Dear PoP – Who Can Remove Lead Paint?

Photo by PoPville flickr user AWard Tour

“Dear PoP,

Does anyone have experience with lead paint removal? We have some original windowsills with chipping lead paint. The windows and frames are newish and not creating any lead dust when we open or close them; it’s just the sills. Altogether, we have about 12 feet of 4-inch-wide windowsill/original trim with cracked paint. Because the paint is not intact (and we have a toddler), leaving it in place is not an option. The question is how to remove it. A few people have recommended something like Peel Away, which keeps the paint wet and avoids the problem of scattering lead-tainted dust throughout the house. Lead paint is made to seem so dangerous, though, that the DIY option isn’t as appealing as it might otherwise be. Another option is a certified lead abatement professional, of which there don’t seem to be many in the area (according to EPA’s National Lead Information Center). That also sounds like a little bit of overkill for what’s really a fairly small job. If anyone has some advice or experience to share, we’d greatly appreciate it.”

I seem to recall this has come up in the past but I can’t remember if anyone recommended someone?

25 Comment

  • Small job, I’d just just DYI.

    Make sure you cover the floor with plastic, tape it down, perhaps multiple layers, one of the biggest problems is the lead dust getting into the cracks and sticking around.

    I just use a regular old heat gun on low heat, wearing a respirator. I’ve used regular old paint remover too.

    Whatever you do, don’t dry scrape or sand.

    Rent a super powerful vacuum to vacuum the area when you’re done.

    Can use microfiber rags to clean up dust too.

    Buy some Kleen Sweep Sweeping Compound.

    Use TSP wet wipe down on the nearby affected areas too.

    As long as you don’t inhale the dust and create a lot of dust and chips that linger, you should be ok. Wear gloves too. You can feel the lead slickness upon contact.

    Some old paints were like 50% lead, so if your toddler eats a chip, it’s like eating a hunk of lead.

    • Seriously DIYer, you can “feel the lead sickness upon contact”?? Give me a break.

      Like, Eric said, just get some paint stripper and be done with it.

  • Seriously, just use some paint stripper, scrape off the gunk and call it a day. Stop being so worried.

    • Eric, with a toddler at home they should be worried. Lead poisoning is a big deal and can cause permanent cognitive damage in young children with developing brains. Exposure to small amounts of dust is all it takes. With proper equipment, planning, and care this can be a DIY. DIYer has the right approach, I would just add that make sure the vac has a Hepa filter otherwise you’ll be blowing any dust around the room instead of collecting it.

  • You have to properly dispose of the stuff you use to get rid of it (where you dispose of used paint, propane, etc) or the lead ends up in the watershed. This is not a “don’t worry about it” issue. You cannot just rinse things in the sink.

  • I wrote the email to PoP – thanks for the comments so far (more input also appreciated).

    Eric, if we didn’t have a little one, I wouldn’t think twice about tackling this ourselves. But he adds a new dimension of concern to things that were previously no-brainers. Because we’d rather him not end up with elevated blood lead levels, which can have long-term consequences, I think we’re right to be worried.

    JR, we would absolutely make sure of proper disposal if we do this ourselves..

  • Yeah, I’ve googled this to death. Some sites give the message that any attempt to do it on your own equals instant death for you and all your loved ones. Some repeat the same warnings without offering any constructive advice. The New York State DOH has a brochure that’s probably the most useful thing out there: They make it sound like you should be fine, if you’re not a moron and don’t go at the trim with a belt sander, but concern for the baby is making us extra cautious.

    I was really hoping for first-hand experience, if anyone else has some to share.

  • Give me a break – and everyone who lived before the invention of paint without lead is now dead… Yeah, I understand your irrational fears.

    Eric got it right. If you are so worried about the baby, leave em at Grandma’s that day.

  • The surest sign of the dangers of inhaling lead dust is the commentary here today.

  • Yeah, and because I grew up riding in the backseat of the volvo without a seatbelt, much less a car seat, all this crap about keeping your kids strapped in is just irrational BS.

    Frankie, with that attitude, do us all a favor: don’t procreate.

  • The EPA and HUD just this month provided guidance on new rules regarding lead paint remediation. If you hire a contractor they now have to be certified in the proper removal and disposal of lead paint. It also offers (a little) guidance for the DIYer. Check out

  • you could try giving Danny at Pointing Plus ( a call to see if they do this kind of work. I had a great experience working with his company to remove and repaint my house (I don’t believe there was any lead paint involved, though).

  • with the paint stripper you have a liquid. ie. no dust. Then just bag up the still liquid stuff and take it to the Benning transfer station on sat. I’ve dropped off lead sinkers there before, I would think they would take lead paint mixed with solvent.

  • According to second-hand experience and some studies I’ve read, adults can suffer lower IQs and joint pain from lead exposure as well. I’ve also had a friend’s infant son suffer brain damage from lead paint. It’s not a myth that it is dangerous stuff.

    But it seems that handling it in small quanitites, with a liquid solvent, HEPA vacuum, and all the precautions above, means that a DIY can do it. In some cases, if the contractor is not really experienced in this type of removal, a DIY who knows what to do may have less lead dust result.

  • i had a similar problem with my toddler and lead paint on the exterior brick walls where we played. i personally believe everyone above is wrong. it’s serious stuff and most of the jerks up above probably grew up in suburbia (like myself) and didn’t have old windows.

    You want to encapsulate it. Benjamin Moore sells a very expensive waterproof paint that will seal the lead paint in. a gallon costs about $100 but it’s truly priceless. My son’s level was above average. And since i’ve dealt with the problem, it has gone down. and i don’t worry.

    • Thanks, I agree with you about the seriousness and am glad you were able to reduce your son’s exposure. Unfortunately, I don’t believe we can encapsulate the paint on these windowsills, as it’s already cracked and chipping. But we can definitely use that on other trim that has intact paint, so I appreciate the recommendation.

  • The EPA has just put new lead paint regulations into effect this month. Any contractor (including window replacers, plumbers and electricians) who disturbs more than 6 square feet of interior paint in a pre-1978 residence must use lead safe work practices. They must also give this booklet to the resident: It explains the dangers of lead paint and the basics on safe lead paint removal.

    Contractors who do not inform tenants, do not use lead-safe work practices, or are not certified in lead-safe practices are subject to fines as high as $10,000 per violation per day. Homeowner DIYers are not subject to the regulations.

    If it’s peeling, you can’t just paint over it, it will continue to flake. Taking baby out of the house for just the day is not sufficient. If not abated properly, lead paint dust will linger on the floor and in the room. He will crawl in it and put his fingers in his mouth. This is why frequent hand washing is part of the defense against lead paint contamination on a daily basis.

    Remove the lead paint, creating as little dust as possible. Isolate the work area so any dust, chips or residue will not be spread around and can be disposed of properly. If you use a heat gun it must be set under 1100 degrees. Higher temperatures will turn the lead into breathable gas which is the worst kind of poisoning, for you and any close-by neighbors (who won’t know to be wearing their HEPA masks that day).

    To isolate the area, tape plastic on the floor under the work area to collect chips. Wall off the room with plastic sheets to prevent air-flow of dust to other rooms. Wear a tyvek suit during work. Take it off immediately outside the isolation area so it doesn’t trail dust into the residence. Bag it and launder it immediately separatly from other clothes. Wear an air mask with a HEPA filter. Home Depot and Lowe’s will look dumbly at you when you ask for one. (Instead, go to Galliher and Huguely at Kansas Ave and Blair, or ABC Distributers in Shirlington across from the Weenie Beenie. They both have everything you need.)

    To start, use a shop-vac with a HEPA filter to collect any dust that has accumulated. Hand scrape any loose flakes. Do not put a lot of muscle into it since the friction will create dust. Now you can assess whether to use lead encapsulation paint. Encapsulation paint will be several mils thicker than regular paint and must be applied absolutely according to the manufacturer’s instructions or the encapsulation may not work. If you want to remove all the paint down to wood, use a chemical paste or liquid stripper. No matter what the can says, you’ll have to go through several rounds to remove multiple layers of paint. Collect the waste stripper and dispose at a municipal facility. If sanding is part of the process for removing the stripper, sanding should be wet so airborne dust is not created.

    Wash down the surrounding area with TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) from Savogran. It comes in powder form that you mix with water. Clean the surfaces where the paint was removed, but also any surrounding surfaces to collect any dust they may have settled.

    Take up the sheets of plastic, capturing any residue from the project and dispose. Repaint the exposed wood with a good primer and two top-coats. Lead encapsulating paint shouldn’t be necessary, but wouldn’t hurt.

    You can do this. You can either spend alot of your time and little money or spend alot of money and a little of your time. Contractors may not be interested in doing so little a job. Also there is a huge back-log in the certification process, so many contractors will not be qualified under the EPA’s new regulations, and that would make them subject to the big fines EPA has in store.

    Walk away from any contractor who does not give you the EPA booklet. That is a simple test of how serious they take the matter. You obviously take it serious, so only work with someone who takes it serious too. The Pointing Plus recommendation isn’t bad. He takes lead paint very seriously.

    • Crin, thanks very much. Very helpful. I’ve read all of the EPA info and looked for certified contractors on their site, coming to the same conclusion as you: this is a very small job with no actual renovation and I doubt anyone would be interested in taking it on. I think we’ll give it a try using paint stripper and being ultra-careful about not creating any more dust than absolutely necessary.

  • Crin gives some really good advice, but you shouldn’t do this yourself!

    Crin and Dreas think the job is too small, it probably isn’t. Remember the contracting industry is really suffering in this economy and if working with lead is dangerous enough for EPA to write regulations governing contractors, then perhaps DIYers should think twice. And if you have a child under six why would you put them a risk for brain damage and a lower IQ when you can hire someone who has been properly trained.

    BTW the fines to contractors who are not certified or not abiding to the rule are $37,500.

    In EPA’s rule, there are three prohibited practices, using a high heat gun (>1000 degrees F), high-speed sanding without a HEPA shroud and open flame burning. As crin said high heat turns the lead into a highly toxic gas. A vacuum with a HEPA filter attached is not what EPA requires contractors to use. Exhaust will leak lead dust around any seals or connections of a regular vacuum. A HEPA filtration vacuum is what EPA had in mind when it wrote this rule. TSP is not really needed, research has shown that soapy water does just as effective a job, but a two-bucket system needs to be used.

    Like I said using a contractor is your best bet and you can find one near you at

    EPA says one million children every year are effected by lead paint and the National Center for Healthy Homes says that 30% of lead poisonings come from renovation activities. That said trained professional renovation companies leave homes cleaner than when the arrived, so the lead poisonings are coming from inexperienced DIYers and fly-by-night untrained contractors.

  • Matt followed up with some good items/clarifications. I differ with him on the DIY aspect. The size of the job (12 feet of 4″ wide trim) is 3 sq ft. which means the EPA regs technically wouldn’t apply (they trigger at 6 sq ft). Such a small area of disturbance means the amount of potential lead is pretty small. A homeowner following the EPA recommendations will have a low risk of lead contamination.

  • saf

    We had to deal with this for a project I worked on. We were pleased with Premier Painters, who did lead abatement (or at least did a year ago.)

  • I posted earlier about encapsulation and if you google it you will see that it is part of a certified abatement program. it’s proven to work and i think you are more foolish to go burning lead paint in your home. when i said waterproof, that just happens to be the paint you would want to use since it does not allow anything through. ie, lead.

  • Really don’t want to make light of genuine concerns about lead paint, but just have to ask – since people have lived with lead paint, with flaking and scraping and gnawing children and so on, for a hundred years – shouldn’t there a resultant quantifiable massive epidemic of brain damage in the general population today? Outside of Tea Baggers and crystal arua readers, we don’t really see it.

    I know of good studies on Mexican children working intensively with lead in tile manufacturing, but am just not convinced that a small limited exposure is going to destroy anyone’s brain.

  • The nonprofit organization Leadsafe DC is a good resource. Among other things, they offer free home lead tests.

    Even relatively low levels of lead exposure can affect children’s neurological development, so you’re right to take this seriously.

Comments are closed.