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Ask The Green Mama: How do I live with lead paint & a young child?

I have a toddler and I recently purchased a 1937 home. After reading about lead paint hazards and noticing some areas with slightly deteriorating paint, I am now having second thoughts about my purchase and am going crazy chasing my toddler around the house.

Unfortunately, I did not do a lead inspection during the home inspection process, as my realtor said “all homes built before 1978 have lead paint so there is no point in doing an inspection.” Of course I would like to find the areas that have lead now, so I know what I need to address and where my “hot spots” are, but was wondering if I could rent an XRF gun and do this myself to look for lead paint in the home? I know people do this to look at toys, etc, but can it be done for the interior and exterior of a house–in lieu of having a formal inspection–and, if so, what companies/brands should I look for?

Thank you.


Dear Julia

You may stop worrying about the lead paint in your old home.

I know: this is easier said then done, but I promise you that your situation is manageable! I have almost always chosen (with having way too much knowledge about heavy metals, neurotoxins, and old houses) to live in old houses. Why? Because they make fantastic homes AND because, in general, they are less likely to be plagued by those things that go wrong with houses that make them “sick” (i.e. have such bad indoor air quality that it makes the inhabitants that live or work within sick). Lead is annoying but it is actually easier to do DIY protections than it is with things like black mold or toxic building materials.

You most certainly have lead.

I’d personally save the money and not go around testing it, because you DEFINITELY have it. (Pre 1978 in the US and pre-1980 in Canada).

So now what?

Below is a little clip from my book that I hope will put you at ease. The big keys are to wet mop and wet wipe often and to follow other healthy indoor air practices. (such as not having wall-to-wall carpet where the lead dust will get trapped and using healthy paints to paint over the lead paint with). Remember, however, lead is not off-gassing, it becomes a problem because bits of it peel off and become dust.  Does that make sense? I will eventually put more of that kind of information on my website and if you have my book you will see in detail what I mean. Here is a bit more from the site about off-gassing and paints.

Living with Lead Paint

If you live in an older (pre-1991) house, you can assume you have lead paint somewhere. Lead dust is the most common way that children are exposed to lead. This dust can come from chipping and peeling paint and the paint on windowsills, doorways, railings, porches, pipes, and old radiators. Any time you scrape, sand, or do a construction project in an older home, you are likely stirring up lead dust. Like any dust this can float around the air, settle onto things, and end up on a child’s hands, feet, and in their mouths.

It is important for children to wash their hands frequently (especially during that crawling, touching, and “mouthing everything” stage). You should also wet-wipe windowsills, doors, and floors regularly. If you can’t  afford to do an actual lead remediation (don’t do this yourself), paint over the old paint (with your new No-VOC paint), especially where it may be peeling or chipping and around high-activity areas like window sills and door-frames. Keep in mind the precautions discussed at the beginning of this chapter with regard to airing out the room and keeping expectant mothers and young babies away at least for a few days.

I suggest that you read more about green cleaning, indoor air quality, and our reviews of greener paint and finish options on The Green Mama site.

Good luck!