Originally written on December 19, 2016
Updated, December 11, 2019
Tamara Rubin is a multi-Federal-award-winning independent advocate for consumer goods safety and a mother of Lead-poisoned children. Her infant and toddler sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in August of 2005. She began conducting independent testing of consumer goods for toxicants in 2009 and was the parent advocate responsible for finding Lead in the popular fidget spinner toys in 2017. She uses XRF testing (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants, including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic. (Bio link here!)
Tamara, what testing methods do you use to test consumer goods for Lead?
There are several different types of Lead testing that can be done (which I use in my work) — and different instrumentation may be used for different types of testing, too. Some of these testing methods are things you (the consumer) can do yourself at home; other testing methods require prohibitively expensive equipment along with training and certification in the use of that equipment. Those methods are not advisable for an untrained user. NOTE: This post is primarily focused on the testing of consumer goods, not the testing of house paint.
In this post, I discuss both quantitative and qualitative testing methodologies.
Below are the primary methods of quantitative testing for Lead:
- “XRF Testing”: Using an X–Ray Flourescence spectrometry analyzer, results for consumer goods testing are measured in parts per million (ppm). XRF testing — which generates the test results you will find reported on most of the 3,500+ pages of this website — must be done by an individual trained and certified in the proper use of this equipment (click here to see my certificate). This testing methodology (using the appropriate instrumentation and software) should be able to test down to single-digit parts per million, with a single-digit ppm margin of error (for example, 5 +/- 2 ppm) for consumer goods. Unit of measurement: parts per million (ppm).
- Dust-wipe Sampling: The samples used in this type of testing can be collected either with a DIY kit or by a professional; in either case, the one sq.ft. wipe samples are then sent to a lab for analysis. Dust wipe results are measured in micrograms (of Lead) per square foot. An effective “negative” should be “under 5” (usually displayed in most reports as “<5”) micrograms per square foot.” To better understand the concern for specific levels of Lead in dust, click here. Unit of measure: micrograms per square foot (µg/ft²).
- Water Testing: This type of testing can also be done with a DIY kit or by a professional (in either case, using a reliable water collection kit sample that is then sent into a lab) with results measured in parts per billion. Note: there are one thousand (1000) ppb in one (1) ppm. An effective “negative” should be “under one part per billion” and would read on most reports as “<1 ppb.” Unit of measure: parts per billion (ppb).
- To learn more about XRF testing used for testing house paint, which is a different conversation entirely — both a different type of instrumentation AND a different unit of measure using milligrams per centimeter squared (mg/cm2) than what is reported on this blog — click here.
- To learn more about blood Lead testing, click here. Blood Lead Level test results are generally (in the United States) measured in micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). My son’s last test result (as an example) was BLL “0.8,” which can be read as “blood Lead level of zero point 8 micrograms per deciliter.” When he was first acutely poisoned he had a BLL of 16.0. For context, pre-industrial revolution humans had effective BLLs of around 0.016, so a BLL of 16 is roughly 1,000 times the amount of Lead found in humans who lived before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840).
To recap the five separate units of measure for quantitatively expressing Lead concentrations:
- In Blood: Micrograms Per Deciliter (µg/dL)
- In Consumer Goods: Parts Per Million (ppm)
- In Water & Food: Parts Per Billion (ppb)
- In Dust: Micrograms per square foot (µg/ft²)
- In Paint: Milligrams per centimeter squared (mg/cm2)
Qualitative testing, using:
- Reactive agent testing (“positive”/“negative” results) consumer-grade, used at home (e.g. LeadCheck® swabs). The only brand of test I recommend or believe in is the LeadCheck® swab brand. Other types of testing may not be as reliable. You can read more about the types of things you might want to test with this methodology at this link.
I personally primarily use two important tools to test consumer goods for Lead (consumer goods testing has been the focus of my work for the past 3+ years):
- A high-precision (quantitative) method used by scientists and regulatory agencies such as a Niton XRF instrument
- OR a reactive agent (qualitative) home screening test kit: LeadCheck® swabs
#1) XRF Instrumentation
For quantitative results (Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic, and Antimony readings that are shown as precise, specific measurements in parts per million [ppm]) in many of my articles, I typically use a hand-held Niton X-Ray Fluorescence (“XRF”) spectrometer.
A high-precision XRF Instrument is a very expensive (typically around $40,000 to $50,000 new for the “fully-loaded” model I use), highly accurate scientific portable field instrument, which the operator needs to be trained and certified to use.
The specific instrument I have used for most of my readings is a non-radioactive source Niton XL3t GOLDD+ XRF Analyzer from ThermoFisher Scientific. This instrument is self-calibrating, though I also manually calibrate it, for good measure, each time I use it. This model features optional (very expensive, as well) software modules that make it possible to test in many different “modes” — including “Soil” mode, “Consumer Goods” mode, “Metals” mode, “Paint” mode, and “Test All” mode. Each of these modes (optional software modules) employs elaborate and distinct mathematical algorithms to interpret the readings, then weight them/format them for accuracy and convenience.
XRF testing is the most effective available screening tool for advocacy work in the field when it comes to detecting Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Arsenic, Antimony, and other metals in consumer goods (also housing/building components like paints and coatings, etc.).
The XRF test results (for consumer goods) that I share on this website are simply that — the precise, accurate, repeatable numeric readings of concentrations of any of the most common neurotoxic heavy metals such as Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Arsenic, and Antimony in parts per million (ppm) that may be present in the specific item tested (usually with the exact item shown in an accompanying photograph in the article).
On rare occasions, I will extrapolate (from a lot of testing I have done on a particular brand) that a particular brand can be expected, or is likely to test very high for Lead, Cadmium, etc., and should best be avoided (like Franciscan China or vintage Pyrex). However, in most cases, I neither state nor imply that an item’s XRF test results mean “the item will poison you/your children.”I share the quantitative XRF testing results so Lead Safe Mama readers can use the results to do their own research and make informed choices, helping them to decide (for example) whether to continue using (or stop using) a particular item.
In every case when a household item tests positive for Lead, there is a safer choice out there — a safer choice of a functionally similar and equally appropriate item that is, in fact, Lead-free.
The theory behind this work is that if consumers are given the opportunity to choose items that do not contain neurotoxic Lead — even in trace amounts (or items that are at least Lead-safe by European and U.S. standards), they will usually make the Lead-safe or Lead-free choice for their family!
The most strict current federal standard by which an item is considered unsafe for use by children (a standard that really should be applied to all household items, not just children’s items in my opinion) is 90 ppm lead as the threshold for determining lead toxicity in the paint or coating of an item.
- Items that test 90 ppm lead or higher in the paint or coating are considered unsafe for use by children.
- Additionally, items that test positive at 100 parts per million Lead or higher in the substrate (underlying base material of the item — for example, ceramic or plastic) are considered unsafe for children.
- These standards were set by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
As a result of the above standards, any consumer good that tests positive at 90 ppm Lead or higher should not be considered “Lead-safe.” Depending on the item and the intended usage, you may want to replace items that test positive for 90 ppm Lead and higher.
As consumers, I recommend we look for items either below 90 ppm Lead or completely negative for any trace of Lead, and that we demand our product manufacturers adhere to these reasonable, universally agreed upon standards designed to be fundamentally protective of children’s health.
In many of the posts on this website where we share Lead test results for consumer goods, we use the following scale for my “ratings system”:
- #Leaded: over 100 ppm range
- #LeadSafe: under 100 ppm range (when taking into account the range of the margin of error for the test results as well)
- #LeadFree: Non-Detect for lead when tested with an XRF instrument. What this means is that the item tested below the threshold of detection of the XRF instrument, which is generally below the range of single digits parts per million.
Please note: many items that have Lead will test positive for Lead using an XRF Instrument even if they do not test positive for Lead using a LeadCheck Swab, and this is because LeadCheck Swabs have primarily been designed to test for Lead in paint (see above) and do not react with Lead in all types of consumer goods.
#2) LeadCheck® Swabs
3M LeadCheck® swabs are a consumer-level test that will (on many types of materials, but not all) give you a “positive” or “negative” reading for Lead. It is qualitative (not quantitative) — but the low threshold for the sensitivity of the test is 600 ppm and items are considered toxic for children with surface coatings at 90 ppm lead and higher. So, if it DOES test positive with a LeadCheck® swab, it is definitely NOT safe for children.
LeadCheck® swabs were originally designed to test paint — and they are very good at testing paint. They may also work on some pottery and metal items — however, many pottery items and plastic items (and other types of consumer goods) may have unsafe levels of Lead yet not test positive with a swab (not because the swabs don’t work, but because they were not designed to test those sorts of items).
LeadCheck® swabs are also a very good tool for testing enamel-coated bathtubs!
LeadCheck® swabs are rarely useful when testing kitchen or bathroom tiles, even if it has very high Lead content.
A pack of eight swabs (pictured here on the right) usually costs between $24 and $30 retail.
Items you can typically test in your home with a LeadCheck® swab:
- original windows* (exterior and interior paint)
- original trim* (baseboards, moldings, etc.)
- original doors*
- original exterior siding*
- some — usually slightly-raised — painted decorations on mugs, glassware, and dishes (but not all; a fairly consistent example of this is the red and blue writing on older Pyrex glass measuring cups)
- some metal items like (vintage or new) Leaded-brass knobs* on doors and furniture
- most cast iron/enamel-coated bathtubs*
* Note: in many cases, original Leaded paint layers in an older home may have been painted-over with non-Leaded paint at some point. In order for a LeadCheck® swab to detect any underlying original Leaded paint, it may be necessary to find an area where the subsequent newer layer(s) of paint is worn away, exposing the original base layer, or to cut a chip out and test the back of it.
Here’s a more extensive post listing things you can
easily test with a LeadCheck® swab.
Also, check out this post:
Can I test my dishes for Lead with a LeadCheck® Swab?
LeadCheck® swabs are NOT “inaccurate” and do NOT give “false negatives” nor “false positives” when used properly. There are many industry-influenced online articles and posts suggesting that they are an inaccurate testing methodology and give “false” negatives and positives. This is simply not true. Please realize there are industry lobbyists influencing every aspect of the Lead issue conversation and please take what you read online (especially posts by companies or agencies with industry ties and influences) with a grain of salt!
Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links where a purchase made
after clicking will support this website without costing you extra!
Click here for my suggestions on what to do with leaded items discovered in your home as a result of any of this testing.
Additional types of testing for Lead (not for consumer goods) include:
#3) Water Testing
For WATER testing for lead, my friends at CertifiedKit.com make a consumer-friendly/do-it-yourself water test kit that I have had good experiences with and recommend people try if free testing is not offered in their area. This test kit tests down to one (1) ppb (parts per billion).
#4) Dust Wipe Sampling
My friends at CertifiedKit.com also offer home (DIY) dust wipe sample kits, where the samples you collect are then sent to a lab for analysis OR you can hire a hazard inspector to do dust wipe samples for you. You can also purchase dust wipe sampling kits from Amazon. Here’s a link to a kit I have used in my home and in my work with families: https://amzn.to/37oJpCf.
As always, please let me know if you have any other questions, I will do my best to answer them personally as soon as I have a moment. Thank you for reading and for sharing posts from this website!
Owner — Lead Safe Mama, LLC
Is it still possible to have a box of items tested for a fee the next time you rent the XRF?
Yes! I’m doing a flash sale if you pay today too, only $75 (instead of $150 or $100 if you are on a $25/ month subscription) 🙂
Kimberly Berghauer says
When will you be doing another testing? I would like you to test the Fortessa Fortaluxe Brand Dinnerware. Thank You for your help 🙂
Can you send me a piece? Here’s the information about that; https://tamararubin.com/2017/07/subscribe-in-support-of-my-advocacy-work-you-can-become-eligible-to-send-in-a-box-of-your-things-for-testing/
Hi Tamara! Thank you so much for your advocacy and resources. My husabnd and I have a young baby and we also are planning to do some much needed repairs to our house. The outside trim around our front door is cracking and chipping. It’s white. When we used one of the 3M swabs, the paint itself turns a very light pink, but the swab stays yellow. But, when we hired an xrf professional, it came back negative for lead-at a level of zero. Have you ever had a similar experience? I’m nervous to scrape and sand it but don’t know how else to repair it. A response/advise would be much appreciated!
If there is any pink there is lead and the inspector didn’t catch it because they are using an instrument with margin of error or detection threshold that is too high. Please read this post – it answers some questions: https://tamararubin.com/2016/02/tomorrow/
Is there a safe way to dispose of leaded china?
Here’s my post about that: https://tamararubin.com/2013/11/to-toss-or-not-to-toss/
Where can a consumer have their products tested locally using XRF testing. Is it accessible to the public or only those with ties to labs and such?
I do testing for people who help me with the XRF rental costs. Here’s a post about that. (Also – it depends on where you are located!)Feel free to email me: TamaraRubin@mac.com
Kimberly Berghauer says
I am wondering what you think? I was thinking of trying to test some make up to see if it lead free. Do you think if I put some liquid foundation on a lead free surface, let it dry and rubbed it with a 3M swab and waited for the results. Do you think this would give an accurate read? Also, if I did this with press powder plus mascara? As always I truly appreciate your help and knowledge. I look forward to hearing your thoughts 🙂
How do I test clay pot for lead?In India we use it in summer to store water.
Are you in India Sarbari? Can you send me a photo of the pot? TamaraRubin@mac.com
I will do my best to give you an educated guess based on other things I have tested.
Heather M says
Would love to support you by purchasing the 3-M Instant Lead Tests through the links in this article, but when I go to Amazon and select the size (2 pack of 8 each), then the cost sky-rockets to over $100. I think this must be a mistake as it says I’m buying it ‘used’ by ‘Jazzy Fad.’ Just wanted you to know, as I’m doubting this is correct…? Thank you for your valuable work! All the best, Heather
Oh! Interesting. Thanks for commenting Heather.
Something must have changed with the link – I will fix it. There’s this one too: https://tamararubin.com/2017/05/leadcheck/
This link leads to $23.94 for an 8-pack.
Tamara what are your recommendations for testing tile prior to demo omg a bathroom?
My son likes to drink Gfuel an energy sports powder drink mix.
Sometimes on the packaging it says “may contain lead”. How do we test for that since it’s a powder drink mix?
Thank you for your response.
Oh – yikes. I would not drink any powdered product with a Lead warning. It needs to be tested in a lab to confirm Lead-levels and there is no way for the consumer to test it at home. How old is your son? If he is under 25 at all I would definitely find a new product for him (if he needs an energy drink) and I would consider getting a blood lead test (venous draw) from the doctor’s office if at all possible – immediately.
Thanks for commenting.
Thank you for your work. I’m just starting to learn about lead safety. For food service items like cups and plates, is there a distinction between lead that can leach out vs. lead that is just in the material but does not leach out? Is the standard (ppm limits) for lead that can leach or all lead? Thanks!
Jon Byler says
Lead levels in a properly formulated and fired ceramic glaze or piece of glassware can seem alarmingly high, but if the item is manufactured appropriately, there will be no detectable leaching of lead from the finished product. The presence of lead in some items is not a cause for concern. There are lab grade leach tests that are done on glassware and ceramics that are more relevant to food safety than the XRF tests described on this blog. Same with cadmium and many other toxic metals. When lead was banned from ceramic glazes and enamels, it wasn’t done so because it was inherently dangerous to the consumer, but rather to the people working in the manufacture of these items. Subsequently people developed “encapsulated” ceramic and glass stains, where the lead/cadmium/etc is made into a glass with silica, and then pulverized for use as a colorant for glazes and enamels. The metals in the encapsulated stains are fully encapsulated in a silica matrix, and don’t pose a health risk to the people doing the manufacturing of ceramic wares and glass. So long as the manufacturer of the ware is not engaging in gross negligence, their finished product will not leach toxic substances into your food. Please do not throw away beautiful old china and glass ware if your fears tell you they are too dangerous to use. There are plenty of people who would love to have these perfectly safe and beautiful items to use in their kitchens.
I respectfully wholly disagree with this statement, but appreciate that you took the time to comment. You can read more about my thoughts on that here:
Jennifer Assinck says
I am a potter who routinely tests my new glazes for leaching of any colorants, so your website is of great interest to me. I also have sent pottery off for cadmium leach testing and, as a positive control, I even had fully-fired cadmium underglaze with absolutely no cover glaze tested using the FDA leach test. I was impressed that it passed the 0.5 mg/L limit with a result of 0.03 g/L. Of course, the same cadmium underglaze covered with any of the chemically-balanced clear glazes we have tested so far have had no detectable cadmium (<0.01 mg/L). The same results of no detectable Cd were obtained for any of the clear glazes coloured with encapsulated stain. Thus, I am favorably impressed with the safety of the encapsulated stains.
I have read your link to your reasoning and I agree with Jon Byler. I would like to add that a leach-resistant lead or cadmium glaze is uniformly formulated so that even if it does craze, the smaller blocks of glaze will still remain as leach resistant. These cracks are macro in size compared to the atomic-scale mixing of silica, alumina, fluxes and colorant.
There is not much depth to each crack to add significantly to the overall surface area.
There is also no danger in using dishes that are decorated on the outside only, as any decoration will not come into contact with food. I saw a picture of a bowl with outside decoration and a warning that it had an amount of lead in the decor that was well above the limit.
Barbara Smith says
About the SWABS you recommend (found on Amazon):
One commenter wrote this: “… the package says that it CONTAINS LEAD so I called to ask what that was about. Turns out the test paper has a small amount of lead digitally printed on it so that you can see what the scary test result looks like.
+ They say that it’s ok to use on dishes used for food provided you wash afterward
– Contains lead. If I’m paranoid about lead, I don’t really want to open a package of something with lead in it. Maybe put the test paper in a separate bag with a warning?”
Figured you should know about this SMALL detail.
The article is very informative. What instrument do you recommend to do quantitative testing on food? Spices, flour, and many more.
Hi Lina, thanks for commenting.
Food needs to be tested in a lab to be meaningful. There is not an instrument that can test food or water.
Thank you so much for your priceless work – nobody told me about lead during the pregnancy or now when I have a one year old son. Today I used 3M test swabs and scared -I touched the confirmation paper (with lead on it) and after that touched some surfaces at home. Then I realized it was lead on the paper…I didn’t touch the baby,but…I’m so angry at myself. Is there enough lead to harm my son???Can I Breastfeeding him after touching that confirmation test paper?I am going crazy and worry a lot…Thank you in advance for your reply! May God bless you and your family!!!
Ruth Ann Scanzillo says
Omg. My grandmother’s ice cream scoop …I’ve been using it almost every day, for almost a year. She was born in 1890, and I have no idea how many years she had it while raising her four daughters, my mother dying of brain cancer and melanoma. I am almost certain it is ENTIRELY LEAD. It is very light weight, flat and broad…..The handle is painted WOOD, AND even that paint is shedding. OMG. WHAT test kit can confirm this and, more importantly, what method of CHELATION should I immediately begin? I am 63!!
Thank you for being here!!!
Hi Ruth Ann! Read this whole post for starters. There is also some good science linked at the bottom:
What about my grandmother’s utensils that my family has been using for 10+ years?
I would need to see a picture to give you an educated guess.
Concerned Mom says
We had a peice of our vinyl floor tested for lead, we sent in a 1 inch sample, it came out to be 2,761 micrograms/kilogram or 2.761 mg/kg of lead. Should we change our floors? Is this an unsafe amount? I’m assuming the lead is from the surface of the floors too because when I did the in home lead swab test, the color came back darker in some areas
How can I get in touch with you to do a home visit and your pricing? We are in San Jose California. Our infant tested hi lead poisoning and we are in a very old home built in the 1920s. Thank you, faye
Here’s my upcoming travel schedule, which currently only includes Southern California – but I am sure I could fit you in. Read this post and then text me: 415-609-3182
Maureen Connors says
Forgive me if I missed it somewhere, but any experience using ProLab surface test kit? https://www.prolabinc.com/lead-on-surface-test-kit/ Label seems to suggest can it be used on glazed surfaces with water or putting vinegar in the object overnight and then dropping the vinegar onto the test. I used a couple and got positive results on vintage pyrex (outer paint only) but nothing else. Hard to know if these are true negatives or false negatives (like using the 3M tests on glazed, non-painted surfaces).
Imajica Garcia says
If a object touches something that might have lead does that object become contaminated ? And if I a few weeks later touch that area would it still be there and could I possibly spread lead unknowingly? I’m trying to understand how this works and I can’t find any information
I purchased a dinnerware set from crate and barrel and worried about lead poising as i have young children . They informed me “ Our dinnerware will typically have a very small trace of lead. However, all of the dinnerware patterns we carry have passed the FDA standards for allowable lead levels, in addition to complying with California Proposition 65 which has even more stringent regulations regarding lead levels in dinnerware.” However since it has traces im abit worried. How do i know whats safe! Im from the middle east.
Do you, the people around you or the item you test with your device get radiation when the device is doing its thing? Curious as it has the word “radiate” in it. Hopefully there is no harm to you in doing all this testing. Also hope the products you test that have no lead and heavy metals are safe for you to use and are not radiated after testing.
Hi Marie – that’s not a concern with the instrument I use. Here’s an article with those questions addressed in detail:
I saw this product that claims to be able to detect lead in paint, soil, glassware, and ceramic. It looks like it measures in parts per billion, micrograms per liter, and micrograms, but it’s a photometer rather than an XRF. Do you know anything about this kind of device? Thank you!
I’m not familiar with this – I am skeptical – I will check it out tho!
Kim Diedrich says
Hello Tamara! I had no idea you have a website for this. I came to find it by googling lead free dinnerware and cookware because I recently had a lead and heavy metal hair test through Doctor’s Data and Standard Process Supplements. I have read hair tests are not that reliable. Mine was categorized as high in lead, Tin, and alumiminum and I’m sure to have mercury in there as well. I read these things also go into a person’s organs, and not only stay in the blood. With my high level, I thought my Studio Nova Stoneware with Glaze might be hiding some heavy metals, a beautiful pattern called Garden Gallery. Do you have any info on it? So sad to switch out for Anchor Hocking glass dishes only to find out some of this brand and Pyrex glass also contain lead, and I cannot find the borosilicate type, The Homichef Brand of Cookware is nickel free for anyone interested. Thanks for all you do!
Miriam Dixon says
From what I can tell, you currently have a backlog of items to test and are not currently taking items. Do you know of any way to find local companies who might use the same type of machine? Is there a listing of certified companies that you’re aware of? I have a Corelle set (Summer Blush) that was produced both before and after 2005, so wanting to confirm before I make a decision. You site tested a casserole dish, but since the pattern spans the time before and after…? Thank you!
Hi Tamara, thanks so much for all your research and advocacy! Is it safe to assume that if a plate does not appear in one of your photos (test results), that the plate is safe? Or does that simply mean the plate wasn’t in the scope of your testing?
Thanks so much!
Not yet tested…
Which brand is it? How old is it?