The previous owners of our 1948 house painted over ALL the oil based (lead containing) with latex paint without properly priming it?!?! Now 1 yr in, every doorway is peeling paint exposing the green lead based paint beneath. We have 3 young children and I want to get this taken care of. Professionally removing or encapsulating it is not an option financially. What is the best way to take care of it myself? Peel what I can and prime and paint over it? I know that will leave an unsmooth surface, but scraping and sanding aren’t really an option unless there is a safe way I can do it. This is such a huge project and I don’t even know where to begin.

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3 Answers 3


A great many things will soften or dissolve latex paint without ravaging the underlying layer.

The more fundamental problem is you will need a scuff-sand to get anything to bond to the old paint. Paint cannot bond to gloss, it needs to be microscopically rough, or visibly "flat".

Scuff sand with a Scotchbrite "green" pad, same green/yellow sponges you use on pots and pans. You can prevent dust by doing this wet, wash contaminated water down a city sewer, and sponges in the trash. Don't overdo it - you're not trying to level the surface, just degloss it.

That thing you are thinking makes the new paint bind to the old: that's not what primer does, it's what scuff sanding does. Normal primers can't do that, they also need a deglossed surface to bite into. Primer does other stuff.

There is no chemical that can fix the current problem. I.E. imagine you have 4 coats

  1. topcoat
  2. ???
  3. recent paint that isn't sticking
  4. glossy or contaminated old paint

You're imagining a product at #2 that can fix the fact that #3 and #4 are delaminating. Doesn't exist. Even at "professionals only" paint stores. All that will happen is that 1 2 3 will peel off together.

Now are you 100% sure that top layer is leaden? Hard to believe it hasn't been painted since lead was banned. If it did last 40 years, that's the power of a good oil (alkyd) paint. That durability has nothing to do with lead, lead was a pigment. Luxury homes still use oil paints especially for trim. If you can't afford top tier painters to come in, then you're the painter and nothing keeps you from doing top tier work.

Unlike latex, super stinky oil paints are normal. The solvents are somewhat toxic, but they stop being harmful long before they stop offending the nose. Also they are not bioaccumulators like lead is, so once you stop using them, your body's immune system will flush out any toxins. Paint them with good ventilation.

  • 1
    We bought the house from the original owner’s children. The house sat empty for a year or so and they ‘fixed’ it up for the market. I doubt it had been painted in 40 yrs. I bought an at home lead testing kit and the green paint tested positive. Just thinking about this project makes my head spin. So-my plan is to use something to dissolve the latex and then what? Special primer and the same latex paint (many spots like the window trim are not peeling) OR repaint with oil based paint and try to color match? I don’t have experience with oil based and also worry about the fumes with the 3 babies
    – Lk123
    Dec 9, 2017 at 1:10
  • Even when you get the latex off, there's no magic juice you can put on a glossy surface to give it the roughness necessary for the next layer to grab on (well maybe there is, but it'd be a scary chemical.) Some scuff sanding is necessary, just enough to remove gloss... do it wet to eliminate dust, that's easy with Scotchbrite pads, same green/yellow pads you use on pots and pans. Used water down a city-water sink, pads/paper towels in the trash. Lead's toxic, but not that toxic, just don't eat it... Dec 9, 2017 at 4:58
  • Oil based fumes are annoying, our noses are very sensitive to it, so you can still smell it long after it stopped being enough to harm anyone. It's not a bioaccumulator like lead, the body will flush it out of your system once you stop being exposed to it. I'd get the kids away for 24-48 hrs after painting. The reason to bother is superb paint performance and good encapsulation. Get the color you want, don't feel chained to that green. You need good ventilation so winter is a lousy time to do it. Dec 9, 2017 at 5:06
  • Thanks Harper. So even if I used an oil based paint I should still scuff sand? Or only if I plan to use latex?
    – Lk123
    Dec 13, 2017 at 17:57
  • @lk123 yes, any paint. There is no magic scuff-sand-in-a-can, and even if there was, just the setup would take longer than it takes to scuff sand. It's not that hard a job, don't make more of it than there is. In fact overdoing it is the mistake, then you punch through on corners and high spots and it shows through your new paint. Dec 14, 2017 at 0:34

That’s tricky. The paint looks like it’s in good shape, so that’s positive. With kids around you want to prevent dust and flakes. I bet that the paint that is peeling is doing so because of humidity and temperature changes.

That is why I would try to use a hot wet rag and a stiff plastic spatula. Get a bit of the white paint wet, really soak it and let it work for a few minutes. Then carefully work it off with the spatula.

When you are ready to repaint, use an oil-based gloss.

Good luck and be safe


Try "Goof-Off". Spray it on the paint, and you'll have no problem scraping it off with something plastic. It shouldn't work too much against the oil-based paint either. Just don't get it on your acrylic bathtub (Ask me how I know...).

  • 1
    If it's latex paint, alcohol will dissolve it (or soften it, depending on how much is sprayed), without affecting the oil paint underneath. It's cheaper than Goof-Off, and won't leave behind a film that could interfere with adhesion of the new paint.
    – fixer1234
    Dec 8, 2017 at 4:01

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