Lead paint was popular for years before anyone realized the harmful impact it could have on homeowner health if eaten or inhaled in dust. It can cause issues from anemia to seizures to death, particularly in children. The federal government banned the sale of lead-based paint in 1978, but some painters stocked up and continued to use the paint for years, so homes could still have lingerings of the chemical. How can a homeowner tell if their home has lead paint?

“When the paint deteriorates it creates a pattern that looks like scales. It’s actually called alligatoring,” says Sisson. Finding these series of cracks along walls can be a good indication that you’ve entered into lead territory, but most homeowners aren’t going to just leave crumbling paint on the living room walls, so you might need to put on your investigative hat.

Walls can also be tested for surface lead using a paint testing kit available at your local hardware store. For the test, you rub a solution on the wall. If the solution turns pink, you have lead. (Though, it will also stain the wall if it turns pink, so maybe it’s not a great idea if you’re just looking at a property.) The problem is, the test has limits. It finds lead only on the surface. If the lead-based paint was covered up by new paint, the test won’t work.

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