Have you taken steps to reduce lead contamination in your home? Lead can enter your home through paint, soil, and water.  Here are my top ten tips for tackling the lead problems in your home. Keep reading for my story on our lead contamination scare and how I addressed it.

  1. Test suspicious painted areas with lead paint test sticks, especially high traffic areas including windows and doors
  2. Test your water using First Response Drinking Water test kit to ensure lead pipes aren’t releasing lead into your water.
  3. Test your soil by sending samples to LSU Ag Center or your own local soil testing lab
  4. Paint over any chipped areas with a sealing product such as Eco-Bond Lead Defender. Never sand lead paint – if you need to remove it, it is best to hire an experienced contractor who understands EPA rules & regulations
  5. If your soil is contaminated, either remove it or pave over it.
  6. If your water is contaminated, get a water filter that removes lead & other contaminants. Contact your plumber to remove lead pipes.
  7. If you have positive tests especially around windows and doors, request a lead test from your pediatrician for any children in the home
  8. Damp mop your floor every day especially in children’s play areas
  9. Don’t wear shoes in your house (put a shoe rack next to the door and get some nonslip shoe covers for repair people)
  10. Use outdoor and indoor doormats

Lead Paint Issues

I live in an old house (by American standards), which comes with all the character and charm and maintenance bills that one would expect.  And something I didn’t really think about beforehand: lead paint.  Since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, there is much greater public awareness about lead contamination. However, the problems are not confined to the Flint or to water pipes. The EPA did not ban lead paint until 1978 (European countries had banned it as early as 1909). My home was built well before lead paint was banned in 1978, and and the EPA reports that approximately 87% of homes built before 1940 contain lead paint.  Since it had been painted over many times, I wasn’t really concerned about it because everything I’ve read stated that it’s not a danger as long as you don’t disturb it.

So I didn’t worry about it until I decided to refinish my old screen door. It is a solid wood old-fashioned door built specifically for the house and was painted white to match the house, but the paint was peeling in places and the screen needed to be replaced.  I thought about redoing it myself, which would mean sanding it before repainting it, but thankfully my sister advised that I should test for lead paint first.


I bought these 3M lead paint test sticks which are really easy to use – just snap them and rub onto the suspected surface and if the stick turns red, you’ve got lead paint. The screen door test stick came up red in several places where the paint was peeling. Then I tested the back door – same thing!  Since I had a package of eight lead paint test sticks, I used all of them, testing areas of our home which the research had advised were the danger areas – windows and doors which get opened and closed a lot and any other areas with peeling or flaking paint, like the trim that got chipped during moving day.
I was very concerned at this point because children age 6 and younger are most susceptible to lead.  Even low levels of lead can lead to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia.  It can be transmitted through breast milk and is harmful to adults as well (cardiovascular, kidney, and reproductive problems).   So I took my little one straight to the pediatrician and asked for a lead test.


The pediatrician advised that lead tests are standard at the 1-year checkup, but she ordered an earlier one for us given the concerns of lead paint in our home.  The test came back showing elevated levels – not poisoning or even dangerous at that point, but a level at which the doctor was concerned because the baby had not yet started crawling, which is when the levels are expected to go up.  Doctor’s advice was to damp mop the floors where the baby plays every single day, don’t wear shoes in the house, and use a doormat.


I was worried enough about the lead issues inside our home, but it turns out that a lot of lead dust is brought into our homes from outside – especially if like we do, you live in an older neighborhood where the years of lead paint have built up in the soil, in the parks, in the playgrounds, etc. So using a doormat and removing your shoes at the door makes a huge difference. In fact, the EPA did a study back in 1991 that showed simply using a doormat and removing your shoes reduces the amount of lead dust and other toxins by 60%.
I bought a nice-looking bamboo shoe rack to keep our shoes by the door, and most visitors notice this and take their shoes off without being asked. (NB: When I have a party, I don’t ask people to remove their shoes, since it feels a bit unwelcoming and no one goes upstairs or into the playroom at those times anyway, and I just clean the floors the morning after the party). If I have visitors or repair people who can’t remove their shoes for safety reasons, I use nonslip shoe covers.I doubled up on the doormats, for indoors using these machine-washable Turtle Mats (bought these in the UK many years ago and LOVE them – 100% cotton and rubber) and then ordered a heavy duty natural coir doormat from Frontgate as our outside doormat. I wash the indoor mats and vacuum the outdoor mats weekly.

In addition to following the doctor’s advice, I also had our screen door and exterior back door removed and sent to be professionally stripped off-site, along with our bathroom cabinet doors. I painted our doorway frames and other areas of chipping paint with a product called Eco-Bond, which is a primer that is supposed to bond to the lead paint and allow you to safely strip it, or paint over it. I opted to paint over it because stripping our entire house would mean we’d have to move out. This was a much easier option, leaving us the possibility to strip the lead paint at a later time, for example, if I decide to do further renovations which would require us moving out anyway.

Lead Pipes – Water Contamination

Another source of lead can be lead pipes, since the installation of lead pipes wasn’t banned until 1986. I tested our water using this First Response Drinking Water test kit, which tests for lead as well as bacteria, pesticides, nitrites/nitrates, chlorine, hardness, and pH. Luckily the water test came back negative for lead and everything else except it was positive for pesticides! If your water is contaminated with lead, you will need to contact a plumber to change the pipes if they are located in your house. Some cities have programs to replace the service pipes. The EPA website recommends flushing your pipes before using the water, using only cold water for drinking and cooking, and cleaning your faucet screen/aerator regularly.

Our tap water is filtered through the Filtrete Maximum undersink water filtration system (be sure to get the one labelled Maximum for removing as many contaminants as possible including lead). We still use unfiltered tap water for showers, so now I am researching whole house water filters, but that’s a topic for another post.

Outdoors: Lead-Contaminated Soil

Next, I decided to tackle the outdoors – our yard. There were some areas right next to the house where nothing was growing and the first advice from a landscaper was that I had a gutter problem that needed to be repaired (which was true) and the excess water running along those points preventing things from growing (which turned out not to be true). Another landscaper suggested that it may be due to high lead content in the soil from the years of peeling/flaking paint off the house (and probably dry sanding from painters not following EPA rules about lead paint removal).

I took some soil samples and sent them off to the LSU Ag Center which will do routine tests for $10 per sample and heavy metal tests (which includes lead) for an additional $5 per sample. I divided our yard into 3 different areas: front yard, backyard, and right next to the house. The sample results were returned to me by both email and regular snail mail. Our results showed that the levels in our front yard and backyard (areas covered by grass already) were normal to slightly elevated (normal lead levels in soil are 50ppm to 400ppm). The area next to our house was high. I used this link from the EPA to interpret the results (see page 22), and the advice from the EPA regarding the level next to our house was that it was unsuitable for all types of gardening, children’s and pet play areas, and picnic areas. This was alarming, to say the least!

I decided the best long-term solution was the most conservative one as well (aside from selling our home and moving somewhere without lead problems), so I decided to remove the soil entirely. I measured out 6 feet all around our house and had 6 inches of soil removed (the advice I could find online recommended anything from 2 to 6 inches, so I went with the higher recommendation). Your landscaper/gardener should know this, but if you decide to DIY, be aware that lead-contaminated soil will have to go to a landfill, and not all landfills will take it so be sure to contact them in advance. I then had 10 cubic yards of new high-quality organic topsoil delivered. And now I start the fun part – choosing new plants for the landscaping!

This lead contamination journey has been educational (though somewhat stressful), but I am happy that I’ve invested the time and money into making our home a safer place. And further proof that my efforts have been worthwhile – little one’s lead levels were re-checked and came back at the lowest levels measured. Big sigh of relief and on to choosing plants for my lead-free garden!
Hope you’ve found some useful tips here – please share if this has helped you!

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