Does Old Barn Wood Contain Lead Paint?

An old wooden barn with a pitched, corrugated metal roof and red, flaking paint. In the top left of the image is the element key for lead from the periodic table, which includes its name, the symbol for lead (Pb), its atomic number (82), and its atomic weight (207.2). Next to the element key is a yellow triangular hazardous warning sign with a skull and crossbones inside. Across the bottom are the words "Does Old Barn Wood Contain Lead Paint?"

If you just got your hands on some planks of wood reclaimed from an old barn and noticed some old flaky, “alligatoring” chips of paint, then you’re probably wondering what the chances are that these planks of old barn wood contain lead paint.

So, is there a way to know for sure, and would it be dangerous to use the wood?

Old barn wood that was painted before 1978 may contain lead paint. Although it’s not a rule, lead paint is often white or yellowish-white and flakes easily. Although lead test kits are available, the best way to know for sure is to contact the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-5323.

The rest of this article will cover the dangers of working with lead-contaminated barn wood, how to tell if your barn wood is affected, and how to stay safe.

If you are wondering where to get hold of reclaimed wood, our article on the blog gives a rundown of the top companies providing reclaimed wood today.

Could Your Old Barn Wood Contain Lead Paint? – How To Tell

A closeup of old barn wood with flaking paint. Overlain across the image is the element key for lead from the periodic table and a cartoon woman with question marks coming out of her head.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry when dealing with reclaimed wood painted before 1978 because lead paint wasn’t banned until that year.

According to the CDC, lead-based paints were banned in 1978. However, for any old painted surfaces, there’s no guarantee they don’t contain lead paint.

And since millions of barns around the U.S. were built before 1978, many were painted with lead-based paint.

It was a popular type of paint because of its super bright white color, but even red paint could’ve been mixed with lead-based paint to achieve the desired shade. Plus, it could’ve come into contact with white paint used for doors, windows, and support beams.

So, just because your old barn wood isn’t white doesn’t mean it’s safe. Thankfully, there are multiple ways to check if that old patch of paint on your barn wood contains lead:

Have a Professional Test It

An electronic machine is being held up against a wall to test for the presence of lead in the paint. The machine operator is wearing blue rubber gloves, and the machine display says, "reading."
There are machines available to test for the presence of lead in paint, but they are very expensive.

This method is the best and most reliable way to check for lead paint, but it is also the most expensive. So, it’s only worth it if you have large amounts of potentially contaminated barn wood.

A lead professional would arrive at your place and administer an EPA-approved test. Check out the California Department of Public Health’s article to learn more.

Use a Lead Check Swab

There are all kinds of different lead swab kits to test for lead in paint, but they’re not always reliable or accurate. And they can’t tell how much lead there is. Thankfully, they’re pretty affordable, so they’re worth a shot.

Check out 3M LeadCheck Swabs on This test requires you to use a swab on a lead-contaminated surface and wait for 30 seconds. If the color turns red, then it contains lead.

Collect a Sample and Sent It to a Lab

This lead test kit from is different from the swab test above. Here, you’d follow the instructions in the box to safely collect a sample of chipped (potentially) lead-based paint and then ship it to a laboratory so they can test it and determine if it contains lead.

There aren’t any additional hidden costs associated with the product, and you can test up to 5 samples.

Is It Dangerous To Use Barn Wood With Lead Paint?

A white, single-story wooden house with a pitched roof. In the foreground are orange warning signs with black writing stating, "Warning! Lead work area. Poison. No smoking or eating." There is also yellow tape with the word "caution" in black letters that has been used to cordon off the area.
Lead poisoning can cause a range of distressing symptoms and even death. Don’t take any chances if you suspect lead might be present, and call in the professionals.

Although both adults and children can get lead poisoning, it’s especially dangerous for babies and children under the age of 3. It’s also dangerous for pregnant women.

As MayoClinic explains, lead poisoning often doesn’t present itself until one has accumulated dangerous amounts of it in one’s bloodstream. Even fatal quantities of lead can take months or years to kill a person.

More commonly, lead can cause difficulties and permanent disabilities in children, such as:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Weight loss
  • Stunted growth
  • Frequent nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
  • Seizures

It can cause bone and joint pain, high blood pressure, headaches, and more for adults. Pregnant women might miscarry.

So, if you want to work with lead-contaminated barn wood, you could be putting your whole family at risk. But why?

According to the EPA, the most common way lead paint enters the bloodstream is through dust. So, ingesting lead isn’t the only way it can get into your or your child’s bloodstream.

And you don’t even have to inhale lead dust for it to get into your bloodstream. It can be absorbed through the skin, so even touching it is dangerous.

If you cut, saw, sand, or process barn wood with lead paint in any other way that involves creating small particles, you’ll contaminate everything around you — your clothes, shoes, and workshop.

You could even contaminate the soil around it, leading to indirect lead poisoning, especially for your children and pets, or if you grow your own vegetables.

What To Do With Barn Wood With Lead Paint

A lab worker wearing rubber gloves holding a lead testing tube.
The best thing to do if you suspect lead contamination is to call in the experts and get your wood tested for the presence of lead.

The best course of action is to contact the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323). They’ll put you in touch with a local certified risk assessor or inspector and let you know the best course of action for your case.

If you just had some barn wood with lead paint and wanted to use it for something, you’ll likely have to dispose of it safely.

But if you have wall cladding made from old barn wood, or it’s an integral part of your house, you may be advised to have a certified contractor deal with it the best way they see fit.

Can You Seal in the Lead Paint on Old Barn Wood?

One of the most common ways people who live in homes built before 1978 deal with lead-based paint around the house is by using encapsulating paint. This type of paint is very thick and can effectively seal lead-based paint to protect your family.

This is an excellent option if you need help to dispose of the barn wood easily. A popular choice is the INSL-X Lead Block on, which can be used on interior and exterior surfaces. You may want to contact a certified professional to apply the paint.

As a side note, you can’t seal lead paint with polyurethane, tung oil, wax, or any other commonly used sealant. They’re designed to keep moisture from the wood, but lead can still leech out of the sealant.

Also, just because you use an encapsulant doesn’t mean you can process the wood as usual. For example, sanding would remove the encapsulating paint, and cutting would still generate dangerous lead dust.

Final Thoughts

Old barn wood painted before 1978 may contain lead, and the best way to check is to use a sample kit or have a professional test it.

Although not all old barn wood contains lead, there’s a good chance, so it’s essential to be aware of the risk.

If you’re interested in using reclaimed wood on a ceiling, you might be interested in our article about the costs involved in such a project.

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