Can You Paint Over Lead Paint, and Is It Safe?

Do you have or suspect potentially dangerous lead paint in your building or home?

Are you wondering if it’s safe to paint over it? Would doing so protect your family or your tenants from lead paint hazards?

The answer is: it depends.

You might be finding conflicting answers online because there’s a fair amount of nuance behind this question. In this article, we’ll break down and explain when and how you can paint over lead paint.

Is It Safe for Workers to Paint over Lead Paint?

This depends on the condition of the lead paint and the surface that it’s on. Lead-based paint is an immediate hazard only when it’s damaged or deteriorating, which releases lead dust or fumes that are dangerous when inhaled.

It is generally safe for workers to paint over lead paint as long as the paint is in good condition, the workers are wearing proper protection, and the painting process does not “disturb” the lead paint, meaning any action that breaks down, alters, or changes the lead-based paint.

Examples of good personal protective equipment include:

  • Gloves
  • Disposable clothing covers
  • Disposable shoe covers
  • Painter’s hat
  • Respiratory protection

Is It Safe To Live in a Building Where Lead Paint Has Been Painted Over?

This depends on how it was done. Painting over lead paint can be considered a form of “encapsulation,” which is one of the EPA-approved ways to remediate lead paint hazards. However, this requires the use of a special material called an “encapsulant.”

Regular store-bought paint by itself is not sufficient to safely encapsulate lead paint. The following are NOT encapsulants:

  • A new coat of paint or primer
  • Wall paper coverings
  • Contact paper

Proper encapsulation of lead paint means permanently covering and sealing the old layer of lead paint so that it is no longer harmful.

Before you apply the encapsulant, you must test the surface and the paint layers to make sure it will stick. Only then can you “paint” over it safely.

What Is an Encapsulant?

Encapsulants are special materials or chemicals that form a protective barrier between the lead paint and the environment. This way, they prevent the release of lead-contaminated dust or paint chips that can cause harm when inhaled or ingested.

You can find encapsulants in liquid or adhesive forms. There are three main types of encapsulants:

  • Polymers that form flexible membranes
  • Epoxy or polyurethane polymers that form hard but flexible membranes
  • Cement-like materials with polymers that form thick coatings.

The encapsulant should be used to cover the lead-based paint before a new layer of paint is applied.

When Should You NOT Paint Over Lead Paint?

The encapsulation method should not be used on certain types of surfaces that are either damaged or experience a lot of friction or wear-and-tear. Such examples include:

  • Painted surfaces showing signs of deterioration, such as cracking, peeling, or chipping
  • Damaged surfaces with holes or cracks that must be repaired
  • High-friction surfaces like the frames and hinges on windows and doors
  • Floors, stairs, and other surfaces that are walked on

In these cases, the layer of lead paint must be removed first (using safe work practices) or the surface itself should be replaced.

A thermal gun is used to safely remove lead paint.

Need Help With Lead Paint?

When it comes to dealing with lead paint hazards, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Lead is a known neurotoxin that’s especially harmful to young children and pregnant women.

If you’re a landlord of a building in New York City that needs to remediate more than 100 square feet of lead paint, or if you’ve received a lead paint violation from HPD, Local Law 1 requires you to use a United States EPA-certified lead abatement firm.

Green Orchard Group is a leader in environmental health & safety in New York City, with more than 25 years of experience as EPA-certified lead inspection and lead abatement experts. If you have questions or need assistance with lead paint in your home or building, please call (212) 219-8261 or fill out our contact form.