Spring cleaning is much more challenging when you live in a place that has lead paint and lead dust. It means thinking carefully about your environment, planning ahead, having the appropriate tools on hand and perhaps sending the kids away for awhile. If you are pregnant, it would be best to ask (or pay) someone else to do this for you.
A little background on lead paint and lead poisoning
Lead dust and lead paint are nothing to trivialize. The CDC estimates that “approximately 24 million housing units have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. More than 4 million of these dwellings are homes to one or more young children.” (Source) What that means is there are many households out there who are dealing with lead dust and lead paint. Mine is one of them. Increased blood lead levels in children have a variety of effects including anemia, poor calcium absorption, decreased growth of bones and muscles, poor coordination, damage to hearing, nervous system and kidneys, speech/language delays, developmental delays and (in cases of extremely high lead levels) seizures. (Source)
Please be aware that lead paint that is chipped, cracked, peeling or broken creates lead dust. Lead dust is also created when lead paint is rubbed on, brushed against, slammed between door and doorframe, slammed between window and window frame, etc. Lead dust is the primary source of lead exposure in most households. Other sources include contaminated dirt, lead-laced dishes, jewelry and toys.
Before you begin to clean, be sure you can either complete the project while the children are sleeping in another room or send them to play somewhere outside the house. You might consider wearing a mask to prevent inhalation of lead dust.
It is important to check for broken, cracked, peeling paint. Any places that show compromised paint need to be marked on your list of things to repair as a high priority. If you are renting your house, inform your landlord or lease-holder about the problem.
It is best to clean these areas from top to bottom and cover your furniture during this process. Wipe off or vacuum ceiling fans. Wash walls with a rag that is damp with a mild soap and water solution. Rinse it out frequently and get clean solution often. Begin at the top of windows and window frames and doors and door frames and work towards the floor. Wipe off baseboards and trim. Next, remove the covers from furniture (wash or discard them) and vacuum off furniture and floors using a vacuum that uses a Hepa filter. (Using a vacuum cleaner without a Hepa filter can just exacerbate the problem by putting lead dust back into the air to settle in other places.) Last, use a damp mop to mop the entire floor, being careful to rinse it frequently.
When you are finished, throw away the rags, thoroughly rinse or wash your mop head (or throw it away) and be sure to wash your hands. Change your clothing. If you can, take a shower to be sure you have removed the lead dust from your hair and body.
All of this may sound like a lot of extra work, but it is worth the extra effort to avoid lead poisoning. A few extra steps and planning during spring cleaning can make your house a much safer place for you and your children. Aren’t they worth it?