#AskTamara: Where Do I Test?? [With a LeadCheck Swab]


Q. (From Mama R, via Facebook):

“I’m going to purchase a lead test kit on the weekend. Where do I test? I live in an old building (triplex). I’m not sure how old. We have lived here for two years. The apartment was painted before we moved in. My husband said it’s dangerous to chip away at new paint to get to the old paint. How do I test our pipes? We have a 13 month old and plan to have more so we want to be in the safest place possible.

If there is lead found, what do we do?

Thank you!”

A. This is really several nested questions; I will try to answer them each separately!

Question #1: “Where do I test?”

Below is a list of areas and things you can usefully test with a LeadCheck swab (instant home lead test kit.) The best areas to test are abrasion or impact surfaces that already have chips or abrasion wear.

Even though you think you might not have wear spots in your paint (where the old paint or original wood is exposed under the new paint), I guarantee that you do! [The original wood surface (if exposed) will also test pink if it was previously painted with lead paint.]

  • Window Sills
  • Window Troughs
  • Window Trim
  • Door Trim
  • Interior Doors
  • Exterior Doors
  • Exterior Paint
  • Baseboards
  • Lead-Lines in Stained Glass Windows
  • Antique or vintage Pewter Items (dishware, tea sets, figurines, trays, etc.)
  • Leaded Crystal  (only if it has been sitting around unwashed/dusting for a duration of time)
  • Vintage Pyrex – the colorful exterior paint on these bowls, dishes, casseroles, etc.
  • Exposed solder on plumbing pipe joints
  • Anything that has a “galvanized”* finish (ducts, air exchange returns, buckets, farm equipment, etc.) – with metal items you may need to patiently wait a bit for the solution to turn pink.
  • Most (but not all) high-lead-content brass will test positive with a swab (door knobs, figurines, candlesticks, etc.)
  • Plastic miniblinds from the 1980s (if they are among the high-lead blinds that were later recalled.)
  • Some vintage china (most notoriously, Franciscan Apple [which employed a leaded “clear coat” over the main glaze!])
  • Some Mexican pottery (or other low-fire pottery of various ethnic/cultural origins – both new and vintage).

*While, strictly speaking, “galvanization” refers to the process of coating steel with an anti-corrosion layer of zinc, in practice, lead is commonly added as well in varying amounts (or can be a contaminant to the galvanization process, if not an additive). So while galvanized items may be lead-free, most of the items we have tested did contain lead — some quite a lot of it!

And as a “sidebar” to my answer to Question #1, I would like to include a list of things that you most often cannot test with a LeadCheck swab – even if they may have lead content; (read more about that here.)

  • Most Tile
  • Most Dishes
  • Most Glass Items
  • Most Plastic Unpainted Items
  • Most toys (vintage or new)
  • Most Leather
  • Many metal items

“Question” #2: “My husband said it’s dangerous to chip away at new paint to get to the old paint”.

In general, yes – you don’t want to chip away at the new paint to get to the old paint, you don’t want to create new paint chips or dust; it just takes a microscopic amount of lead dust to poison a child!

However, as noted above, you can easily find spots that are already chipped or worn (especially on baseboards, friction spots on doors and doorways and window troughs and exterior window sills).

If you are somehow the rare exception, and cannot find any chipped or worn areas you can take a razor blade and make a small “X” in the undisturbed paint (at an area that will not be easily seen, as the solution can sometimes stain) and drip the solution on to the X. If there is lead paint underneath the red/pink color will be visible coming out of the X.

Question #3: “How do I test our pipes?”

You can test exposed solder points on your pipes with a swab, and sometimes you can test any leaded brass components (Note: leaded brass has been used in many of the connectors required by PEX and other “non-metallic” plumbing lines).

However, a more comprehensive test would be to test your water – as there are often points along your water delivery system that may have lead that can leach into your water – but which are not accessible for testing.

I have a friend who has a company that sells DIY lead-in-water test kits  – and you can get the results from his company (to as low as five parts per billion) in as little as five days; many health departments also offer water testing for free (although the time-line for free testing through the county or city or state is often quite long — sometimes as long as 6-8 weeks or more.) Free tests from a public agency may also only let you know if your water is “under 15 ppb” (only testing to federal standards, not a more accurate true level) and therefore it is often worth it to pay for a test that will be more accurate – especially given current federal standards are not protective of children’s health.

Part 4: “If there is lead found, what do we do?”

Well, this is a very big question… It depends how much lead you find and where. The simple answer is to remove any and all sources of lead from your home (there is no safe level of lead exposure for children). If you cannot effectively remove the lead from your home [or cannot afford to], you should move to a lead-free home, if at all possible. Yeah, I do realize this can seem/be “brutal” — but not anywhere near as brutal as lead poisoning.

Depending on the specific sources of lead you find, you can look up several more topics and posts here on my website that may have answers, or you can re-post on Facebook (in “The Lead (Pb) Group” ) with the results of your testing and the group (with my help) can offer you solutions at that time (to address the specific lead hazards that you find.)

Please do note that LeadCheck swabs or similar DIY lead test kits cannot find all sources of lead. They are not particularly effective at exposing low levels of lead in dust (which can be very poisonous to young children, yet invisible.) LeadCheck swabs are just one tool and should be used in conjunction with dust wipe sampling and XRF testing for a thorough and comprehensive assessment of the lead hazards in your home.

You can do some of these things yourselves or you can hire a Professional Hazard Assessor* to do a full hazard assessment for you  after preliminary screening (testing a few sample areas with a LeadCheck swab yourself). A hazard assessor typically looks for lead, mold, asbestos – and sometimes radon… and will employ dust wipe sampling and XRF technology to find results and create a report for you that offers suggestions of what needs to be repaired and how, and estimates of what the costs of those repairs might be.

Here’s my post about how I test for lead.

I think that covers it!

For anyone reading this post, if you appreciate the information on my blog and my independent consumer goods testing and lead poisoning prevention advocacy work, please consider making a contribution via my chip-in link or my GoFundMe page.  I could not do this important work with out the support of you: my friends, readers, followers and fans.

Thank you!

Tamara Rubin
“Unexpected Lead Expert”

*Hazard assessors who are reading this… would you like to be listed on my site?  Please be in touch as I am starting a new program to create a list (on my site) of active hazard assessors in each state.

2 Responses to #AskTamara: Where Do I Test?? [With a LeadCheck Swab]

  1. Amanda January 1, 2019 at 1:33 pm #

    Do you have a list of hazard testers? Im in mid-western illinois and intrested in testing for my home.

    • Tamara January 1, 2019 at 1:53 pm #

      Hmmm – no. But the EPA’s site for your region may. I will see what I can find online for you.

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