Introduction to Tamara (for those new to the site!)
Tamara Rubin lives in Portland, Oregon and is a child health advocate, author, documentary filmmaker, and mother of four sons. Her four sons are now 24, 18, 15, and 12. She has won multiple national awards for her Lead-poisoning prevention advocacy work (including two from U.S. government agencies). As of November 15, 2020, she has had more than 1.5 million unique individual readers visit her blog in the past 12 months (with over 3.5 million page views!) – from more than 200 countries around the world!
It is with the help, support, and participation of these readers that she conducts and reports on independent testing of consumer goods for toxicants (Lead, Mercury, Arsenic, Cadmium, and Antimony), using high-accuracy X-Ray Fluoresence analysis (read more about that here). She goes by #LeadSafeMama on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram and has over 2,500 separate posts of information (mostly consumer goods test results) on her blog at LeadSafeMama.com.
Tamara’s advocacy work has been mentioned in print in The New York Times; the New York Post; Mother Jones; Parents Magazine; Vice.com; MNN.com; TruthOut; WebMD; the Huffington Post,;USA Today; Grok Nation, and more (too many outlets to list!) – and in other media (T.V. and radio), on the Today Show; Kids in the House; Al Jazeera English; The Voice of Russia; CBS This Morning, and through news stories on CBS; ABC; NBC, and even Fox News – as well as in countless podcasts and other interviews.
Are you curious about how toxic
YOUR Christmas Decor might be?
First, how to use this website…
For those new to the site, there is a search bar on each and every page (either in the righthand menu, or at the top or at the bottom of each page – depending on which browser you are using). The key to using this search bar is to enter fewer words if you want to see more results. For example you can enter “Christmas” (or “Santa“, or “Christmas Ornament”, or “Christmas China” or any other similar short search terms) to see the items pictured in the header image and more.
You can also click on any of the keywords in the list at the top of each post and you will automatically be taken to a list of posts for that category of items. Here’s an example of the clickable keywords at the top of post (continue reading below the image):
This image shows the clickable keywords at the top of each post, circled in purple.
Once you have your search category pulled up click on each item pictured in the search results to read about the specific toxicant profile (the specific XRF-detectable heavy metal toxicants content – as well as other [non-concerning] metals found in the items) for the item pictured.
Suggestions, Solutions & Safer Choices
Most posts on the Lead Safe Mama blog also have links to suggestions for specific safer choices and / or more general guidelines for making safer (related) choices for your family. This includes this article (that you are reading right now) which has both guidelines for safer choices for Christmas decor as a whole – as well as a bit of a summary about which toxicants (which poisonous heavy metals specifically) can be found (using XRF technology) in which types of decor (to help give you an idea of what to avoid.)
Towards the bottom of this post specifically I have written a brief summary of ten easy suggestions / guidelines to follow with some simple fun ideas for making safer choices for your Christmas decor this year (possibly extra important this year – more important than other years – since Children will likely be home for most of the time this holiday season due to the pandemic!) I also invite you to visit my friend Carissa’s site CreativeGreenLiving.com, where she focuses on fun non-toxic projects you can do at home with your family (many of which are decor related!)
And to start you off, here are some clickable “Christmas” category links to get you started in your search on this blog!
- Christmas: https://tamararubin.com/category/christmas/
- Artificial Christmas Trees: https://tamararubin.com/category/artificial-christmas-tree/
- Christmas Ornaments: https://tamararubin.com/category/christmas-ornaments/
- Christmas Mugs: https://tamararubin.com/category/christmas-mugs/
- Christmas China: https://tamararubin.com/category/christmas-china/
- Christmas Decorations: https://tamararubin.com/category/christmas-decoration/
- Santa: https://tamararubin.com/category/santa/
And after all that (the above introduction) here is the main “meat” (mince-meat?) of this article:
“Christmas” does not equal
“intended for use by kids.”
The most important thing to remember when decorating your home for the holidays is that most Christmas decor (and other holiday decor too!) is – from a manufacturing & regulatory perspective classified as “not intended for use by children”(!) This is true for both vintage and new items! [This means they are exempt from much (if not all) of the regulatory protections that limit toxicants in items classified as “intended for use by children”.]
Christmas items are not toys
While many Christmas items may LOOK like toys (or may look like something a child would play with – and are therefore very attractive to children) they are simply NOT toys.
- Painted items: Many Christmas decor items (including ornaments – especially wood, glass or metal ornaments, both antique or new) are painted with Lead-containing paint, or (if they are red) with high–Cadmium-content paint or glaze. Cadmium is a known carcinogen, you can read more about Cadmium on this link.
- Plastic: Plastics – including many ornaments that go on the tree (including plastic decorative ball ornaments) or other plastic electric items (specifically items that plug in – like a pre-lit artificial Christmas tree) are likely to either be high in Lead (which causes brain damage in young children) or to have high levels of Antimony (which is known to cause cancer in rats) – as one or both have been applied as flame retardants to these types of products.
- Metal: Pewter or other solid metal ornaments can be made with unsafe levels of Lead (as is true with most heavy shiny yellow Leaded brass) or unsafe levels of Antimony. Vintage or antique pewter items are generally very high Lead. Newer pewter items tend to be high in Antimony. Functional items made of pewter (like decorative serving trays or tea sets) should NEVER be considered safe for food use, BTW. Most pewter that is marked “Lead-free” still actually has unsafe levels of Lead — even if Lead is no longer a main constituent in the substrate of the item! [And in most cases, the bulk of the “missing” Lead in so-called “Lead-free” pewter has been replaced with Antimony — which can be just as toxic, if not more so!]
- Christmas Trees: Artificial Christmas trees are generally either high in Lead or high in Antimony as well. The California “Prop 65” warnings that come with many of these items are NOT a “CYA” (Cover Your Ass) warning “just put there by the manufacturer just to be safe”! They are legitimate warning labels — because these products legally contain toxic chemicals (mostly applied or integrated into the product to comply with flammability regulations.)
- Vintage Ceramics: Vintage ceramics designed for the holidays (especially vintage Christmas mugs) are not generally safe for food use and should NOT be given to children (like with hot cocoa) — unless they have specifically been tested and have been shown to be both Lead-free and non-leaching (of any toxic chemicals.)
- New Ceramics: New holiday ceramics can also be high-Lead (although they may or may not be leaching when new). In fact, many new Christmas ceramic items (like decorative trays and bowls and platters) actually may never have been leach-tested — because they are considered to be “decor” and not functional food use items (even though the practical application of these items may indeed be for food.)
- Twinkly lights: Plug-in holiday string lights generally have high levels of either Lead or Antimony in the cords and bulb holders. This goes for both new and vintage / older light strings as well as plug in trees and other plug in holiday decor items. Based on the testing I have done, older light strings are more likely to have unsafe levels of Lead and newer light strings are more likely to have high (potentially unsafe) levels of Antimony.
As a result, most Christmas items (including brand new Christmas china and ornaments) can LEGALLY have unsafe levels of XRF-detectable heavy metals including (but not limited to) Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, Antimony, — and even Mercury!
“Tamara, what I am supposed to do about this? It seems like toxic chemicals are everywhere!” The answer is simple (and inexpensive too!) “Go Old-School!”
If you want to decorate your tree and home in a child-safe and nontoxic way, I recommend going “old-school.” For me, what this means is decorating in the way your grandparents or great grandparents may have decorated (before rabid consumerism and mass-manufactured products took over the holidays!)
Here are TEN simple steps you can take…
(things you may have time for because you are home with kids for the pandemic!)
- MAKE the decorations yourself!
- Decorate with fruit, flowers, pine cones and strings of popcorn,
- Decorate with drawings and ornaments made from scratch by your children.
- Sew fabric decorations (this is a great teaching opportunity for the kids!)
- Knit (or crochet!) some of your decorations!
- Use colorful ribbons and strings to decorate the tree.
- If you are hardcore environmentalist, you may also choose to use a reusable-potted plant instead of a cut-down (and later throw-away!) tree.
- Purchase safe ornaments. Some brands may have ornaments expressly designed for use by children — and they are usually marked to indicate that. (I know Hallmark carries child-safe ornaments. Modern – new ornaments from Disney are likely safe as well – as long as they are marked that they are intended to be used by children.)
- If you must use string lights, the battery operated fairy light style string lights tend to test negative for both Lead and Antimony (the main environmental consideration then becomes the batteries – and to address that concern, you can get some long-lasting rechargeable / reusable batteries!)
- Instead of using Christmas-themed decorative china – use your everyday dishes – and just make sure the food on the plates is festive. Who notices the china under a nice gingerbread man, anyway? — it’s the cookie that matters, not the dishes! Here’s a link to the (rather festive, but simple) dishes we use every day in our home.*
As always, thank you for being here. Thank you for reading and sharing my posts. Please let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them personally as soon as I have a moment!
*Amazon links are affiliate links. If you purchase something after clicking on one of my links I may receive a small percentage of what you spend, at no extra cost to you.
Thanks for the post! Have you ever tested, or do you have any educated guess about the light kits that come for lego sets? They are USB or battery operated! I was thinking about a lego Christmas tree this year 🙂
https://amzn.to/36P4dil (Tamara’s aflink)
Hmmm – I have read that LEDs can contain some amount of Lead (possibly in both the glass and the internal mechanisms) but I have not tested enough to draw a conclusion. I normally find that battery operated lights are Lead-free and Antimony-free. Given these are part of a toy I would hope that they would comply with current standards for toys (although if they are marked that they are only intended for use by children over 14 (or children over 16) I would have concerns for the possible presence of toxicants.)
Being a part of toy is an interesting point. I hadn’t thought about it. It says that the manufacturer recommended age is 8 and up. So hard to guess!
8 and up is likely an electronics / small parts warning. “14 and up” and “16 and up” are more likely toxicant warnings.
Thanks, Tamara! That’s very helpful!
You are welcome!
Help me keep the peace in my house! My husband wants lights on our Christmas tree, but I can’t find ROHS compliant ones anywhere. Are battery operated lights the safest bet?
Here is Tamara’s “Christmas Lights” category link. There are some Lead-free options out there!
Do you have any information on Royal Doulton Carolyn or Nikko Happy Holidays china? Mine were from around 1985 and I would like to know if they are full of toxins. Is there an accurate and affordable way to test dishes yourself at home? Sending them off to be tested by an XRF is more costly than most can afford!
Hi – if they are pre-2010 they are likely very high lead – The Royal Doulton is likely not safe for food use (educated guess based on testing I have done).
There are – unfortunately – no ways for a consumer to accurately test consumer goods at home themselves.
The cost to send to a lab for testing can vary but is normally between $200 and $300 per item, which is why I have implemented the community collaborative efforts of this work at what works out to be a subsidized rate – so when folks pay the $35 per item to have items tested through Lead Safe Mama, LLC – the cost is not just to cover your testing – but to make this information (the test results of your dishes) available for every one in the future (so they can look up their dishes here free of charge.) If you think of it as a cost for testing your dish – it is (in most cases) less expensive to go out and buy a new set of lead-free clear glass dishes at Walmart or Ikea or similar than to have a single dish tested.
If you want to post pictures of your dishes in the Facebook group and ask if anyone has had similar dishes tested that is another way to access free information. If your exact dishes are not here on the website you can also look at others from that brand. If the back mark / maker’s mark / logo on the back of the item tested here is similar to yours and the style is similar – the lead levels are likely similar. The Facebook group is linked on this site and it is called “Lead Poisoning Prevention with Lead Safe Mama”
Here’s the post about sending a dish in for testing :
Here’s the Royal Doulton category on the website:
Here’s the video that shows how to most efficiently search the website: