Phase Three in Lead Abatement: Clean up thoroughly

Making a room lead-safe involves dealing with not only the paint prep mess, but also any lead dust that might have collected on floors, sills and other areas before you started.

The washing and wiping process isn’t as much extra hassle as you might think, because you’d have to clean dust off the woodwork and walls before painting anyway. But for lead paint, the technique is more rigorous, so well describe it in detail as well as illustrate it in Photos 10 through 16.

Begin by vacuuming paint chips and other debris with the HEPA vac (Photo 10). Gunk sticks in cracks, so dig it out as you go. Tuck a screwdriver blade into a towel and run it along corners and crevices to dig it out. We left the metal weatherstrip in the window trough because it was tight to the sill and the paint on the sill was in good shape. But if the weatherstrip is loose or the paint around it is peeling, you’ll have to remove it to clean the area well.

Wash the area with an all-purpose cleaner. The key to successful cleaning is to wipe in one direction to avoid recontaminating clean areas. We used heavy-weight paper towels and folded them over after each wipe to avoid recontamination (Photo 12). If you use cloths and a bucket of wash water (instead of a spray bottle), wring excess water and shake paint chips into a second bucket and change water and cloths often. Usually you can pour dirty water into a toilet, but check with your local health department to make sure it approves.

Rinse with a clean cloth and bucket of clean water, using the same wiping techniques as before (Photo 13). To lessen the risk of contaminating other rooms, we recommend completing all cleanup before doing any repainting. Remove the poly first. The idea is to keep all contaminated sides toward the middle of the floor, removing the highest poly first, over the door, and folding it inward. Continue the process, folding the corners to the center (Photo 14), then roll up the poly and seal it in a 6-mil garbage bag (order online; most home centers don’t carry this thickness). Normally you can put the bag in the trash, but to make sure, check with the health department.

Finally, clean uncarpeted floors with the same three-step process you used for the woodwork: Vacuum with the HEPA vac, wash with the all-purpose cleaner, and rinse.

REMINDER: Launder your work clothing and shoes (unless you covered them) separately from other clothing. Wash your tools and respirator, throw away the respirator filters and sanding sponges, then take a shower to wash off all paint dust.

Did You Do a Good Job?

These methods work. If you follow the proper procedures, you can expect to leave your room lead-safe. However, if you had a lead dust problem before doing the work, if anyone in your home has had an elevated lead level in a blood test, or if you suspect that contractors failed to use lead-safe techniques, test your room immediately after finishing. The best method is with dust wipe tests. You can take samples yourself and send them to a lab for analysis. Contact your health department or an accredited lab for complete how-to instructions. A professional lead abatement contractor can also do the tests.