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Lead-Safe Vs Lead-Free? What Do I Look For?

By Kristie Turck •  Published 02/07/11 •  2 min read

Last updated on August 19th, 2022 at 10:45 pm

I get this question a lot, and it seems to pop up often, whether it’s with lunch gear, toys, or bibs.  Alicia of The Soft Landing posted about this last fall in her blog post-Lead-safe vs. Lead-free? What’s the difference? and it is an article I refer to often.

Lead-Safe Vs Lead-Free What’s the Difference?

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”. Products you need to be most concerned about are typically painted or made from PVC or metal (such as jewelry, house keys and water bottles).  Lead is sometimes added during the manufacturing process as a stabilizer in these materials.  This is another reason to choose only PVC-free products and shop from reputable companies who complete third-party independent heavy metal testing to ensure the safety of their products.”

Some materials are less likely to contain lead than others, so a company selling something made 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.  Currently, the legal limit in products designed for children under 12 is 100ppm (parts per million), and for paints or coatings, it is 90ppm.

Should I Look For Lead-Safe or Lead-Free Products?

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 it’s tough to say in the case of plastics or metals. 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 unsure, email the company that makes the product and ask.

Resources On Lead And Children

Lead-Free Kids For A Healthy Future (pdf)

CDC Lead In Consumer Products

Beyond Lead, Toxins in Toys

Total Lead Content Business Guidance

Lead In Kids Vitamins

Safer Lunch Gear Cheat Sheet


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