Published: April 25, 2018
Updated: March 28, 2020
Can chicken wire test positive for Lead?
Years ago, in response to a friend’s concerns about chicken wire (otherwise known as poultry cloth or hardware cloth) I tested several examples. Chicken wire is a popular example of a category of galvanized wire products – available in a variety of forms, styles, and gauges, sold in rolls or flat panels, traditionally used primarily in animal control and husbandry, and now sold in most hardware stores – and used for a wide variety of purposes. This product is also called wire cloth, wire mesh, woven wire, wire fence or wire fencing, etc., — or associated with the name of an animal (e.g. poultry cloth / chicken wire; deer fencing; non-climbing horse fencing, etc.) — depending on specifications, as well as common uses / markets.
When I first tested this type of product (back in 2014), I originally tested TWO examples — one each of 2 different types of galvanized wire cloth that my friend sent me. As with each item with the test results reported here on this blog, testing was done using a high-precision XRF instrument. You can read more about the testing I do on this link.
One of those two examples is pictured here on this post (image above). Photographs and readings for the second sample can be seen here: link. With both samples, I have the same considerations: the wire (even after trying to scrunch it into a lump as tightly as I could) did not fill up the full sampling window/screen of the XRF — as a result the actual content (in ppm) is likely much, much higher for the toxic heavy metals found to be present in each case.
Here are the XRF readings I got for the sample pictured on this post:
- Lead (Pb): 2,201 ppm
- Cadmium (Cd): 30 ppm
As mentioned above, this information was originally shared with my readers in June of 2014. Since that original posting, I have dozens of additional samples of this type of wire. I have never once tested a sample of galvanized chicken wire (or other galvanized hardware cloth / wire cloth) that was negative for Lead! As a result I stopped using any galvanized chicken wire (or any other galvanized products – including animal feed buckets and animal feed dispensers) for any and all applications around my home and garden.
How much Lead is “too much” Lead?
The amount of Lead that is considered toxic (by current Federal regulatory standards) in an item intended for use by children is anything 90 ppm Lead or higher in the paint or coating, and anything 100 ppm Lead or higher in the substrate. If this chicken wire (pictured here in this post) were considered to be “an item intended for use by children“ it would certainly be illegal today, but it is not – even though children often participate in gardening [and children eat food from gardens where people use these products]. As evidenced by the fact that it is so very common to see high levels of Lead (and trace levels of Cadmium and Mercury) in these products – the presence of toxic heavy metals in chicken wire is not – under current U.S. regulation, as it stands – illegal at all.
Can I test this myself at home?
When you test something like this (anything with a metal substrate actually, and specifically anything made of galvanized metal) it may or may not test positive with a reactive agent test (like a LeadCheck® swab). If metals (any metal objects) do test positive with a reactive agent test, the positive is often much more faint (faint pink or red), than when you might test paint that is positive for Lead at the same level. However, sometimes with galvanized metal the swab will turn bright pink. The variation in results when testing a metal substrate (even if it is already known to be high lead) is because the swab testing methodology (including reactive agent tests for Lead) are specifically designed for testing paints and other surface coatings — not metal substrates. Metal substrates can only reliably and quantitatively tested using a high-precision XRF instrument.
But is this actually a problem?
In a word, yes. In my experience (based on testing of garden soil that I have done around the country over the years) this is a real problem – a real potential source of Lead exposure to humans. Where there is chicken wire installed, I have consistently found the soil in close proximity to that wire is more likely to test positive for a high level of Lead (usually measurably higher levels than the surrounding soil that one might otherwise find in a garden or chicken coop.) The only exception to this is if the soil is heavily contaminated already because it is next to a lead painted building or there are other lead painted components in the garden or chicken coop.
One story from my archives: I worked with a family (fairly recently) whose child [who has an autism diagnosis and also tested positive for Lead, in spite of living in a fully-remodeled home with no notable building-component based Lead hazards] had a favorite activity: growing tomatoes in his garden. After finding virtually no potential sources for his Lead exposure in the home, we went out to his garden — and determined that his galvanized metal tomato cages were all positive for a high level of Lead. We also discovered that the soil underneath the tomatoes (the soil he was planting in and touching each day that he gardened) was also positive for a relatively high level of Lead. Soil in the other areas of this child’s garden – not under the galvanized metal – tested negative for Lead. It was then that I realized the potential for galvanized metal fencing to specifically and directly contaminate the soil underneath the items – as well as for it to be a potential source of exposure for the gardener. The simplest solution: use stainless steel alternatives or other readily available Lead-free options.
My primary concerns with using galvanized metal in gardening and farming:
- Tomatoes: point noted above, potential contamination of soil under tomato cages.
- With chickens: they like Lead because it tastes sweet — and they are more likely to peck at contaminated soil under Leaded fencing and even to peck directly at the fencing itself. This can result in Lead-poisoned chickens and Lead-contaminated eggs.
- As a pest barrier: unfortunately I have seen this COUNTLESS times – folks create an organic gardening bed, and before laying down the top 6 or 12 inches of soil for their vegetables to grow in, they lay down a full layer of hardware cloth over the bottom of their garden bed to keep out burrowing rodents. This risks that (eventually, with rain, time and normal soil turnover expected in a garden) all of the soil in that bed may become contaminated with Lead.
- As trellis: same concern as with the tomatoes – potential contamination of the soil below (and possibly of the items grown if the edible component of the plant touches the trellis during the growing period.)
- In all applications: potential exposure to the person who handles or installs the metal or touches it in general daily use with gardening. Potential contamination of food plants that come in direct contact with the wire.
- For tomato cages and similar, use stainless steel chicken wire – or consider using untreated natural wood (organic if possible.)
- For other vegetable applications, please consider using actual cloth (natural fiber/organic ground cloth), rather than metal or plastic.
- IMPORTANT NOTE: the rubber or vinyl coatings on some of these types of items can also be high-Lead; and several of the solutions that have no metal, but are wholly some type of supple plastic – can also have high levels of Lead — so I also avoid those entirely.
- When researching this back in 2014, we did find a Lead-free option for hardware cloth that could be imported from Japan [I believe this was a stainless steel product], however, it carried a very high price-tag (relatively) — even before the cost of shipping/importing. Here is a more-current example that I found on Amazon [although I have not tested this specific product] it says it is stainless steel (not galvanized) — and therefore it should be Lead-free: https://amzn.to/3FHmGk8
Some more Stainless Steel options on Amazon
(updated March 28, 2020)
- Stainless steel hardware cloth: https://amzn.to/3arq5kE
- Stainless steel chicken wire (we bought this in 2020 for our veggie garden): https://amzn.to/2UthloJ
- Stainless steel rodent mesh: https://amzn.to/2QTndVY
UPDATE: One of my readers recently informed me she found a product at Home Depot specifically marketed/labeled as “Lead-free” [although I have not yet confirmed this myself] that may be worth checking out!
As always, please let me know if you have any questions.
Thank you for reading and for sharing my posts!
Justone Lead-Soldier says
I found an interesting article which explains that the lead level depends on what grade of zinc is used. The worst is 1.4%, i.e. 14000 ppm and the best is .003%, i.e. 30ppm.
Erin Bailey says
I have read (while researching this issue of lead in hardware cloth and chicken wire) that it is not just the galvanizing, but also the welding. If this were true– that would include all welded wire fencing of any type. I have no way of knowing whether or not that comment was true. Can you further educate us? I am determined to not add lead to my garden soil. Why do that to my family? Why do that to the future users of this garden, who may never think to check the soil for lead? Yet my neighbor feeds several rodent colonies (unwittingly-but tensions are already high between us, so cannot do anything with that source) who tunnel up into my raised beds and destroy much of the fruits of my labor. Trapping has not worked for us. I am almost at the point of poison. I actually bought some, but still do not want to use it.
Have you looked into the Stainless Steel hardware cloth yet?
Thank you so much, Tamara, for this post! Answered two big prayers I had for non-toxic solution (install light-weight morning-glory planters on wood fence / nearly-invisible lattice for them)! 😀
Imani Stefanie Foster says
I have not tested Stainless Steel Hardware cloth. I coordinate over 45 Market gardens for 7 years with (Grown In Detroit through/Keep Growing Detroit). I do a soil sample on each garden before any garden site can participate with the cooperative ( by selling their produce at the Grown In Detroit Farm Stand at Eastern Market. The samples are sent to UMASS for testing. The sample results must register “safe soil” numbers. This season, there were at least 3 garden/farm sites that had 200 ppm for lead. Our standard is Less than 25 (extracted) and less than 320 (estimated) All gardeners agree to utilize “Best Practices” by growing sustainably(no herbicides, pesticides, GMO’s etc).
I am so looking forward to hearing from you and your site. Thanks, Imani S. Foster Keep Growing Detroit 1445 Adalaide 48207 313-656-4769 office
Thanks for being in touch Imani. Do you think the soil levels are high because of hardware cloth? Can you send me pictures of the sites that tested high?
Our neighbor installed owl boxes all over his fields to help with the rodents. We are now doing the same. I cut access points under deer fence so that the foxes can squeeze under it – I started putting a few meat bones next to the vegetable patch, so the foxes got the idea. This is our first year with no rabbits or voles! Don’t use poison! Poison worked like a charm on the rats in our basement for the first year. And then I realized I had created rats immune to it. With research, I saw that rats develop immunity to all the poisons immediately, but the hawks and other eaters of rodents die. Use stainless steel shot with a 20 gauge instead
I also put scraps of meat leftovers by my rose garden in the winter when the hawks looked hungry. This has been a glorious year for my roses now that the hawks have gotten into the habit of circling the rose garden.
Is there an affordable alternative? It seems many/most gardening/homesteading options are galvanized or pvc 🙁
I’m wondering if there is an alternative to galvanized wire. I’m trying to support a grapevine and galvanized steel wire is all anyone talks about for support. I did find some coated galvanized steel wire but that may not be any better based on your comment. Any other ideas? Thanks!
I have been able to find stainless steel alternatives for pretty much all of the uses. Just explicitly search for that and see what you come up with! Good luck.
Giselle Huber says
Hi. I followed the Amazon link you posted for the stainless steel hardware cloth. I am happy to pay extra to avoid lead in my vegetable garden. However, many of the people that have purchased this exact product comment that it comes with a proposition 65 warning label on it. And no one knows why. People are guessing, wondering about the welding and wondering about possible nickel. I most certainly do not want to pay more for a product that is going to cause me just as much trouble as the cheaper galvanized. do you have any information on this stainless steel fencing? Have you researched that specific stainless steel product that you have linked to? It is the exact product linked above in this article. Thank you so very much!
Check out this link that discusses the composition of Stainless Steel – it is probably listed with a prop 65 warning as a “CYA” statement from the company, but it may be because of Chromium or Nickel – I am not really sure why they would do that – it is (in any case) a lot less toxic than the leaded variation – and I really don’t have a concern for stainless steel chicken wire. I bought this to use in my own garden actually. I can test it when I get home and will let you know what those results are – but that will not be until mid-April.
Thank you so very much for your quick response! How nice we have the ability to communicate with someone such as yourself that is so helpful and kind to put out this information for all of us that care! I will check back in April as you have indicated for further updates! And again, thank you so very much!
You are welcome!
Hi! I’m about to purchase stainless steel hardware cloth for Garden and chicken coop to avoid toxic chemicals. But just noticed a past comment here that the welding of the wire could possibly be problematic for garden, etc. Is this true? Thank you!
In my experience I have not found the stainless cloth to have leaded weld points. It is sometimes tied together (in the roll or bundle) with Leaded wire tho – so that is something to be aware of.
Angela Warder says
I have not been able to find the product at Home Depot. Is there a link?
I’d like to know too. 🙂
Do you think that the galvanized containers that people use for raised garden beds could also be high in lead and cadmium, as well? There are LOTS of pictures on Pinterest, DIY websites, and companies selling garden kits using galvanized panels and troughs for raised bed gardening, so this is very concerning
When researching different raised beds options, I ran across many university extension offices that recommended and discussed growing vegetables in galvanized containers. When discussing possible safety issues, some described how all residential water pipes were galvanized until a couple of decades ago. livestock have been drinking/eating out of galvanized troughs for many years, etc. I couldn’t find any health hazards brought up by using these containers until I happened upon your article about galvanized chicken wire. They only ever mention possible issues with the amount of zinc.
This is probably a dumb question, so forgive me. . . If galvanized tomato cages have been used in a garden (my husband used tomato cages, but I do not know what kind they were) and a year has passed, will a fall and winter season of rain and snow have possibly washed away any lead that leached into the soil? Would it be safe for him to plant there again but this time with a wooden cage? Or is that soil forever contaminated? Do we dig up another area of the yard and start a new garden? How can I ”decontaminate” the area where the possible galvanized cages were placed?
Ugh. Why, why, why would lead be considered ok in an area used to grow food???!!!!! It is infuriating. And until now, I would have never guessed that tomato cages could be leaching lead.
Thanks for all you do! The world is lucky to have you!
I am wondering the same thing. So frustrating they sell lead filled products for gardens.
Plant yarrow. It will draw lead (and some other heavy metals) out of the soil. You have to remove the entire plant after one season and dispose of it. Check with your county extension office to see where to dispose of contaminated plant material.
Jen, did you ever get an answer to your question? I’m wondering the same thing. I went to great efforts to build an organic garden and used metal tomato cages assuming they were safer than the plastic and PVC alternatives. that was two years ago.
Can you recommend any lead free tomato cages and lead free trellis for climbing vegetables?
I use 8′ x 1/2 ” electrical pipe attached vertically to the outside of my raised bed with a horizontal cross bar up top latched together, holes drilled prior to installation. From this I hang long pieces of string and wrap these around plants that need support like peas, tomatoes, cucumbers. Is this pipe lead free?
Thank you so much for this posting. As a result, we are now tearing up the galvanized steel chicken wire which we just laid down under our new organic beds a week ago. (Wish i had seen this earlier!) When I did my initial search after seeing the CA warning, I searched “cancer” and “galvanized steel” and got reassuring answers. I didn’t know to search “lead.” So my suggestion to you is to add “cancer” to your search engine crieria so that it comes up for more people. Thanks again!!
Do you know if there is lead in electroplated galvanized chicken mesh (appears shiny), or just in hot-dipped galvanized mesh (dull appearance)? I understand that lead is part of the molten zinc bath of hot dipped galvanized steel, but electroplating uses an electrical current to bind the zinc to the steel (but that lead-silver can be used in this process). Just wondering if there is a lead residue left from that binding process.
I don’t know that specifically as I have not noted the distinction you mention in the testing I have done. I normally test samples sent to me by readers or samples in situ at peoples homes – so I don’t see the packaging to note what type it is. That said, in my experience ALL the non-stainless chicken wire (or hardware cloth) that I have tested has been positive for Lead.
Karen S says
Wow! Thank you this information. My family will soo npbe building an earthbag house. When building an earthbag house chicken wire is used to cover the walls made with dirt filled bags so that then the adobe coating can be applied. If the end result is that the wire is encapsulated and protected from the elements inside the finished wall would the lead constant in the wire still be a concern beyond the need to wear gloves while handling it?
Thank you so much for this!
Hello- a question for you please: Do the red and green powder-coated tomato cages that they sell everywhere contain lead in the coating? Thank you so much
Yes – they often do.
Linda Bannister says
Hi, All, I found a great source for the T-304 Wire Mesh, darbywiremesh.com. Lots of sizes and option, claim to be lead free. Pricey. I paid $157 for 25 yards of 1/2 inch 4foot wide mesh. But with all the work and time and money going into my raised beds, its worth it to us.
Gardening in Indiana
Sorry if my question looks like silly but is that dangerous to have a drawer with galvanized stainless steel runners? My husband bought a few days ago a drawer from Ikea and now I am reading this post… We have a little one who is 18 months old.
Thanks in advance!
Thank you for commenting.
I have tested those runners and they are generally lead-free. Galvanized material from Ikea has been consistently Lead-free.
Here’s an example:https://tamararubin.com/2020/03/2019-ikea-bintje-plant-pot-lead-free-82-zinc-17-iron-made-in-china/
Tamara, thank you SO much for your quick respond! Now I am feeling better)))
Thank you very much for your priceless work!!! You open our eyes to lots of important things! Your blog is extremely helpful,especially for those who have little ones!!! All the best to you and your family!!!
Thank you for this article. I came across your article in a search for a safer option for my garden and chickens.
I wanted to confirm if the Amazon link you posted for the stainless steel hardware cloth alternatives were also tested for these harmful chemicals. Can you please confirm? Also, have you performed any test for treated wood in the garden and if that contains lead, harmful chemicals? I would really appreciate the information on those findings if you have. Thank you, again!
Is there evidence that vegetables grown in contaminated soil uptake lead? I’ve done a bit of searching and found a lot of opinions but no real evidence so far.
I know there is the risk of contamination to the gardener working in it and from soil touching the veggies.
Interesting article Tamara. I’m always looking for safe gardening supplies (organic gardener and mother of an infant). What is your background and credentials? Are you a scientist? Chemist? Have you been testing also using a control for comparison?
Here’s a post with some of my background:
Here’s a post with information about the testing I report on the blog:
Here’s a post about keeping your yard lead-free:
Here’s the overview post for gardening:
Let me know if you have questions after reading those.
Oh – and here’s a post with a video that shows you how to most efficiently search the blog:
Gene Tundo says
Are there any products or fencing that have no lead that I can use to stop rodents frim get under my vinyl fence , there is about a two inch space
Thank you so much for this article. I just finished covering the frame to my raised garden bed with hardware cloth. I didn’t even consider that there might be lead in the material. I was researching on how to build doors for the frame, and saw your article. I’m so glad I did. Though I’m sad to have to remove all the work that I did, I’m so thankful for your article. I looked on the packaging in and small letters I found the warning, contains lead. Thank you!
It seems terrible. I just knew that electrogalvanizing is not good for health.
Philip Bazikian says
Hi Tamara. Have you done any testing on the fence post typically used with galvanized wire fences? I am wondering if these contain lead to or if they are safe?
Yes – they normally test positive for Lead (the ones with the rounded metal end caps.)
Nancy Hofts says
Do you have any info about harmful effects to florists that use chicken as an alternate to floral foam and how they compare as to environmental harm?
Hello. Do galvanized steel raised garden beds usually have lead also? I have one in my backyard. Thank you!
Yes – they do. I recommend avoiding those for vegetable gardens. You can try testing it with a home test kit although they don’t always work on galvanized material. Here’s the link to the only one that does work (but again not always on galvanized metal) the other types on amazon are junk:
Hello! We are getting ready to install a horse fence made from high tensile wire. Typically the wire is a class 1 galvanization. I did find a product that uses a bezinal coating. It is a zinc aluminum alloy. Do you know anything about the bezinal coating and its lead content? Would there maybe be less lead in the soil it touches?
Hi Michelle – I am not familiar with that type of product. I have always assumed that the Lead in these products is a contamination of the Zinc. If you wanted to send me about one foot square (or 1/2 foot square) of the product I can test it for you. I normally have a fee for that to help cover the testing costs, but given I am curious to find Lead-free alternatives I could waive the fee (unless you want to contribute! I won’t ever say “no” to $ in support of the work!)
Galvanized Expanded Metal says
Hello, thank you for sharing this article it will be really helpful for me to understand Chicken Wire. I appreciate your step in choosing this topic. Great article!! You have done good research I must say, thank you very much for sharing this article.
Thank you for the information. I looked high and low for a stainless steel hardware cloth with 1/4 inch mesh, and finally found it at Wildlife Control Supplies. They carry a 48″ x 100″ roll which is very pricey but will be perfect for my raised beds. Wanted to share in case anyone else is in the same boat! Most of the other options were 1/2 inch mesh.
Alex Doe says
I’m a lead welder, and worked with lead 5/6 days a week since I was 15 years old, I’m now 37. I’ve been tested for lead levels various times in my life and never had any lead show up in my system and I’m in perfect health. The amount of lead in chicken wire if any is minimal and won’t have any affect on your health.
That’s awesome! I was more concerned about my morning glories
Thanks for your post, Tamara. This article has taught me more.