Ask Tamara: Can I test my dishes for lead with a LeadCheck swab?

AskTamaraAsk Tamara:

Q. Hi! Thank you for all you do!! Are the LeadCheck® test swabs from Home Depot sufficient enough to test my dishware? Also, even though Fiestaware says “lead free: it could still have cadmium in it, correct? Thank you and I follow all your work!

A.  The short of it is that the LeadCheck® test swabs (while a terrific tool for testing for lead in paint) are not intended for nor effective in testing for lead in most dishware.

LeadCheck®  was specifically designed to test for lead in paint.

Some dishware is “low-fire” and may react to the LeadCheck® swabs in the same way as paint.  As an example, the very popular vintage Franciscan Apple/Rose/Cherry patterns will often test positive with a LeadCheck® swab.

However, most dishes are “high-fire” ceramic, and even if they contain a very high level of lead they may not test positive with a swab. The only other common exception to this is the painted on decal type decorations on many mugs and glasses – those also frequently test positive for lead with a LeadCheck® swab, however if they test negative with a swab it does not mean the item does not have lead.

The only effective and consistently useful way to test dishware for lead is with an XRF instrument [outside of a (potentially destructive) lab test – in which the item is sometimes pulverized and/or subsequently subjected to strong acids or incinerated to determine the total lead content—a process which has its own potential serious drawbacks, apart from the potential damage to or destruction of the item …consider the following scenario: very high-lead content concentrated only in some particular (otherwise lead-free) dish’s  deteriorating painted surface coating could wind up reading like negligible lead content—if expressed solely as a percentage of that item’s total mass!].

XRF testing will easily and quickly tell you if the item has lead, and how much lead the item has [although even an XRF test will have no way to confirm whether the lead is bioavailable and/or leaching into your food].

Since it’s not a simple (nor cheap) task to get your hands on an XRF, as consumers we need to demand that all of our dishware has NO LEAD, so that we don’t have to police the industry and test every single dish ourselves (which is simply not practical, given an XRF can cost tens of thousands of dollars.) That said, I test as many dishes as I can and post the results both here and on Facebook, so you may be able to check my XRF Testing archives to see if I have already tested your particular brand/ pattern/ vintage for lead—and at least that is a starting point!

I am working with parents around the country to host testing parties once a month or so, and if you want to chip in and help with the rental cost of the XRF you can send in a few items to be tested.  There’s a link about that here & a fact sheet with more info for testing parties here.  I am working on coordinating some testing events for the end of February 2017, and invite you to participate if you can!

Regarding cadmium, yes… much of the Fiestaware I have tested has been positive for cadmium (depending on the color.)  You can see some of the Fiestaware items I have tested here.  I think as a guideline you could assume that same or similar colors may have similar results to the items I have tested (for the newer/ newly manufactured Fiestaware pieces.)

Thank you for writing.

Please share this post.

For #LeadFree and #LeadSafe options for your home and kitchen, please click here.

If you are interested in learning more about testing methodologies or would like a link to purchase LeadCheck® swabs (that won’t cost you extra but will benefit my advocacy work!), click here.

Sincerely,

Tamara Rubin
Unexpected Lead Expert
Environmental Activist

 

19 Responses to Ask Tamara: Can I test my dishes for lead with a LeadCheck swab?

  1. bill G June 5, 2017 at 9:10 pm #

    XRF testing will easily and quickly tell you if the item has lead, and how much lead the item has [although even an XRF test will have no way to confirm whether the lead is bioavailable and/or leaching into your food].

  2. Libby July 12, 2017 at 1:47 pm #

    Do you have any experience testing Johnson Bros. Blue Willow or Churchill Blue Willow? Just wondering if it has lead in the glaze.

    • Tamara July 13, 2017 at 10:21 pm #

      I’m not sure. Can you send me a picture? Thanks!

  3. Melissa September 21, 2017 at 7:19 am #

    Hi Tamara: my husband has some Indian pottery bakeware. It’s beautiful, but I won’t use it because I don’t know if it has lead. After reading the above post, I’m not sure how to find out for sure! Is there a reliable test anywhere? Thank you!!

    • Tamara September 23, 2017 at 9:38 am #

      Can you share a picture with me?

  4. Kelly December 17, 2017 at 11:03 am #

    Hi! I recently purchased the Pyrex storage bowls with glass lids (was excited to see they now have glass lids) but now I’m disappointed because I realized after reading your site that the painted Pyrex marking may be a concern. Have you tested these Pyrex covers? Thank you!

  5. Stephen January 28, 2018 at 6:50 am #

    Tamara,

    I may have discovered a cursory way to test for lead in glaze on cups & dishes i would like to share. Maybe someone could comment?

    For many years (am 58 now) i have been heating liquids & food in/on utensils in microwave ovens i have own. The majority of these utensils do not state ‘microwave safe’ on their bottom but since i have never run into problems, i use them in microwave anyway. But i recently acquired a coffee mug that has a very shiny metallic appearance, unlike anything i’ve own before. On the bottom it states, “Hand painted in Italy”. (Although it looks metallic, i know it’s ceramic since the bottom round edge of the mug is rough and the weight of the cup feels the same in my hand as all my other coffee mugs; it’s not unusually heavy nor light. And I know it would break if dropped on floor.)

    When i first placed this mug in the microwave for a couple minutes to heat some milk, i burned myself when i grabbed the handle to remove the mug. It was extremely hot, but the milk inside was still cool. What should have happened is that the liquid should have been hot and the cup lukewarm. The mug absorbed all the energy from the microwave and shielded the milk inside, preventing the milk from heating. Is this because the shiny glaze on the mug contains lead? Lead is an excellent shield against radiation and X-rays and is regularly used for this purpose. Perhaps you or someone could comment on this possibility: If a dish or mug looks unusually shiny & metallic and gets excessively hot in the microwave, the glaze may contain lead.

  6. Anne January 31, 2018 at 2:03 pm #

    Hi. Have you tested plain white (with clear glass lids) vintage corningware baking dishes?

    • Tamara February 2, 2018 at 12:49 am #

      I don’t believe I have, although some of the blue cornflower I have tested has been negative (although I understand others have tested the blue cornflower and it has been positive). http://tamararubin.com/2017/04/corning/
      The interiors of these pans are also usually negative for lead.

      • Anne February 2, 2018 at 7:52 am #

        Okay. Thank you

  7. Diane February 1, 2018 at 2:18 pm #

    Hi Tamara,

    I would like to know if my old pyrex clear borosilicate glass ovenware with no color contains lead. I have gotten rid of my colored pyrex item but not sure if this clear glass older pyrex contains lead. Thank you

    • Tamara February 2, 2018 at 12:45 am #

      Even the vintage clear Pyrex is usually lead free. It is a very good choice.

  8. margaret lord May 26, 2018 at 10:41 am #

    hi tamara!! recently purchased a bunch of old dishes to do cupcake stands, cake stands for a craft/yard sale show i am participating in. about 1/4 of them tested very high, as in 50ppm for lead. obviously, these are NOT SAFE for any food stuffs. is it dangerous to physically touch dishes that are 50 ppm of lead? thanks a bunch. you really do an amazing job with this stuff!!

    • Tamara May 28, 2018 at 8:46 am #

      Hi! 50 ppm lead is fairly low. Do you mean 50,000 ppm lead? Many of the vintage dishes test positive in the 30,000 to 50,000 ppm lead range. It would depend on the age of the dish and how high fire it is as to whether touching it is a hazard. For things like Franciscan Apple brand dishes I believe the lead is likely to rub off on your fingers in most circumstances. If the dishes test positive with a swab then it is very likely that the lead can also rub off on your fingers. If they are negative with a swab, it is less likely. I wash my hands after touching anything I know that could be positive with a swab. You might find some pretty low-lead, lead-free dishes at target or Walmart that are also inexpensive and would work for cupcake stands. That said if you are using them in that way, put a doily down. Since cupcakes are served in paper cups I don’t have too much of a concern (especially if the dishes did not test positive with a swab.)

  9. Debbie July 6, 2018 at 12:25 pm #

    Hi Tamara, My husband and I have been using a set of vintage Metlox California Provincial Poppytrail Rooster dinner ware for over 20 years. We use it every day. I just read on the internet that vintage ware can contain lead. Do you know if Metlox California Provincial Poppytrail Rooster dinner ware contains lead? Is there a way to test it? I tried to paste a picture of it from the internet, but it wouldn’t paste here. I live in Philadelphia, PA. Thanks for the amazing work you do! Debbie

    • Tamara July 6, 2018 at 1:27 pm #

      Thank you. Could you email me a photo? TamaraRubin@mac.com, front image and back mark too. Do you know what year it was made?

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