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Is there Lead hidden in your home?

Updated on March 6, 2015

Becoming Aware of Lead in the Household

photos by the author

It's sort of silent, that stuff called lead. You may know it as that soft, grey metal that is so heavy. We used to see it as simple things like fishing weights or as weights in the bottom of curtains and it's great for some things since it doesn't rust or corrode like other metals. We also used to learn about the dangers of lead used in older plumbing, pipes, solder and paints. But more and more, we're seeing it creep into other products and it's not always clearly mentioned that lead is an ingredient.

many electrical cords, plugs and even electrical tape now carry warnings to wash hands thoroughly after handling
many electrical cords, plugs and even electrical tape now carry warnings to wash hands thoroughly after handling

Buyer Beware

Many states require warning labels on new products that include certain substances that may cause harm, including lead, but if you're out shopping and buy things at some discount stores, yard sales, thrift stores, and flea markets, the original packaging or labels may not be attached.

Also, some imported items from other countries may also contain lead since these countries may not have the safer standards as the USA. So if it's something you, your family, or even your pet are going to handle a lot or use for foods, it's a good idea to test for any lead content because lead is toxic. Research has shown that there is no known safe level, or amount of lead that is too small, to cause the body harm.

a typical home lead testing kit
a typical home lead testing kit


The easiest way to find out if you are being exposed to lead is to test from a home testing kit, usually available from your local retail hardware, home or even an online store. There are different types of lead testing kits and in different sizes that are specific to needs such as testing ceramics, paint, soil, water, etc. so be sure to pick the type of kit that meets your needs. Clear and easy instructions are included with the kits that usually include special paper testing strips and an eyedropper.

I was curious about a few things I had been using so I purchased a typical small kit from my local hardware store and tested a few items in my home. I read the instructions carefully and began by cutting the test strips into smaller pieces. I decided to test several objects: a teapot I bought at a thrift store that was made in China, a set of bargain coffee mugs that were also made in China and a questionable plastic kitchen cutting board.

After filling the eye dropper with water as directed, I added a few small drops to each test strip and watched as the color changed from white to orange, a signal that the pad was ready for testing.

test strip should change color when ready
test strip should change color when ready
rub slowly for two minutes
rub slowly for two minutes

I rubbed all the surfaces for two minutes and did not see any additional color change to pink, red or purple, which would have meant that lead was present. I repeated the process with a new pad for each item, since the pads are not reusable.

example of possible color change
example of possible color change

Some kits have the user press the pad on an additional test sheet to complete the testing process. If you find your item contains lead, dispose of the item properly and if you need to handle something that is lead or contains lead, wear gloves and always thoroughly wash your hands afterward.

It's important to choose the type of kit for the item you are testing. Most packaged kits list what specific types of items can be tested. Read the instructions carefully, since the lead testing process varies by the type of item you are testing. For example, if you are testing lead crystal glassware, you have to add 2 teaspoons of white vinegar and let it sit overnight first, and later test in the morning using a drop of the vinegar that had been in the glass.

While this is just a brief reminder that we need to be aware of lead in our surroundings, you can find additional important information about lead with the links provided below.

Some Household Items You May Want to Test

Ceramics and dishes

Glassware, including crystal


Children's toys, Lunchboxes and Cribs

Food Cans

Painted surfaces






Have you ever tested anything for Lead?

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