Lead Paint Removal

Protecting Your Health & Your Home

Finding out your home or storefront has lead-based paint does not mean you will be forced to tear out all the historic features that make your property unique. In fact, tearing out painted molding, cabinets, walls and other aggressive methods only increases the risk of generating large amounts of toxic, lead paint dust.

Instead, the methods now being adopted to minimize the health risks related to ingesting or inhaling lead paint chips and dust feature gentle measures that  leave intact the features that contribute to a building’s historic character.


  • Nearly every kind of interior and exterior paint used well into the second half of the 20th century included some lead compounds. The use of lead paint in residential housing was banned in the late 1970s.
  • When found in elevated levels in the blood stream, lead has been linked to a variety of serious health and behavioral problems. Children under age 6 are the most at risk when it comes to lead poisoning, primarily as a result of chewing on wood surfaces, such as window sills, that contain lead paint or by eating chips of lead based paint.
  • If your property is over 50 years old, the first and earliest layers of paint have the greatest chance of containing lead. The top coat or most recent layers are the safest.

In its most recent standards for treatment of historic properties, the U.S. Department of the Interior emphasizes the careful cleaning and treatment of flaking or deteriorating painted surfaces, primarily those that are accessible to children and are subject to lots of wear and tear (steps, floors, windows and door edges, etc).

Here is a brief description of the methods and some advice to minimize the threats posed by lead paint. It is not intended to be a do-it-yourself guided but will help you get started.  More detailed information is available from experts in lead removal, and you can follow the helpful links below:

Lead Removal Pointers

  • If you have young children, keep them away from construction or renovation projects that can generate large amounts of paint dust. Some health experts have even advised limiting or avoiding major remodeling or construction projects until children are older and at less risk to lead poisoning.
  • Isolate rooms where work is being done and wash work clothes separately.
  • Always use masks or respirators, preferably with HEPA filters. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean up.
  • The preferred method for removing flaking paint is the wet sanding of surfaces, which is gentle to the surfaces and generates little dust. Wet sanding uses special flexible sanding blocks or papers that can be rinsed in water or used along with a bottle mister.
  • Use chemical strippers and low temperature heat guns. Avoid using high heat removal and uncontrolled water blasting that can spread contaminated paint fumes and chips.
  • Take doors, windows frames, hardware and other removable items to a paint stripping or removal company.
  • Window and door edges can be stripped or planed and parting beads for windows, which often split upon removal, can be replaced. If window sash are severely deteriorated, it is possible to replace them; and vinyl jamb liners can effectively isolate remaining painted window jambs.
  • Washing and maintaining painted surfaces is one of the most effective measures to prevent lead poisoning.
  • Clean surfaces covered with a top coat of lead-free paint or varnish may not even pose a health risk.
  • Treat or remove soil around building foundations that has been found to contain high levels of lead from years of chalking and peeling paint. This dirt can be brought indoors on shoes or by pets and small children if they play outside a house.

The information in this section comes from a Preservation Brief No. 37 issued by the National Park Service. To see the entire brief and other historic preservation information, go to the Cultural Resource section of the National Park Service Web site. Under “I’m looking for…” heading, select “Historic Building & Structures.” Then scroll down and select Preservation Briefs and click on No. 37.