Lead Safe or Lead Free? What Do I Look For?

Filed Under Lead, Product Safety 

Pin It

I got an email this weekend that had the wheels of conscious parenting confusion spinning and as I typed a reply to the sender I realized it warranted a post.  I get this question a lot and it seems to pop up often whether its with lunch gear or toys or bibs.  Alicia of The Soft Landing posted about this last fall in her blog post Lead-free vs. Lead-safe? What’s the difference? and it is an article I refer to often.  Alicia says,

The term “lead-safe” refers to products that may show trace amounts of lead, but no more than the established federal safety limits.  On the other hand, some materials are naturally unlikely to contain lead, so manufacturers may choose to label them “lead-free.”

Some materials are less likely to contain lead than others so a company selling something made out of 100% organic cotton might use the term “Lead Free” because it probably doesn’t contain any.  Other companies might stick to the more legal term of “Lead Safe” which more or less means the product has less than the permitted amount.  At the moment the legal limit in products designed for children under 12 is 300ppm (parts per million) and for paints or coatings it is 90ppm.

By August of this year (2011) the limit should be dropping to 100ppm if all goes well.

Which Should I Look For?

I think more important than lead-free vs lead-safe is safety in materials. Choose materials that are less likely to contain lead and most especially avoid PVC (vinyl).  But in the case of plastics or metals, it’s tough to say. On a case by case basis is where I am at with it.  Of course “lead-free” sounds better but in reality, a claim of lead free can just mean the product tested below the limits set forth by CPSIA.   If you are unsure, email the company who makes the product and ask.

I welcome your thoughts and questions on this topic!

Posted by: SafeMama Kathy on February 7, 2011


4 Responses to “Lead Safe or Lead Free? What Do I Look For?”

  1. Kevin Brodwick on February 8th, 2011 5:05 pm

    While Lead free is the way to go, consumers should also know that the testing standard is not adequate. When we launched thinksport(our insulated sports bottles), we wanted to have cool colors like all of the other sports bottle companies. The test that they run takes the bottle and places it into a solution to see what leaches off. That’s ridiculous in our opinion. A paint with high levels of lead might not leach much lead at first. The US and EU standards are both conducted this way. When we test the paints for our bottles, we use wet paint as the concentrations are far higher than a simple leach test. It is our opinion that simply lowering the standard doesn’t do enough. The test needs to be completely recalibrated.


    founder, thinkbaby

  2. SafeMama Kathy on February 8th, 2011 5:48 pm

    Thank you for your input Kevin! It’s very helpful as consumers to know this…

  3. Stacey Friedland on February 16th, 2011 8:58 am

    Fascinating article. I did not know there was a label “lead safe”. Is “safe” a relative term? If as Kevin stated, the testing is inadequate, it still remains a great concern, what our chilren are exposed to!

    Thank You for shedding light on this issue.

    Safer Child Products, LLC

  4. DSK on February 21st, 2011 4:17 pm

    Thanks for a great article Kathy! I recently learned about avoiding PVC for the kids. My 2.5 year old has been using the soft potty seat covers by Ginsey ( Thomas the tank and elmo) for almost a year now. I never realized before that I am exposing him to so much PVC in the name of potty training! Is PVC harmful even if its touched by skin like the soft potty seat covers? Does any one know how to reverse that harm and what brand should I use to replace them at home?
    -A very concerned mama :(