The problem: When inhaled or ingested, lead can cause brain damage, digestive disorders, hearing disabilities, seizures, even death. Children under 6 are most susceptible—and also most likely to chew on "mouthable surfaces," like the painted moldings around windows or doors. Until it was banned in 1978, lead was added to paint to make it harder, more vibrant, and quick-­drying. Even if a house has been ­painted more recently, underlying layers can chip off or get into the air during sanding, scraping, or stripping. You ­shouldn't test for lead yourself; the EPA says home testing kits are unreliable. Instead, contact a licensed professional by calling the National Lead Information Center at 800-424-LEAD.

The best solution: In some states, homeowners can remove lead paint them­selves if they follow guidelines, in­cluding using HEPA masks and vacuums. Experts recommend liquid strippers, which keep the particles wet and out of the air. (Sanding and dry scraping kick up lead dust.) Use a nontoxic, bio­degradable stripper, such as 3M's Safest Stripper, or one with refined citrus oils and no petroleum distillates. An infrared stripper, such as the Speedheater, heats paint enough to separate it from the wood for easy scraping but not so much as to create harmful vapors.

Once the paint is gone, you still need to clean off any residue. Some pros use trisodium phosphate (TSP), which neutralizes lead by turning it into lead phosphate. But TSP is poisonous—some states prohibit its use—and lead phosphate is a suspected carcinogen. Instead, try a phosphate-free, bio­degradable detergent, like Ledizolv, which attracts and stabilizes lead dust. The removed paint, and any rags you use for cleanup, can be disposed of with the regular trash.

Of course, the safest solution is to not strip lead paint at all. If you don't need to get to the underlying woodwork, then you can encapsulate lead with a special primer, such as Child Guard, that seals it and gives it a bitter taste to deter kids from chewing.

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