If you are going to do any renovation, painting, or repair work all over a pre-1978 building anytime soon, the 3M LeadCheck Swabs instant lead test kit that comes with 48 swabs is perfect for you!
This lead-based paint test allows you to check various surfaces and materials for traces of lead and get results in as fast as less than a minute.
Other features of the 3M LeadCheck Swabs are:
- Capable of detecting lead at 600 parts per million, or ppm, or 1 to 2 micrograms
- Its tip will change color when lead is detected, that is why 3M says, “red means lead”
- An EPA-approved lead-based paint test kit, which means you can rely on it to give you accurate results
- Contains chemicals known to immediately detect and react with lead, such as rhodizonate, that is why you can get quick results
- Designed to be safely used, as it does not emit any dangerous fumes and all the chemicals required for testing are safely housed in vials inside the swab
- The perfect at-home test kit, as it is easy to use and is non-toxic. The chemicals present in the swab are not dangerous, even if touched by bare skin
- Will not leave a mess when used, nor will it cause damage to the tested surface
- Each kit comes with instructions for its proper use and a confirmation card that allows you to test if the swab is active and working
- A swab only costs less than $5, making it a very inexpensive but useful tool for your projects
This 48-pack kit is perfect for testing multiple surfaces, which is enough to cover and thoroughly check entire house or facility for lead, especially if you will work on the entire structure. But if this seems too much or too little, the LeadCheck swabs also come in 8-swab kits and 144-swab kits.
The Environmental Protection Agency, better known as the EPA, developed the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP rule) to safeguard those working on a home or facility constructed before 1978, as well as their customers, from the health risks associated with lead.
Before the residential use of lead-based paint was officially banned in 1978, it was widely used in homes all over the country. In fact, about 38 million homes are suspected to have lead-based paint present, putting its inhabitants at constant risk for lead exposure.
The ban was imposed due to the discovery that lead exposure can cause different health effects, ranging from headaches to brain damage, and even death. And because lead is invisible to the eye, it can easily enter the body not just through inhalation but even via skin contact or ingestion.
The main principle of the RRP rule is that anyone who will disturb paint in pre-1978 homes and facilities that children live in or stay for long periods must be knowledgeable and observe lead safe practices while renovating, repairing, or painting those structures.
One of those requirements is to either test for lead on the different surfaces or materials that will be affected before working, or just assume that the structure contains lead and immediately follow lead safe practices.
For peace of mind of both contractors and their clients, doing a lead test is still ideal. However, you cannot just get any test kit available, because their accuracy is questionable. That is why if you are testing for lead, you should only use EPA-approved test kits.
The 3M LeadCheck Swab instant lead test kit is among the only three EPA-approved lead-based paint test kits. This means that it meets the criteria of the EPA in terms of:
- The negative response criterion of the EPA, which requires the occurrence rate of false negatives to be less than 5%; a false negative means that the test kit did not detect lead in a tested area that actually contains lead
- The 95% minimum level of confidence when it comes to correctly detecting lead in paint that is beyond the regulated limit, which is 1 milligram per square centimeter or 0.5% per weight of the formulation of the paint
Conducting the lead test using these swabs will ensure that you follow the RRP rule, and this can also lead to more business; customers trust contractors who show concern about their well-being, not just the business they can get out of them.
With the 3M LeadCheck Swabs, you can immediately show your clients the results of the test and educate them about the seriousness of the situation. And because they know that you are following the standards set by the EPA, you can easily justify your rates and even get more clients.
Surfaces They Can Test
The 3M LeadCheck Swab can be used to test various surfaces at home or any other facility, both indoors and outdoors. And in 2012, it finally gained EPA recognition to test even on plaster and drywall surfaces.
These swabs can be used to test:
- Brass (including key rings and inner fixtures, such as in faucets and well pumps)
- Metal and Metal Alloys
- Drywall and Plaster
- Surfaces with Paint
While most people think that testing for lead is limited to walls, you can also use the swab to check:
- Doors and Door Frames
- Windows and Window Frames
- Lead Chromate
- Stairs, Handrails, and Railings
- Baseboards and Moldings
- Cabinets, Closets, and Cupboards
- Ceramic Tiles (like those in kitchens, hearths, and bathrooms)
- Solders, including those on stained-glass windows and plumbing pipes made of copper
- Fabric, Rugs, and Clothing (particularly to detect lead deposits present)
- Fixtures with Porcelain Enamel (such as sinks, toilets, and bathtubs)
The 3M LeadCheck swabs can also be used for dust screening to determine if the dust you are dealing with is just ordinary or the toxic lead dust. This is helpful because lead is typically absorbed by the body through the inhalation of lead dust.
3M LeadCheck Swab Instructions
Each swab contains two vials that contain the reagent that reacts to lead and the activator solution, which must be mixed together to activate the swab.
When the liquids are mixed, you only have 2 minutes to apply the swab on the surface you want to test, as a swab is only active for that period. On the other hand, an unused swab as an unlimited shelf life.
These general instructions will work for most cases when testing via the 3M LeadCheck Swab:
- Look for the points marked ‘A’ and ‘B’ on the swab, as these are the breakable points of the vials. Crush those points with your fingers to release the liquids.
- Shake the swab to mix the two liquids together.
- After shaking, squeeze the swab and check if yellow liquid starts coming out of the porous tip. If so, this means that the swab is activated and can now be used for testing.
- Rub the swab tip on the surface to be tested, making sure to squeeze the swab while rubbing so that the solution will be released and interact with any lead present.
After rubbing, check whether the swab tip has changed color or not. If lead is present, the swab’s porous tip must show a red or pink color.
But if it remains unchanged, you need to confirm whether the swab is active and did not really detect lead or it was not properly activated.
Checking the swab is done by placing the tip of the used swab onto one of the circles present on the confirmation card. These circles contain traces of lead, so both the swab and the circle on the card should immediately change color. If not, this means the swab was not active when you used it and you need to retest using a new swab. You never reuse a swab because it may give inaccurate results.
Certain surfaces may also require different or additional steps to accurately test for lead.
Testing on Painted Surfaces
Before testing on a painted surface, it must be wiped clean using a mild cleanser and allowed to dry. And if the paint is undisturbed or any signs of damage does not completely penetrate the surface, make a notch that is deep enough to reach it to expose all the layers of paint. Afterwards, follow the general instructions.
Testing on Red Paint or Red Lead
Because of the possibility of red paint bleeding onto the swab, testing on these surfaces is not a straightforward process. You need to first check if the paint will bleed. To do so, only crush vial ‘B’ of the swab and rub the swab tip onto the surface while squeezing to let the liquid flow out. Afterwards, check if the tip shows any signs of red color; a clean tip means that the paint does not bleed, and you can test the red paint following the general instructions.
But if working with a red steel primer, follow the general instructions and immediately check the tint of red that appears. Red primer typically contains lead, and the swab tip should show a bright cherry red color if lead is detected; if it is a deep red, it may be paint bleed.
Testing on Lead Chromate
It is possible that lead chromate is present on paint, especially those colored orange, red, yellow, and green. And because the lead chromate is water insoluble, that is why it is usually added to marine or industrial paints, testing on lead chromate takes longer than usual and does not follow the general instructions.
Start by checking if the swab is working after activation by squeezing the swab until some of the solution drips to a circle of the confirmation card and detects lead. Do not let the tip touch the card.
After confirming that the swab is active, you can either:
- Gather some of the paint chips to be tested and crush it. Then, either place these chips over the swab tip or rub it directly. Afterwards, store the used swab and the chips inside a plastic bag. Or,
- Directly test the paint and place the swab inside a plastic bag.
The swab may take some time before it shows signs of changing colors; check it after 30 minutes, every hour, or even the following day. If 20s hours has passed and it shows no signs of changing, it likely means that it did not detect lead.
Testing on Solder and Metal Alloys
Before you can test on solder and metal alloys, the surface must be roughened up first using an emery cloth or fine sandpaper. Then, remove any dust produced and allow to dry if cleaned with a wet cloth. Activate the swab, and lightly brush its tip over the surface. Never rub the swab tip on the surface, as this can create a metallic film that will prevent you from seeing any color change.
Immediately check the swab; if lead is present, it should show a pink color. You may have to repeat the test if you only see a purple color, as it may have overshadowed the pink color of the swab.
Testing on Plaster and Gypsum or Drywall
Plaster and drywall or gypsum are other surfaces that do not follow the general instructions when using the LeadCheck Swabs. This is because the swabs should only be used on the paint and not the surface itself, since the drywall sulfates and plaster dust can interfere and give you inaccurate results.
Because of this, testing must be done using this method:
- While holding the knife or cutter at a low angle, create a semicircle cut on the plaster or drywall about the size of a nickel. It must be deep enough to penetrate all layers of paint and expose the bare surface of the drywall or the plaster’s core.
- Create a flap using the cut you created by folding it downwards to make a pocket.
- Activate the swab and allow the solution to drop over the exposed paint layers while avoiding touching the tip to the drywall surface or plaster core.
- Rub the swab tip only on the periphery of the exposed layers where the solution was applied to. Again, make sure to avoid letting the swab tip get to the plaster core or drywall surface.
A change of color should appear on the exposed paint layers that the solutions was applied to if lead is present. If not, do the confirmation test to see if the swab was active when you did the lead test.
Testing on Vinyl
Lead may be found deep under layers of paint, that is why you also need to expose all layers on the vinyl before you can test for lead. Afterwards, you can follow the general instructions, making sure to rub the swab tip hard on the exposed surface.
It may also take some time before any color change appears when testing on vinyl. Once it does, the color may be uneven because of the lead salts clumped together and it may also darken over time. It is also possible that the swab will show an orange color, but this is not indicative of lead.
Testing for Lead on Electronics
Electronics, particularly the circuit boards, can also be tested for lead. But before doing so, you need to make sure that the surface is clean and dry, without any dust, oil, marks, and fingerprints present. Do the test following the general instructions, making sure to vigorously rub the swab over the solder.
After testing, immediately check if the swab tip shows a pink color. But if a metallic film is formed, you need to retest to get the result.
Detection of Lead Deposits on Fabric, Rugs, and Clothing
Lead deposits may accumulate over time on different kinds of fabric, and these deposits can be detected by the LeadCheck Swabs. Testing is also done a little differently, as it involves the following steps:
- Wet the swab tip first and place it over a paper towel to absorb any excess water.
- Place the damp swab over the material to be tested and rub vigorously, carefully doing so to prevent the swab’s vials from breaking
- After rubbing, activate the swab by following the general activation instructions.
- Get a piece of plastic wrap, waxed paper, or a white plastic dish. Gently squeeze the swab until liquid comes out of the tip and rub it onto any of those surfaces.
A pink color will confirm the lead deposits present on the fabric.
To determine if the dust present in the structure is just ordinary or the toxic lead dust, you can also use the swabs for dust screening. Note that the testing procedure will depend on the surface itself where dust is present.
If the surface is negative for lead, you can immediately follow the general instructions. But if the surface with potential lead dust is also positive for lead, you need to place some of the dust on a plastic dish or wrap first before following the general instructions to test.
If it is lead dust, the results will immediately appear. If not, you need to do the confirmatory test. But if the dust sample is dark, it may be difficult to see any color changes. You must instead place the dust sample on a paper towel or any other porous material and drop some of the solution over the dust. After doing so, a red or pink color may appear on the towel to indicate that it is indeed lead dust. If not, this means you are dealing with ordinary dust.
3M Lead Test Kit Colors
“Red Means Lead” – that is what the manufacturer proudly proclaims when it comes to the 3M LeadCheck swabs test kit. This simply means that if the swab detects lead in the tested surface or material, its tip should show a red color. A pink color may first appear before darkening and turning into red or it may stay pink.
The tint is also indicative of the amount of lead present – the deeper or more intense the red color, the higher the lead content. Because of this, the pink color that appears means lead was detected but the amount is not that high, hence the lighter color.
There are other elements that can react with the chemicals found in the reagent, and these can cause other colors to appear on the swab. And in some cases, multiple colors may also appear on the swab tip. Fortunately, the solution reacts first with lead, which means the red or pink color will appear first before any other color.
This is why it is important to check the swab immediately after testing, as another color may eventually cover up the red or pink that appears on the swab tip.
3M Lead Test Turned Orange
One of the possible scenarios is that after lead testing, the swab tip will turn orange, not red or pink. The orange color alone that appears does not indicate that lead is present; instead, this means the paint extender barium was detected.
If both lead and barium are present, the swab will turn pink first before orange. Typically, the orange color will overlap with the pink over time. But in some cases, the swab tip may show both orange and pink.
3M LeadCheck Purple
LeadCheck swabs can also react with tin. If the solution detects high levels of this element, the swab tip will show a purple color.
In case the surface or material is positive for both lead and tin, pink or red will appear first, followed by purple. Purple can quickly cover up the red or pink that may appear on the swab tip, that is why retesting is needed when it happens, especially if you were unable to check if red or pink appears before the purple color took over.
3M LeadCheck Turns Red After Sitting
While the 3M LeadCheck swab is an instant lead test, some instances will cause the swab to turn red only after sitting for extended periods. It can also take as little as 5 minutes to as much as 20 hours before the swab shows a reaction.
Lead chromate, in particular, is a lead compound known to not cause an immediate reaction to the swab. That is why when testing paints that have yellow, red, orange, or green shades, it is recommended to allow the swab that was used and confirmed to be activated to sit for as long as 18 to 20 hours before declaring that the tested surface is free of lead if nothing changes on the swab.
3M Test Kit Lead “Dark Orange”
When mixed, the liquids inside the vial will normally create a yellow solution that you can see on the swab’s tip once you start squeezing the swab. In some instances, the liquid may be orange or dark orange.
While this is considered normal, you can also check first if it is a malfunctioning swab by dripping some of the liquid onto one of the dots of the confirmation card before you use the swab for testing. If it does not react, you may have a faulty swab, so use a new one to test.
And if the swab only shows a dark orange color after testing, it may have also just reacted with barium. You can opt to retest using a new swab to be sure, especially because the dark orange color may have hidden any traces of pink or red that appeared.
3M LeadCheck Swabs on Metal
The 3M LeadCheck Swabs are EPA-approved to work even on metal surfaces. Oftentimes, industrial paint that contains lead chromate is used on metal, that is why lead testing using the swab may not immediately show any result.
When using on metal, it is important to make a notch deep enough to get to the bare surface of the metal and expose all layers of paint because the primer used may also contain lead.
Are 3M LeadCheck Swabs Effective on Concrete Too?
While the 3M LeadCheck Swabs are also known to be effective on concrete, its porous nature may make it difficult to test using the normal way, especially if you are working on textured concrete. You may use the swab directly on the surface, but it will not get through any paint layers underneath. For that, you may have to create a deep notch that will expose other layers of paint for testing.
3M LeadCheck False Positive
Because the LeadCheck Swabs are EPA-approved, this means it meets the agency’s standards when it comes to the possibility of having false positive results. A false positive happens when the test kit has declared the presence of lead in a lead-free surface.
It is still possible that these swabs will give an incorrect result, particularly when it comes to false positives, but the color changing feature of the swabs make it seem to consumers that this is not likely.
This occurrence is more possible on specific paint colors, especially grey, red, and white, because the rhodizonate that reacts with lead can also react with those paint colors. White lead and yellow lead are also known to cause false positives using the LeadCheck swabs. False positives may also appear when testing on drywall and plaster walls. (not sure if you want to include this paragraph, but I based it off the actual testing results of the EPA)
A positive result may also be considered as a false positive because the amount of lead that was the detected by the swab is lower than the minimum limit set by the EPA, which is 600 ppm. This means that the swab was accurate in detecting lead, but the miniscule amounts of lead present still fits the criteria of the EPA for a lead-free surface, that is why it is technically lead-free by EPA standards and the result is considered a false positive.
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