Skip to main content

This Winter, Stay Warm, Cozy and Lead-Safe

Feb 15, 2024 12:04PM ● By Virginia Department of Health

Winter’s cold days are the perfect time for making cozy family memories indoors. Game nights, lazy days of building forts and block towers or curling up on the couch with a book all sound good when it’s wet and icy outside.


This season of increased indoor time is a great opportunity to make sure your household habits and routines reduce your family’s risk of exposure to lead. Lead is toxic to everyone—especially young children.


Lead-based paint was banned in 1978, but an estimated 38 million permanently occupied housing units, or 40% of American homes, contain some lead paint that was applied before the ban, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Survey of Lead and Allergens in Housing.


Lead paint poses the greatest risk to children when it begins to deteriorate, creating chips and dust that can be ingested by young children who are more likely to crawl on the floor and put their hands and toys in their mouths.


When winter brings more indoor days and less fresh air, those risks may be higher. The good news is, lead poisoning is the most preventable environmental disease among young children.


Here are some household habits that can reduce your family’s lead exposure this winter:


Know the Biggest Hazards – The risk of exposure to lead-based paint is greatest in areas of high friction. Doorways, windowsills and any surfaces where paint is peeling and deteriorating are prime candidates for creating lead dust. Regularly cleaning around these areas (using the lead-safe practices described below) can help. Routine maintenance can help keep dust at bay, but if you plan to upgrade or renovate your home, be sure to either hire a lead-safe certified contractor, or follow the EPA’s lead-safe renovation guidelines for DIYers, which can be found at


Check Your Vacuum – Without the right filtration, vacuuming can actually spread fine-particulate lead dust around your home. Make sure your vacuum is contributing to cleaner air in your house by selecting a cleaner with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Vacuums with HEPA filters can be found anywhere vacuums are sold—you just need to make sure the package features the HEPA acronym when describing the filtration system.


Keep Hands and Faces Clean – Children ages 6 and younger are at the highest risk of lead poisoning in part because they are so prone to crawling on the floor, picking up lead dust and then ingesting it by putting their hands in their mouths. For this reason, Janine Kerr, Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Health Educator with the Virginia Department of Health, recommends washing children’s hands and faces regularly, especially before they go to bed at night. “Making sure that they are washing their hands and face before going to sleep reduces the risk of exposure overnight if they were to suck their thumb or put their hands in their mouth,” she says.


Wash Items Often – Toys, pacifiers, bottles and any other toy or item likely to go in a child’s mouth should be washed often with soap and water. These items can pick up lead dust when left on the floor, so keep an eye on them.


Clean With the Wet Method – When wiping down surfaces in your home, Kerr recommends a specific method to help prevent lead dust from being kicked up into the air. Start by filling a spray bottle with soap and water. Spray down the surface you are about to clean. Then, using a disposable rag or towel, wipe the surface, moving in one direction to avoid dragging any lead dust back into the area you just cleaned. Then, use a new rag or cloth dampened with water to wipe away any additional dirt or grime. “It's really important to not reuse cloths or rags, because that can contaminate the area that you just cleaned,” Kerr says.


Use Three Buckets For Mopping Floors – Avoid cross-contaminating your floors by mopping with three buckets. Fill one with soapy water, one with clean water, and leave the last one empty. When mopping, clean your floor one section at a time. For each section, first dip your mop into the soapy water, clean the section, rinse the mop in the clean water and then wring it thoroughly into the empty bucket. Taking the extra time to rinse your mop in clean water can make a huge difference, since you won’t be putting dirty water back on your floors as you go from section to section.


Brave the Cold – Taking the time to bundle up and enjoy a walk or visit to a playground exposes your children to fresh air, and reduces their time around indoor lead hazards. Try to get some outside time in every day if you can.


Think About What’s Coming In – In addition to paint in homes, lead exposure can come from adults who may bring it into the house after certain activities, such as spending time at a firing range, battery manufacturing or recycling facility, mechanic shop or similar hobby or occupation. When coming home from activities like these, adults should remove their shoes before coming into the house to avoid tracking lead dust in. Once inside, change clothes and take a shower before interacting with children to avoid exposing them to any lead you may have picked up.


Enjoy Extra C – Nutrition can be a defense against lead poisoning—especially foods rich in Vitamin C. Consider adding some delicious winter citrus to your grocery cart and brightening those cold days with a fruit salad or fresh-squeezed orange juice. As the weather gets colder, your immune system will also appreciate the extra C.




At risk? Get tested.

For children who may be at risk for lead exposure, blood lead testing is an important step in preventing harm from lead poisoning. In addition to living in older homes, other high-risk scenarios for lead exposure include children who are eligible for or receiving Medicaid or WIC services, refugees or newcomers to the U.S., living with an adult who has a job or hobby that may expose them to lead, living near an active industrial site, or have a sibling or housemate that was recently exposed to lead. 


Children who fall under any of these categories should be tested at 12 and 24 months. In addition, any child up to age six who is at risk for exposure but has not previously been tested, should be tested.


Pediatricians can help parents get a testing order to take to a local lab. The cost is covered by Medicaid and most private insurers.


Keeping an eye on lead hazards is critically important for parents of young children. While lead is not safe at any age, children ages 6 and under are at the highest risk for harmful impacts that can have life-long implications, because young bodies absorb lead at a faster rate.




For more information, please visit


Get Our Newsletters
* indicates required
FredParent eletters
Read Our Digital Issue
From Our Partners