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

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

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!