Decorated House Key (paint wearing off): 13,200 ppm lead. The actual key I tested is in the photo at the bottom of this blog post. The featured image is of similar style decorated keys.
Please note: the lead is in the key itself, not in the decorative paint on the outside of the key.
You can buy lead-free aluminum and stainless keys as alternatives, but they are not always easy to find (ask your local locksmith!)
The current amount of lead that is considered toxic in an item intended for children is anything over 90 ppm lead in the paint or coating or anything over 100 ppm lead in the substrate.
Items intended for adults (including dishware and keys) are generally unregulated for total lead content as they are not designed or sold as intended for children.
Keys specifically are intentionally made from heavily leaded brass for its easy machining, malleability and to increase the lubricity and support their function, however it is possible to make lead-free keys and these are available for purchase at many hardware stores (the aluminum ones are less ductile and therefore more brittle than most keys, and need to be used a little more gently than you might otherwise use as key – as they could eventually snap and potentially break off in the lock if subjected to excessive and/or repeated bending force. #ExperienceSpeaking.]
I often share with parents that a colleague told me that there was a study done (I’ll try to find a link!) where the insides of purses (where women would keys in their purses on a regular basis) tested positive for high levels of lead. [Microscopic lead-dust is created by keys frequently rubbing against each other and other items and that contaminates the fabric inside of your purse.]
If you keep your keys in your purse and then throw an apple or a juice-box into your purse… and then go on to give those things to your kids later in the day… there’s a distinct possibility that those items might be covered with “invisible” lead dust (such microscopic dust is by definition not easily seen with the naked eye) – since they may be wet/ sticky. This is especially true for those who use actual purses, because it is often impractical (or impossible) to actually wash the interior of the purse.
My solution is to use washable canvas bags (instead of traditional purses) and also to keep my keys separate (e.g. in a pants or jacket pocket) instead of in my bag, whenever possible; since I wash my clothes pretty much every day – so it’s unlikely that lead-dust will accumulate in the pockets.
My grandmother’s solution (and I don’t know for sure if this was done because of the concern for lead or not) was to have a separate little key purse that she kept inside her purse. (Remember those TV ads from the 1970s with those purses that had all of the amazing pockets and extra features? Well one of those features was always a key-purse attached by a chain!) Her keys were always contained inside that purse (and never touched the inside of the larger purse itself.)
Main advice / takeaway: Don’t let children (especially babies – or any other child who puts things in their mouth) play with common/”ordinary” house keys. Give them a child-safe toy set instead.
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