Paints & Coatings Resource Center

Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive

by Ron Joseph

August, 2002

How do I Know if My Paint Contains Lead?

Q. Can you tell me if "buttermilk" paint used many years ago contained lead?

A. I'm not an expert on the subject of regulations for lead in paint, but to the best of my knowledge most paints are either totally lead free, or in the worst case contain no more than 0.06% lead by weight. Prior to 1978/1979 some paints, particularly those with bright red, yellow, orange and green colors, often contained significant amounts of lead, but since post-1978, most (if not all) paints that are available from hardware stores and industrial paint suppliers are essentially lead-free.

If you have details of the "Buttermilk" paint that was used in the past, you can call the paint vendor who made that specific paint and ask for the accompanying Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The MSDS will tell you what "hazardous ingredients" are in the paint. The chemical symbol for lead is Pb. My guess is that you will not find lead in the paint. However, if you select red, yellow, orange, or perhaps bright green colors, you might find up to 0.06% lead, but even then I am doubtful that you will find any.

Please don't take my word as the final say on this matter. Check it out for yourself, or call the paint vendor whose paint was used. In most cases, the vendor will have a website with a contact name and address.

Finally, if you are still not sure whether or not the paint contains lead, you can take a sample of the old paint to an analytical laboratory in your local area and have them determine if lead is present.

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