Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Spot Test Kits for Detecting Lead in Household Paint: A Laboratory Evaluation



Walter J. Rossiter Jr, M Vangel, M E. McKnight, G Dewalt


A laboratory study was conducted to determine the reliability of spot test kits for detecting the presence of lead in household paint when tests were conducted by certified lead inspectors or risk assessors. Reagent solutions were applied to paint specimens and, subsequently, the specimens were observed for characteristic color change. For the study, four test kits were based on the reaction of lead ion with sulfide ion to produce a gray or black color, whereas four others were based on the reaction of lead ion with rhodizonate ion to give a pink or red color. These eight kits were used in an experiment investigating the effect of lead level, lead pigment type, operator, paint-film substrate, overlayer paint type, and overlayer paint thickness. Test samples, prepared using either a white lead (i.e., basic lead carbonate) or a lead chromate pigment, had ten lead levels ranging from 0 mg/cm2 to 3.5 mg/cm2. Five operators were trained according to test protocols based on each kit manufacturer s instructions. The study showed that the spot test kits gave positive results at lead levels less than 1 mg/cm2. Consequently, a positive response could not be relied on to indicate the presence of lead-based paint, which is defined as paint having lead levels equal to, or greater than, 1 mg/cm2. This finding is consistent with the results of past field studies. A criterion against which a spot test kit may be considered as acceptable for use as a negative screen (i.e., a test for which a negative result indicates a low probability of lead ? 1 mg/cm2) for the presence of lead-based paint was proposed. This criterion is: Upon evaluation of spot test kit response, the probability of a negative response (with 95 % confidence) at a lead level of 1 mg/cm2 is {less than or equal to} 5%. Equivalently, the lead level at which there is a 95 % probability of a positive response (with 95 % confidence) should be {less than or equal to} 1 mg/cmL2. The type of lead pigment had a significant effect on the spot test kit response. For white lead specimens, six kits three sulfide-based and three rhodizonate-based gave low percents of false negatives ({less than or equal to} 2 %) and met the proposed criterion for acceptance as a negative screen for lead-based paint. For lead chromate specimens, three of these six kits two sulfide-based and one rhodizonate-based also had low percents of false negatives ({less than or equal to} 2 %) and met the proposed acceptance criterion. The other factors overlayer type, overlayer thickness, operator, and substrate did not generally show significant effects in cases where the spot test kits appeared to be candidates for use as negative screens for lead-based paint. Finally, the study results lead to the suggestion that an evaluation of spot test kit response should afford a low percent of positive results at the 0 mg/cm2 lead level because, in practice, false-positives may needlessly spur test kit users into taking further, but unnecessary, investigative action for the presence of lead.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) - 6398
Report Number


building technology, detection, kit response, lead chromate, lead level, lead-based paint, operator effect, spot test kits, testing


Rossiter, W. , Vangel, M. , McKnight, M. and Dewalt, G. (2000), Spot Test Kits for Detecting Lead in Household Paint: A Laboratory Evaluation, NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed July 21, 2024)


If you have any questions about this publication or are having problems accessing it, please contact

Created May 1, 2000, Updated February 19, 2017