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Ask Tamara: What does lead paint look like?

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Question (from Facebook, 1/1/2016): What does lead paint look like? How do you know if it is lead paint without testing it?


Failing lead paint often displays a distinct square or rectangular “alligator” pattern. It can differ a bit, depending on how many layers of lead paint there are and how many layers of non-lead paint have been applied on top of it, but it almost always has this square/rectangular “alligator skin”-like pattern.

Here is a photo as an example. If you have a good photo of lead paint, please share it with us so we can post more examples here. You can mail it to us at

Thank you!

This particular photo is a very close close-up.


Without too much trouble, I did a search for “images of lead paint” online. Below are images I found. Some of the images I found did not appear to in fact be of lead paint, but the following images I found were quite typical lead paint peeling patterns that might help you identify lead paint in your life.


The following example of lead paint appears to have an unleaded top coat holding some of the chips together… creating more of a pattern that looks like lines (vs. squares or rectangles.)


This red one (below) also appears to have something over the lead but the alligator pattern of the lead still shows through.


The main thing to understand is that it definitely doesn’t have to look THIS bad (pic below) to be hazardous!… any lead painted surface layer (even if it is not badly deteriorated or chipping like this) can be exuding lead dust into your living environment.




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