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What Does Lead Paint Look Like?

By February 19, 2024Lead Paint
What does lead paint look like?

Lead paint exposure can pose major health risks, especially for children and pregnant women. While banned for residential use in 1978, lead-based paint still lurks in millions of older homes. Cracking, chipping, or peeling lead paint enables this neurotoxin to contaminate household dust and soils. Therefore, knowing what lead paint can look like and how to address its presence remains critical for protecting your family.

This article will guide you through recognizing common signs of lead paint deterioration. You’ll learn where to check for lead paint risks in your home and when to call in a professional for help.

Why Identification Matters

Lead has been used in paint products for centuries thanks to its durability and vibrant colors. By the early 20th century, over 50% of homes in the U.S. contained lead-based paint. However, once the severe health consequences became known, residential use was banned in 1978.

Lead paint ingestion or inhalation can cause irreversible neurological damage, especially in children under six and pregnant women. Even low levels of exposure can lead to reduced IQ, learning disabilities, impaired hearing, and behavior problems. The only way to prevent these issues is by identifying and removing lead paint hazards before poisoning occurs.

If you spot potential lead paint deterioration, take the steps we’ll discuss below to confirm and address any hazards. Prioritizing early identification and safe removal is key to maintaining a healthy living environment for yourself and your family.

Lead paint can look like it is chipping, rolling, or peeling off the wall.

Lead Paint at Home: What to Look For

Lead-based paint was commonly used in homes built before 1978 due to its durability and vibrant coloring. When in good condition, it may appear glossy or shiny with a metallic sheen in hues like red, yellow, blue, orange, gold, silver, or bronze. However, lead paint deteriorates over time. Here are some of the most common visual signs that may indicate the presence of lead paint:

  • Flaking/Peeling – Lead paint peels away from the surface, forming curled strips or chips. This is often caused by moisture damage or aging.
  • Chipping – Small fragments of lead paint break off, particularly around high-friction areas like windows and door frames.
  • Cracking – Lead paint develops spiderweb-like cracks or large splits from vibrations, temperature changes, and wear.
  • Chalking – The paint binding agents break down into a fine powder containing lead dust. This occurs frequently on exterior surfaces.
  • Alligatoring – Extensive cracking that creates a bumpy, rippled texture resembling alligator skin. This signals advanced deterioration.

Checking Your Home for Lead Paint

To check for potential lead paint hazards, you’ll need to thoroughly examine all painted surfaces in your pre-1978 home.

When doing so, make sure to focus on high-friction areas first. Windows, doors, railings, trims, and any other places that see a lot of wear and tear tend to be where lead paint chips, peels, or flakes most often. Lead dust also frequently accumulates on surrounding surfaces near damaged paint.

Use a flashlight and raking light to illuminate cracks, chips, or uneven textures indicating alligatoring. These subtle signs are sometimes difficult to see under regular lighting conditions.

Additionally, gently rub a small area with your fingertip or a damp cloth. If the paint is deteriorating, it may chalk or flake off onto your skin or the cloth.

Venture outside too. Examine exterior walls, trims, fences, and porches for chipping, chalking, or peeling paint. Sun-exposed southern and western sides are most prone to this kind of weather-related damage. Be sure to check less accessed spots as well. Basements, attics, stair landings, and other infrequently visited areas often contain hidden deterioration.

Routinely inspect seasonally and after storms, heavy rains, or earthquakes which can cause new damage to painted surfaces. For safety, wear gloves during inspections and wash hands afterward. Limit disturbances that stir up lead dust until you can properly address any hazards discovered.

A professional can look for lead paint more in-depth than a homeowner can.

When to Call a Professional

If your inspection reveals potential lead paint hazards, take the next step by having a professional test for confirmation. They have the proper equipment, expertise, and training to accurately identify lead paint and advise you on appropriate response measures.

A professional can test paint chips, dust, soil, and water samples from your home using methods like atomic absorption spectrometry or X-ray fluorescence. This definitive testing is more reliable than DIY lead test kits, which have limitations. For example, test kits only detect lead on the surface, while professionals can identify lead paint layers deep below the topcoat.

In addition to testing, professionals perform thorough lead inspections to locate and evaluate all sources of lead exposure. They can also manage lead abatement, which involves fully removing lead paint and contaminated materials. Abatement is highly regulated and requires certification to perform safely. The process generates dangerous lead dust, so homeowners should never attempt DIY removal.

Be sure to hire certified professionals for renovations like window replacement or sanding that disturbs lead paint. They follow lead-safe work practices to contain and clean up hazardous dust and debris. Routine maintenance can also prevent further deterioration of lead paint. Professionals may recommend repainting intact lead paint with an encapsulating primer and topcoat.

Other Recommended Maintenance

Aside from professional testing and abatement, you can take preventative steps to minimize lead exposure risks within your home.

Be sure to use lead-safe methods for any DIY projects that disturb painted surfaces. Wet sanding and scoring help reduce airborne dust. Drop cloths contain debris, and a HEPA vacuum clears away particles. Wear protective gear like gloves, goggles, and a respirator mask while working. Thoroughly wash hands and mop floors afterward.

Discourage children from making contact with window sills or other painted surfaces within reach. Clean frequently using wet methods. Damp mop hard floors weekly and wet-wipe window components and other friction surfaces. Avoid dusting, sweeping, or vacuuming which can spread lead particles.

While you can take steps to minimize risks, full lead abatement performed by certified professionals is the only permanent solution.


All in all, lead paint can take on various appearances. However, there are a few clear signs that your home has lead paint, and you’re now equipped to look out for them.

Check for chipping, peeling, cracking, or chalking paint on friction surfaces and exterior areas. Take safety precautions when inspecting for risks. If you spot potential hazards, have a certified professional test for lead to confirm. To schedule an in-depth inspection of your home, reach out to the experts at Atkinson Inspection Services in Clermont, FL, and surrounding areas today.