Although paint is pretty, it can sometimes be pretty dangerous. It’s not news that lead paint can present a health hazard to you and your family. Here are three ways to identify the presence of this harmful element in your home.

Homes That May Contain Lead Paint

For many years lead-based paint was popular among painters because of its ability to hold color and for its lustrous appearance. But after scientists discovered its hazardous effects—anemia, seizures, and even death if ingested or inhaled as dust, the federal government banned its sale.

The ban came in 1978, leaving many homebuyers to conclude that all houses built thereafter were lead paint free. But not necessarily so.

Since the government only banned the manufacture and sale of lead-based paint, and there were no explicit regulations concerning existing supplies and stockpiles held by painters, use of the paint continued for years—some home inspectors discovered it in houses built as late as the 90s, according to

How to Identify Lead Paint in Your Home

Look for Alligatoring

One telltale sign of a wall in your home that’s been coated with lead paint is, when the paint begins to deteriorate, it does something called alligatoringseparating in a pattern that resembles alligator scales.

If you’re a homebuyer who’s interested in an older home you should examine baseboards, basement window sashes, and the insides of closets for alligatoring, since most homeowners won’t leave crumbling paint on areas like living room walls.

Perform an At-Home Paint Test

You can perform your own test for lead paint using a paint testing kit that you can pick up at your local hardware store. The test involves rubbing a solution on the wall, and if the solution turns pink it means lead is present. This test only identifies lead that’s on the surface, though and not lead-based paint that’s been covered with new paint. Although covering lead paint can help protect your family it isn’t always the best approach, since you—or even professional painters—could overlook spots.

Hire an Inspector

The only way to be absolutely sure whether or not your home contains lead-based paint is to hire an inspector. Inspectors use an X-ray to see through layers of paint to get to the base of the wall. Since X-rays cannot pass through lead the identification of its presence on your walls is straightforward.

If an inspection has been ordered for your potential new home make sure the inspector tests for lead paint, because not all do.

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