Originally Published: December 24, 2016
Question: Which mugs are lead-free? What mugs do you use in your home?
Answer: When I first got my hands on an XRF and started testing things for lead one of the very first things I tested was my favorite set of Chantal mugs. I actually had a whole set of these mugs in different colors & I had purchased them to go with my favorite Chantal tea-kettle. I was really upset and surprised that these mugs that I had purchased new at a reputable store in 2003 (made by a reputable company no less) tested positive for lead.
Total lead content in mugs (as detectable with an XRF) is not regulated, however – for context – the amount of lead considered unsafe in an item manufactured as intended for children is anything that tests positive for lead at 90 ppm lead or higher. [The good news is that since children’s items are regulated, newly purchased children’s mugs legally must have coatings below 90 ppm lead.]
Since testing my first mug I have probably tested close to 1,000 mugs (they are one of the most popular things that people ask me to test) and almost all of them have had some amount of lead, some at ridiculously high levels (in the tens of thousands of parts per million!)
A few years ago I learned a story of a Seattle couple who were both sick with an illness that their doctor was having difficulty diagnosing. After some investigation it turned out that they were lead-poisoned from drinking their morning coffee from the same leaded-mugs each morning (as part of their morning ritual.) Please check out the articles linked below for more information on that as well. Coffee is very acidic (as is juice and many other beverages) and will leach lead from mugs, especially mugs that have high lead content and are heavily used on a daily basis. If you have coffee every morning like I do, it is a good investment in your health to make sure you have a lead-free mug.
Since there is not a reliable consumer method for testing mugs for lead and other toxic heavy metals (outside of free XRF testing which may or may not be available in your area, the most reliable cost-effective measures require “digesting” [aka destroying] the mug to determine the lead content – and that is generally in the $40 to $200 range per item depending on the scope of the test) it makes sense to stick with known lead-free options. In the absence of an XRF available to test every potential mug choice – it’s best to stick with clear glass (as long as you can be assured that it is not leaded crystal.)
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Mugs that are the same as (or similar to) the lead-free or lead-safe ones we use in our home:
- Anchor Hocking 16-Ounce Glass Mugs
- Libbey 15-1/2-Ounce Tapered Mugs
- Libbey 13 oz. Robusta Classic Coffee Mug
- Luminarc Lead-Free Jumbo Mugs
- Bodum Bistro Glass Coffee Mugs
- I don’t HAVE these but I really would love to get a set!: Insulated double wall glass coffee mugs.
I also recommend anything new from Ikea and pretty much any clear glass mugs that are not crystal (including vintage clear glass).
I used to recommend mugs purchased at Starbucks because I had a streak there where every Starbucks mug I had tested was either lead-free or below 90 ppm lead. However that streak ran out last year (I think with the expansion of their mug selection and likely the expansion of the manufacturers they are using) so I no longer recommend them for a guaranteed lead-free mug.
Another great option for lead-free mugs is something made by a local potter who sources and mixes their own glazes. Potters will usually mark their wares “lead-free” these days (if they are lead-free) because that is a good selling point! If the mugs are not marked, just ask the potter if they know if they use lead-free glazes or not. My favorite potter on the planet (who uses lead-free glazes) is Greg Williams / Ceramic Generations of San Anselmo, California. I have known him for 27 years and his pottery is so beautiful, each piece is a true work of art. (I don’t know if he has a website these days but if you google him you can find his contact information!)
Things I avoid when purchasing mugs:
- Anything labeled “crystal” or marked “leaded crystal”
- Anything from Riedel or Waterford (just to be safe, since you don’t have an XRF at home to test those items yourself)
- Anything glazed (unless it is being sold as “lead-free” from a reputable company and has been tested by a third party)
- Anything with an enamel coating (such as those blue and with speckled enamel coated metal camping cups)
- Anything with decal image or logo applied to the surface inside or out (those decals are almost always very high lead, especially if you can feel them with your finger tip/ if they are slightly raised above the rest of the surface of the mug.)
- Paint-It-Yourself Pottery mugs (unless a known third party has tested their glaze for lead-content.)
- Almost anything from a thrift store (it’s just not worth the risk).
Unexpected Lead Expert
Mother of Four Boys
Some articles that may be of interest:
2003 Chantal “Made In China” mugs
As high as 679 parts per million (ppm) lead
Non-detect for arsenic
These were my mugs (before I started testing everything I own with an XRF!) … I was totally bummed to let them go, but now I have only lead-free mugs in my house!
Learn more at http://tamararubin.com/blog/