For those new to this website:
Tamara Rubin is a multiple-federal-award-winning independent advocate for childhood Lead poisoning prevention and consumer goods safety, and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children (two of her sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in 2005). Since 2009, Tamara has been using XRF technology (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals — including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic). All test results reported on this website are science-based, accurate, and replicable. Items are tested multiple times to confirm the test results for each component tested. Tamara’s work was featured in Consumer Reports Magazine in February of 2023 (March 2023 print edition).
January 6, 2023
Updated: September 13, 2023 — Wednesday
September 13, 2023 Update: In short, none of these types of products (reactive agent home test kits that purport to turn red in the presence of Lead) should be used for testing consumer goods. The Chinese-branded knockoffs (image above) should not be used for ANY Lead testing. Our current choice for Lead-paint testing (for homeowners/ tenants, etc.) is the Scitus brand product (the original, USA-made product that Chinese companies “knocked off” to make the above product). Please read the full update here: https://tamararubin.com/2023/09/scitus-the-best-currently-available-home-test-kit-for-testing-house-paint-for-lead/.
Original (slightly updated) Article from January 6, 2023
Updated: April 2023
I have written this piece because parents everywhere have (for more than two years now) been contacting me in a panic — because something they bought for their children (something they were certain was Lead-free), has allegedly “tested ‘positive’ for Lead” with these swabs (which they purchased on Amazon because they were the less expensive option, compared to the 3M LeadCheck® test kits — the “gold standard” for reactive-agent Lead-test kits).
Important points to note:
- In response to the work of Lead Safe Mama, LLC, the company that manufactures the Scitus-brand kit is currently (April of 2023) working on reformulating these products so that they work better. In the way the product has been formulated (for products available for purchase in April 2023 and before), there is too much of an opportunity for user error, especially if consumers use them for testing a variety of items, which is an off-label use that these tests were not designed for.
- “Better Than Nothing?” Some Lead Safe Mama readers have asked, “But aren’t these home test kits better than nothing — for testing consumer goods?”
- My answer to this is that — as they are currently formulated — these tests are decidedly not better than nothing for testing consumer goods, given that the false positives AND false negatives are causing too much panic and misinformation among the people who use the kits … and the people who follow those people on social media! (The false information can spread very quickly, causing quite a bit of unwarranted alarm, and also potentially damaging companies who are actually producing Lead-free products that erroneously test positive with these faulty kits.)
- False Positives: These home test kits for Lead give false positives on many, many substrates, including several different types of metal substrates like (specifically but not limited to) Zinc — and possibly also Copper. Because of this, as currently formulated, they have zero reliability for testing consumer goods — especially (again) given the widespread panic and misinformation spread on social media (including in parenting groups and on parenting-related pages) that seems to accompany many of the false positives found.
- For example: Parents tested a crane toy with one of these tests — link — and thought it was positive for unsafe Levels of Lead, when in fact it has zero Lead in any components.
- Another example is the Kyte Baby sleep sack fiasco that unfolded on TikTok in February of 2023 (the original videos were taken down once the creator realized the test kit was faulty, but some of the quotes from that video can still be found)!
- One Common “False Positive” Scenario: If a painted item has a Zinc substrate, such as a zipper coated with Titanium Dioxide-based paint — as many zippers are — using one of these tests might result in a false positive from the exposed Zinc substrate on that item (areas of the zipper where the paint has chipped). So the consumer doing the testing may wrongly assume that the surface paint of the item tested is positive for unsafe levels of Lead (this is what happened with the Kyte Baby sleep sack zipper testing).
- False Negatives: These home test kits also often result in false negatives on many consumer goods — including dishes and vintage toys.
- This is the case with all reactive agent home test kits (for most consumer goods). These test kits were simply not designed to test consumer goods.
- Reactive-agent testing has been designed to be used for/ is only meant to be used for testing Lead in House Paint: As with the 3M LeadCheck® swabs, these reactive agent home test kits were initially designed for use on house paint (to determine if the paint on homes is Lead paint).
- Again, these kits were not designed to test consumer goods, and their use should be restricted to testing house paint for Lead and the off-brand (non-Scitus-brands) products should not be used under any circumstances.
At the moment, of the available choices on the market today, the only reactive agent test kits that work well and consistently are LeadCheck® swabs, which are only good for the specific applications they are designed for, such as use only on paint — with a high low threshold of detection of 600 ppm — but may also work on some types of consumer goods). Please read this for context if you want to know when it might be appropriate to use LeadCheck® swabs.