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Ask the Craftsman: How to Encapsulate Lead Paint

Ask the Craftsman: How to Encapsulate Lead PaintToday’s question comes from Jacques:

“What would you recommend for plaster walls and wood trim/mouldings on a 90 year old house? My wife and I are planning on having kids, so we’d like to get the house lead free in a safe way.”

Jacques, in a 90-year old house you’re not as likely to have lead paint on your plaster walls. The more likely place is on painted trim and windows & doors. Semi-gloss white and yellow enamel paint are the most typical culprits of lead paint.

Use a lead test kit to determine if there is lead present (follow the instructions to make sure you test correctly). If it comes out positive, you have a couple options.

Option #1 Paint Removal

Strip the surface down to bare wood using any of the techniques listed here. This works well for woodwork but is very time consuming to do yourself and requires protection from any dust that is created. Plus, if complete removal of all traces of lead paint is what you’re after it’s probably best to hire a lead abatement company which can cost $$$.

Option #2 Encapsulate

There are products like LeadStop and ChildSafe that are lead encapsulating paint/primers. These products are painted on the offending surface and then you can top coat them with whatever finish paint you want. I have not used them so I cannot speak as to their effectiveness, though they have undergone extensive testing.

Ultimately, if your paint is not peeling or flaking off, you may be better off simply priming and painting again. By this time, they have probably already been painted over once or twice.

The danger for lead paint with children is that it has a sweet taste, which makes them want to chew on sills and eat paint chips. If the lead paint is covered with new coats of lead-free paint and it isn’t peeling, then you should be pretty safe from your new baby being exposed. Full scale removal isn’t always necessary.

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42 thoughts on “Ask the Craftsman: How to Encapsulate Lead Paint

  1. I’m moving into an apartment that had lead paint that was encapsulated – painted many times, and the last coat after the last tenant left. Is it safe to add nail holes to hang pictures in these walls?

  2. Hello, my husband and I are going to be moving into an apartment that has lead paint, but it has been encapsulated by other coats of paint. I have some artwork and other items that I’d really like to hang on the walls when we move in, but am not sure if that would be a safety hazard or not. If we are careful to control the dust while putting nails in the walls, do you think this would create a concern?


  3. We are moving into an older house with lead paint deep in the walls and some that has been exposed and safely removed and repaired. My question is now that there have been years of new lead free paint encapsulating the lead paint, can we hang anything on the walls by nailing or drilling? We have a child so we are concerned with lead poisoning. Thank you!

    1. I’ve heard using shaving cream to foam the area being drilled/ nailed is a good barrier to limit lead dust. After hole is made or nail in, just wipe it away

  4. what sealer or primer should I use over the walls if they contain old lead paint?
    oil base or water base? which one do you recommend? what brand? and why.

  5. I have several old doors with peeling white paint. I have not tested it yet, but feel based on the age of the doors that they will test positive for lead. Is there a clear coating encapsulation product that you recommend? I love the look of the doors with the missing and cracked paint and want to use one as a headboard.

  6. I am looking for a paint that will adhere to lead. I have poured lead for making sinkers for fishing. I would like to color them

  7. I have poured lead weights for making sinkers and how do I and what type of paint do I use to decorate them so the paint does not come off and do I have to use a primer

  8. I really appreciate this post and your responsiveness to follow-up questions. I have a few of my own.

    Some of the encapsulation products I have found seem to say they actually change the lead (I read the word bio-availability), but maybe I am misunderstanding?

    My primary question is this: Our kitchen has lead paint beneath several layers of non-lead, obviously previous encapsulation attempts. We need to repaint, however, the last layer of latex-based paint was poorly applied, or the previous layer poorly prepped, as we have large and continuous peeling problems. How can I prep the surfaces without the danger of lead dust that scraping and sanding would present? Can I apply a lead encapsulation product over a product like Peel Stop primer?

  9. Can you paint over new walls an ceilings an floor an trim everything is caulked up sealed but walls have lead after we were finished we found this out,can I coat with primer an b fine

  10. I found an old glass cabinet from a butler’s pantry at an antique shop. It looks to have only 2 coats of paint on it. The original lead-based layer (I tested it and it was positive) which you can clearly see was cracking and chipping prior to the 2nd (non lead-based paint) layer. My question is, do I go to all the trouble of stripping it (I already purchased a gallon of Smart Strip) or go out and buy the encapsulating products you mentioned previously? Please help!

  11. We have a pretty old home, my grandsons lead level came back at just one point over ok. Our living room walls are plaster. Would covering the walls with drywall make them safe? The windows are replaced and no old paint on the woodwork.

      1. In renovating my 1902 home (which is actually my 16th whole house renovation), I learned that many old stains also contained lead. Every piece of stained woodwork in our entire house tested positive. I had no knowledge that stain could also contain lead and have since learned that it’s very common. Wish I would have known before I started sanding my woodwork and floors!

  12. I have an old window with “industrial green” paint in pretty bad shape on it. I tried to clean the grim off of it and it’s chipping badly. Removal isn’t an option. Can I use the encapsulating paint on it or just prime heavy and paint? The look of the chipped paint doesn’t bother me.

  13. My home was built in 1916 it’s a 3 story in the cathedral district now being treated. The contractors were given the option due to finding large amounts of lead on how to treat it. Will it be safe for long term for my grandchildren after encapsulated by contractors? My concerns are what if treatments are chipped scraped ect will I have problems all over again?

    1. Lead paint can be encapsulated but yes it can be scratched or chipped and revealed again in the future. Removal is always the safest option though it is usually the most expensive.

  14. My family renovated their house when I was 2 years old. We all got lead poisoning very bad. Please make sure you know the seriousness of lead paint and how easily it can dust up.

  15. While removing 1980’s floor tile, I discovered a wonderful linoleum floor underneath from 1940. People are warning me about “lead” in the glue.
    They’re also warning me about lead in the vintage linoleum. I looked into it and there is no reason there would be lead present in vintage linoleum.
    Would there be lead in floor glue from the 1980s?
    Any books that you can recommend for instructions of how to restore vintage linoleum floors?

  16. I personally believe that it is best to leave old interior lead paint alone if it isn’t cracked and peeling and just prime and paint over it. Attempting to remove it all in an old house is a big project and can easily just spread lead dust around. However, I do think it is worth paying attention to old window and door frames and selectively stripping those where the old painted surfaces rub against each other.

    And of course I think it is a good thing to save old windows and to restore original siding. Bob Yap and your blog have some good advice on whole house paint stripping and repainting, (get a group to get it done in a timely manner) and if you can’t do the whole thing, at least doo the lower surfaces and around the windows that are easy for a child to get to. Then wait until they are older before attempting to strip again, and send them away to camp or Grandma’s while you do so.

    I’m actually planning to remove old lead paint and a failing textured finish in my stairwell maybe next year when my son is away at camp. I have taped and spot painted over cracks to avoid exposure so far.

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