How to remove lead paint | Pro Construction Guide
Remove lead paint

How to remove lead paint

How to remove lead paint — and even if you are allowed to remove lead paint — became highly regulated issues in 2010. Prior to 1978, lead was used as a pigment and drying agent in oil-based (alkyd) paints. Because exposure to deteriorating lead-based paint, lead contaminated dust and lead contaminated residential soil can cause serious short- and long-term illness, in 1978 the legal limit of lead in paint was reduced to a trace amount.

How to remove lead paint

Personal protective equipment must be worn by all workers where lead paint has been detected.

Then in 2010, Federal law was passed that requires contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturbs more than 6 square feet of paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 must be certified and trained to follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.The regulation applies when work is being done for compensation if:

  • a painted surface is being disturbed that exceeds 6 square feet in an interior or 20 square feet of exterior
  • painted walls are demolished, sanded or scraped
  • windows are removed and replaced.

It does not apply if you are a qualified lead paint abatement contractor hired to permanently remove lead-based paint; there are no bedrooms or the housing is specifically for the elderly or disabled; you have verified the renovation work will not involve lead-based paint; or the work is being done by the homeowner.

To be certified to remove lead paint, you must attend an eight-hour training class on lead-safe work practices that is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Contractors must also distribute EPA’s lead hazard information pamphlet “Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers, and Schools” on lead hazards to owners, tenants, and child-care facilities. Both steps must be documented on EPA’s pre-renovation disclosure form. Next, post warning signs that restrict access to the work area and isolate the work area so lead dust and debris cannot escape.

Construction projects that involve lead-based paint fall into three categories:

Dedicated lead-based paint abatement projects

These projects are solely to remove lead-based paint and do not include renovation or demolition activities. This work must be completed by a licensed lead abatement firm and licensing requires more than the eight-hour EPA training course mentioned above.

Renovation projects where lead-based paint is present

This category covers renovations being done where lead-based paint is present. A general contractor is more likely to encounter this type of job and must have completed the eight-hour EPA lead-safe work practices training.

The initial responsibility of the contractor is to test the paint in the areas to be disturbed and determine whether or not it contains lead. If there is no lead, normal safety guidelines for construction are adequate. If lead-based paint is detected, there are several options, based on the scope of the work.

For small areas, i.e. when a new doorway is being cut into an existing wall, contain the area with plastic sheeting or other temporary enclosures so a negative pressure can be created using a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtered ventilation unit. Workers must be fully protected with a respirator, protective clothing and eye protection. Upon completion of the work, and after all possible dust and debris have been properly removed, the HEPA ventilator should continue to operate in the containment area until all lead-containing particulates have been captured in the filter. Then the enclosure can be removed and disposed of.

On larger projects, it may be more cost-effective to hire a licensed abatement company to properly contain the area and remove the lead-based paint or hire a consultant to monitor the air as work proceeds. To do this, at least one worker for every task being performed wears a monitor that measures exposure during that task. At the beginning of the project, all workers wear full protective gear as if a lead hazard is present. As work proceeds and the actual exposure of the workers is measured, the consultant will determine whether an activity is hazardous. If it is, all workers engaged in that task must continue to wear personal protective equipment. If the exposure risk is below the limit allowed, workers performing that task are no longer required to wear the protective gear.

Demolition projects where lead-based paint is present

Typically, demolition of structures that are fully exposed to outside air do not require special protection or precautions. The allowed exposure limits are not reached since the area is constantly ventilated with fresh air.

Before working on any project where lead-based paint may be present, make sure you understand the required training and procedures. The current fine for failing to follow OSHA and EPA regulations is $32,000 per incident, and each separate task ‒ sweeping, sawing, demolition etc. ‒ is treated as a separate incident, so the cost for non-compliance can be extensive. For more information, visit or

How to remove lead paint

For outside projects, you must catch any paint that falls so it can be disposed of. To do this, place a layer of 6-mil poly sheeting around the foundation of the building, extending it outward from the base to a distance of 10 feet or to the property line. If the building is more than one story, extend the layer to a distance of 20 feet or to the property line Tape the sheeting to the foundation with duct tape.

Cover the inside and outside of the window units and any air conditioning units with one-mil (.001 inch) polyethylene (poly) sheeting to prevent lead dust from entering the building

Never use a heat gun or sander to remove lead paint. Spray water on the area you are working on with a spray bottle and remove the old paint using a paint scraper. The water will help loosen the old, cracked paint, and will help control the release of lead-filled dust. Reapply water as needed to keep the surface moist.

Protect yourself

PPE (personal protective equipment) must be used by all workers where lead paint has been detected. That includes:

  • disposable gloves
  • goggles
  • approved HEPA respirator
  • disposable coverall and shoe covers or booties

Do not eat, drink, smoke, chew gum, or chew tobacco in the work area. Wash face and hands, and change clothing every time you exit the work area and before eating.

Before entering the work area, put on protective clothing in a clean area. Make sure it fits properly and is in good working condition. Store street clothes in a clean area. When leaving the work area, remove loose dust from clothing using a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. Roll off protective clothing to minimize dust and put it with abatement waste. Clean respirators with soap and water, dry them thoroughly and store in a plastic bag. Wash hands and face thoroughly.

—By Bruce Webb

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