies in the USA.
These are just the pages I selected as central to the issue: they have lots of good links to follow.
Is there anything you think we should have mentioned? Do you have a question? Please use the comment form below. Good luck.
For an informative look (with some humor) at the dangers of lead in water and paint, watch John Oliver on HBO.
Hey, John, lead was banned in the US in 1978, the year after I became an apprentice painter! So guess what was I scraping and sanding all those years.