Window frame with peeling blue paint

Renovating? Watch out for lead!

It’s springtime, which means it’s time to pull out the tools and get stuck into some home improvements!

DIY renovation is extremely popular in Australia, so as the weather warms up chances are you’ll be one of the many weekend warriors knocking down walls or stripping off old paint.

If there’s a chance you could uncover or disturb lead-containing paint during your reno, you need to know the facts and how to protect yourself, your family and your pets.

Could there be lead paint in my house?

One of the biggest risks of lead exposure in Victoria is old paint. Between 2010 and 2016, almost a third of Victorians who were reported with elevated lead levels in their blood indicated that they’d been exposed to lead-containing paint.

Lead is no longer an ingredient in Australian house paints, but prior to 1970 paints with high levels of lead were used in many Australian houses. Some automotive and marine paints may also contain lead.

How could I be exposed to lead in old paint?

As lead-containing paint ages, it flakes and crumbles, creating lead-contaminated dust. You can disturb this dust, or create even more, by removing lead-containing paint, or by demolishing or damaging surfaces covered with lead-containing paint.

Once the dust is exposed, it can be inhaled or swallowed. Children under five years old are especially vulnerable to lead exposure because they frequently put their hands to their mouths. Children absorb and retain more lead from their gut and airways than adults do.

Children with pica – a behaviour that leads to eating non-food substances – are at even more risk of lead exposure.

Unborn babies are also at risk, since any lead swallowed by a pregnant mother passes through the placenta.

Why is lead so dangerous?

Lead is toxic to your central nervous system and brain, your reproductive system, kidneys, cardiovascular system, blood and immune system.

Lead is especially dangerous for children's developing brains, which are more sensitive to the effects of lead. Lead exposure can result in impaired learning ability, shorter attention spans and an increased risk of behavioural problems. 

I think I’ve been exposed to lead! What should I do?

If you suspect that you or a family member has been exposed to lead, visit your doctor as soon as possible. They may run a blood test to measure the lead in your blood and determine whether you have lead poisoning.

The same goes for pets – get them to the vet as soon as you can.

What can I do to protect myself and my family from lead exposure?

A few simple precautions will protect you, your family and your pets.

  • If you are removing paint that may contain lead, make sure children, pregnant women, and pets leave the area until you’ve completed the work and removed all the residue.
  • Use proper personal protective equipment and wash your hands with warm soapy water before eating or drinking.
  • Clean up thoroughly to get rid of dust and paint chips from peeling paint. Use wet cleaning methods for dusty floors, ledges, window sills and other flat surfaces to minimise the risk of lead-containing dust getting into the air.
  • If you’re not sure if your home contains lead paint, or you don’t have the right equipment to undertake the work safely, call in professional help.

DIY is in our blood, but lead shouldn’t be!

More information

Lead alert - The six step guide to painting your home is on online guide with more information and tips.

Find out more about lead exposure and how to prevent it on the Better Health Channel


A group of red apples

BHC Team

BHC Team

Just like you, we live all things health. We're lucky enough it's also part of our work. Join us each week as we share ideas and new ways to enjoy even better health.