They don’t make homes like they used to, and when it comes to lead paint, that’s a good thing. If you live in a home built before the late 1970s, it may contain this potentially harmful paint. Though lead paints have several favorable qualities, they were found to pose serious health risks, especially for children. Such paints were banned from use in U.S. homes in 1978, but there is no guarantee that they aren’t still present in older homes. Lead paint generally poses little danger if maintained and intact, but renovation work that produces dust can create a toxic breathing hazard, and paint chips may be eaten by young children due to their chemically sweet taste. Here’s how to test your home for lead paint and help ensure your family is safe from this potential danger.

Tools and supplies

  • Lead test kit (see step 1)
  • Utility knife or small, sharp blade

Step 1

You’ll first need to purchase the appropriate testing kit for your home’s paint. The two common types of do-it-yourself lead testing kits are rhodizonate-based kits and sulfide-based kits. The type of paint you wish to test will determine which kit to purchase. Due to the various components used in different colored paints, rhodizonate kits may produce false positives with pink and red paints, and sulfide kits may be inaccurate when used on dark paints. Test kits can be purchased from hardware stores, paint stores or major online retailers like Amazon.

Step 2

Choose the walls, windowsills and baseboards where you wish to test for lead paint. Find spots where the paint appears to be thickest, especially if there may be older layers of paint beneath the top coat. In these spots, use a utility knife or other small, sharp blade to create a quarter-inch wide incision that exposes all of the layers of paint that are present.

Step 3

Lead kits usually have swabs that must be used carefully to produce accurate results. Typically, there are two places to pinch the swabs to cause the solid and liquid chemicals inside to mix. Once this is done, open the swab to expose the soft tip and press it against the cut in the paint for the length of time specified in the test’s instructions, which is usually a few seconds. Swab in a circular motion while applying pressure to ensure the swab makes sufficient contact with every layer of exposed paint.

Step 4

Next, wait for the swabs to turn color to indicate the results. Rhodizonate-based test swabs usually turn red when lead is present, however, a false positive may occur if red paint – even in trace amounts from an old layer – is present. Sulfide-based kits turn dark gray or black to indicate the presence of lead, although dark paint may trigger a false positive. Therefore, even if you use the appropriate kit for the top layer of paint, you may need to test with a different kit depending on which color paints are underneath.

Step 5

If your swab doesn’t change colors, your paint is probably lead-free. To be certain your test kit is working correctly, however, use the confirmation card if your test came with one. This card contains lead, so if your swab turns color after contacting it, you’ll know it’s functioning properly.

What to do if you test positive for lead

If do you find lead paint in your home, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) offers these resources for determining what to do next. Your ultimate options will be either abatement (fully eliminating lead hazards) or continued good maintenance (managing lead hazards). Since scraping, sanding and otherwise disturbing painted surfaces can release lead dust and create an airborne health hazard, it’s important to follow the EPA-recommended guidelines for managing lead paint.


Testing for lead paint can be a hassle, and having it abated may be a major expense, but both are worthy investments for the sake of your family’s health. By completing these steps, you can help ensure your vintage home borrows only the best elements from the bygone era of homebuilding.