Question from Lucy (Via MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic Facebook Page).
Hi Tamara, We just bought a new house and it has the original bathtub (1956).
- What would be the best and most effective way to test for lead?
- I’d also like to test dishes, toys, water. What do you suggest for that?
- I noticed from a previous post that Ikea dishes were on the safer side. Would that apply to the clear glass ones too or just white?
Thank you for your time! Lucy
Hi Lucy… here’s a post about how I test for lead. I think it answers some of your questions! Here’s another post about XRF technology and related options (including the XRF I usually use to test for Lead in consumer goods).
The cheapest, easiest, and most effective way to test for Lead in a tub is to use a LeadCheck swab. In almost all cases a tub that is positive for Lead will instantly turn a LeadCheck swab pink or red! In some cases, a tub will have Lead but the finish will not be deteriorating/chalking and it may not test positive with a swab (in cases like that an XRF will give a definitive, quantitative result). In some cases, the tub may take a while to turn red (depending on the type of coating).
so I recommend testing a dry tub, and if it doesn’t turn red right away, check back in a couple of hours to see if either the swab used or the spot tested has turned pink or red (this is true for many of the “off-label” instances — where LeadCheck swabs may* detect Lead on metal items or items with a metal substrate (*PLEASE NOTE: strictly speaking, any chemical reagent swabs such as LeadCheck are only intended for testing house paint, and so shouldn’t be considered in any way a definitive or reliable substitute for XRF testing of anything other than paint; that said, in some cases — such as a badly chalking leaded porcelain or enamel tub — you can often get an easy positive detection using them).
Here’s a company owned by a friend of mine that sells DIY tests for Lead in water. Your city or county health department may also offer free Lead-in-water test kits.
Here’s a link to some of the Lead-free kitchen items (including dishes) I have tested as well.
If you have an additional answer to this question, please post it in the comments below.
Another version of this question I have gotten quite often:
Question: “Is there Lead in bathtubs? Really?”
Short Answer: “Yes!”
Lead in older bathtubs is a big issue—and yet usually overlooked as a potential source of toxicity for children. Both porcelain and enamel coatings can have extremely high levels of Lead — both in the surface coating (glaze) and substrate. In my experience, using an XRF and testing tubs around the country in my travels, I have seen up to 300,000 parts per million (and on occasion even higher), and since it can be quite difficult or costly to remove and/or replace a bathtub, in many cases the tubs stay in place and the hazards (from deteriorating surfaces) persist — even after an extensive remodel or update. I do know several families who have children that were likely poisoned as a result of the bathtub, so this is a worthwhile thing to address.
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My biggest concern is this. As a very busy mother with four children, I used the tub more than just as a vessel for bathing my children. I would often put two or three kids in the tub at a time so they could have fun water play time while I folded laundry or did dishes nearby (our tub in our last two houses has been right next to the kitchen).
Especially since I have Lead-poisoned children with a whole host of sensory issues and needs, putting them in a tub full of warm water usually calms them down and brings them to a happy place — which is a very valuable resource for me. For me, this meant I would put my kids in the tub at least twice a day (morning and evening) and sometimes more if they requested it (or got very dirty mid-day!).
As a result, I also bought LOTS of bath toys (including bath crayons and color tablets) and made an effort to make their bath time interesting, fun, and educational as well. My kids LOVED taking baths! That is why when we moved into our current home (in April 2007) the very first thing I did BEFORE was get a hazard assessment. As a result of that hazard assessment, one of the very first things I did to the house (construction wise) was chuck the bathtub because it tested positive for Lead. I wasn’t willing to have the temptation of a leaded bathtub in my home. It would be too hard to avoid with my kids because I relied on it too much for entertainment and play. It just wasn’t worth it.
Folks who dismiss the concern for Lead in bathtubs DO NOT SEEM TO REALIZE how many mothers use the tub as a regular daily parenting tool (crutch? break? relief?! 😉 as I describe above. They often dismiss the concern by saying things like “it’s not like the kids are drinking the water,” and “how much time do kids spend in the bath anyway?” Well almost any mother of a toddler will tell you YES kids do drink the water, and if you use the tub as I did, it’s an hour or more a day the kids can be in it. Therefore, a leaded tub presents a Lead-exposure risk.
Any risk, even a minute risk, is not worth it for my children (and in my opinion a leaded tub is a risk for any child).
Is a child going to be Lead poisoned exclusively from exposure to the Lead in their bathtub? While it is possible (and again, I know families where this has happened) in most cases the answer to this is “likely not.” A vintage tub (especially one in an older home) is not likely going to be the sole source of a child’s Lead poisoning.
Will a leaded bathtub that is old/vintage/antique and chalking potentially add to the environmental toxicity burden of a child who takes baths in it daily? Very possible. Again, making it not worth the risk in my opinion, which is why the Dallas Morning News article linked below had a tagline for a while: “Tamara’s children have not taken a bath in 6 years” (or something like that, it’s no longer in the article though!).
Our main solution in our home has been to get a two-man hot tub (Craig’s list, $400! similar to the one pictured here) and while my sons bathe in the shower (some more than others), they do their soaking and water play in the hot tub. Even though they are older now (in 2017 they are 8, 12, 14 and 20), they still spend between 30 and 60 minutes a day in the hot tub, each and every day. But I know it is safe.
- Shower with your kids (instead of bathing them in the tub)!
- Bathe your smaller kids in the sink (we bought a Lead-free double-wide sink at Lowe’s from American Standard). My eight-year-old still actually fits in the sink, mostly… (he’s pretty skinny!)
- Bathe your kids in other alternative plastic tubs that you can put inside your tub or on the floor of the shower (please use the same attention to drowning risk that you would otherwise use!). For a short while, we even went so far as to put a small kiddie pool on the floor of our walk-in shower (make sure the floor can handle the weight of the additional water if you are going to do something like that!).
- Get a new plastic/fiberglass Lead-free tub insert system that just goes in/over your existing tub/shower stall.
- Get a new Lead-free replacement tub if you can afford it — please note that this can require breaking down walls and doorways depending on the size of the old tub and the new tub, so is not always the simplest of projects. Make sure to test the tub first (or see the white paper from the manufacturer) before bringing it into your home. Newer (the last 20 years) cast iron tubs can also have leaded enamel and ceramic coatings — so newer does not always equal Lead-free!
- Consider getting a hot tub for soaking! They can often be found free or cheap on Craigslist!
- Note: Kids don’t actually need to bathe as often as Americans tend to bathe them!!!!!
Things to avoid:
- I avoid repurposed/recycled tubs at all costs!
- I avoid tub refinishing at all costs. Generally, it does not work (the new finishes fail sooner than later) and it is very toxic with the potential to contaminate your whole home with Lead dust and other toxic chemicals if the refinisher does not know what he is doing.
Note: I have tested several recently manufactured (brand new, in the last 5 years) tubs that were completely Lead-free! So newer does seem to be better in this case!
As always, please let me know if you have any questions.
Unexpected Lead Expert
Mother of four boys
Dallas Morning News – October 2013
“Old bathtubs found to pose lead exposure risks for children”
From the following site: http://www.fhco.org/lead.htm — “In addition to lead-based paint on the walls or salvaged pieces brought into the home, it has been determined that about 75% of pre-1978 bathtubs have lead in their glaze and that about 40% of these tubs will have measurable levels of lead dust when dust samples are collected from the surface of the glaze. Older claw foot tubs, like well-appointed front doors, are another popular retro salvage yard item.”
Another piece (from 1995):
Lead in worn ceramic glaze confirmed
From Hudson Valley Parent:
Lead in Bathtubs Could Be Poisoning Your Child
Facts about Lead in Porcelain & Ceramic Glazes, by the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board – Lead Hazard Reduction Program.
And – on top of all this, from the CDC NIOSH Science Blog, from February 4, 2013
Dangers of Bathtub Refinishing
Thanks for reading! If you have another link you think belongs here, please let me know and I will add it to this collection or you can post it as a comment on this post.