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Can You Use Lead Test Kits on Ceramic Dishes and Cookware?

I’ve written recently about the possible presence of lead in ceramic dishes and cookware.  The FDA recommends using lead test kits as a way to determine if it’s safe to eat or drink from your ceramic ware.  This type of test is helpful but limited.  It’s important to understand what you can learn from it and what you can’t.


Lead test kits became popular after the EPA established the 2008 Lead Renovating, Repair and Painting rule (RRP) that allows certified contractors to use certain lead test kits to determine if regulated lead-based paint is present in housing and other facilities where children are present.  Because the tests were designed to test paint some brands , such as Scitus, specifically state that they are not intended for ceramics.  It’s important to make sure the test you buy is appropriate for this purpose.


3M LeadCheck is the Best Brand for Testing Ceramics.


3M LeadCheck is an easy-to-use swab that is rubbed on the surface of the item you are testing.  If it turns red it indicates the presence of lead.  The directions on the package state that it takes just 30 seconds to determine the presence of lead but it’s worth noting that a Consumer Reports review found that it can take up to 2 hours if there are low levels of lead!  Make sure to wait this long to see if the swab turns red.


This Test Can Tell You if Lead Is Present but Not if It’s Free of Lead


The limitation of the 3M LeadCheck test is that it only detects lead down to 600ppm.  That means that a product could contain over 500ppm of lead and still test negative. For perspective, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) limits the amount of lead in children’s products to 100ppm.  Because no level of lead is safe, this is simply not a sensitive enough test to determine that a product’s safety.  If you get a positive result on your dishes or cookware, stop using them.  If you get a negative result it does not necessarily mean that no lead is present.


Lead test kits can be helpful for identifying lead in children’s toys, ceramic tiles, older porcelain enameled bathtubs, sinks and toilets.  Just remember that a negative reading doesn’t necessarily mean the item is free of lead.


Is Borax Safe?

Question from Dylan


I basically wanted to know what the verdict was on borax? I have seen various things in various places about it and I am considering using a wallpaper adhesive that contains less than 1% Sodium borate, decahydrate.  Just wanted to get your thoughts on the safety of this product as I will be using a lot of it because I have a lot of wallpaper

Lisa’s Answer

You’ve probably seen the EWG article on Borax which recommends avoiding it.

Borax can be an irritant when it comes in contact with the skin and eyes but it can also be inhaled.  EWG states that “Borax and its cousin, boric acid, may disrupt hormones and harm the male reproductive system. Men working in boric acid-producing factories have a greater risk of decreased sperm count and libido. According to EPA’s safety review of these pesticides, chronic exposure to high doses of borax or boric acid causes testicular atrophy in male mice, rats and dogs.”

For chronic exposure, Japan’s Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for chemical management rates it as a high level of toxicity for reproduction and The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) rates it as a medium to high hazard level as an endocrine disrupter.  I consider this enough evidence to determine it’s best to avoid it in general.

However, the fact that it makes up just 1% of the formula means that it is in very low levels.  What I don’t know is how the product cures and if the borax would be encapsulated and not able to emit any fumes once cured.  Have you looked at the safety data sheet (SDS) for the product.  If you can post that here it might provide some more clues.

In general I don’t recommend wallpaper.  It creates a favorable environment for mold and the wallpaper itself is often a source of toxins. A lot of wallpaper is made of PVC which is much more of a concern.  Wallpaper inks can also emit harmful fumes.



Musty Chairs

Question from Audrey


My dining room chairs (upholstered seat) are very musty smelling.   I put baking soda on one (experimenting with just one seat) overnight and vacuumed it up in the morning – no help.  I have read that a mixture of vinegar and water and wiping it on the seat and then blow drying it- should help.  Before I do that, I would like any suggestions to help with the musty smell.  I don’t want to have them reupholstered – they are very old – if I have to get rid of the chairs I will – they are not used, but would prefer to keep them. I have mcs, so I have to be especially careful.  Any suggestions?

Lisa’s Answer

I understand that your question is about getting rid of the smell but I’d also like to address the question of is the chair free of toxins.

First, regarding the smell, musty odor is due to mold or mildew.  To get mold or mildew there must be a source of moisture.  Is the humidity high in your home?  If so, you may want to look into a dehumidifier.  If not and you do not live in a humid climate, opening your windows and using a fan can help.  You could also try leaving the chairs in the sun for a period of time.  You can try to apply the vinegar which may help neutralize the odor.  I can’t tell you whether or not that will damage your fabric.

Regarding the potential toxicity, I am concerned about two things.  First, there could be mold in the cushions.  You could open them up to check.  If you cannot confirm that there is not any mold, I would not keep them.  Also, if the cushion is made with foam it could be a source of many chemicals of concern such as formaldehyde and fire retardants.  As foam gets older it breaks down and gets into household dust.  Even if it doesn’t smell it can still be exposing you to chemicals.  I don’t recommend upholstered furniture unless it is made with non-toxic fillers such as natural latex, wool or cotton.

LL Bean has Plastic in Their T-Shirts

Question from Bonnie


I was talking to a products specialist at LL Bean tonight asking about elastic in a T- shirt cuff. I decided to make sure elastic was not in their regular long sleeve shirts. Both the product specialist and I were surprised to learn a ‘plastic elastic’ is used to reinforce the shoulders. The pima cotton and regular T-shirts (100 % cotton), short and long sleeve, and pima cardigans contain plastic. I have been avoiding plastic because of possible thyroid cancer. My shoulder is a few inches from my thyroid where the T-shirt plastic is located. My question to know what type of plastic is used was forwarded to find out. Dryer heat will make the offgassing worse. This is not ‘ALL COTTON’, it is false advertising! I thought I was buying a safe product all these years. These are good shirts, and it is upsetting to learn plastic is in them.

Lisa’s Answer


Thanks for sharing this information.  It’s frustrating that there is not better disclosure from manufacturers.  I am not surprised that the product specialist was also not aware of this.



Particle Board Sealer

Question from Diana


I recently purchased some Ikea bedroom furniture, billy bookshelves,malm dresser and bedside table. I was too impulsive on the buy because the price was  right. I realized this after closer inspection. I have been trying to find safe coat safe seal as I live in Winnipeg,Manitoba but it is proving to be impossible to find and I imagine if Ido find it, it will be quite costly.  I have also come to find out that shellac may be just as effective. Is this true and if not can you provide me with an alternative to prevent outgassing ?

Lisa’s Answer

Shellac is typically lower in VOCS than lacquers but not all are the same.  It’s possible that you could be trading one problem for another.  Also, I’m not aware of any shellac product that provides independent testing that it blocks VOC off gassing.



Non-Toxic Couch

Question from Elizabeth


Would like to find a Sleek non toxic couch or sectional that is not takes up lot of room but has a firm support and not sinks in wile sitting on it, also gives firm support for the back . Frame and legs are only solid wood . Seating Cushion and back support Filled with 100% rubber tree -latex sheets. Cover- casing ; organic cotton/ canvas ,..

Lisa’s Answer

My favorite brand is Medley (formerly called Stem).  You would need to select natural latex as an option.  I have a couch by this company and find it to be fairly firm and it holds up well over time.  You can find other options on Debra’s List.

Incontinence Pads

Question from Janet


Elyte also makes Organyc incontinence pads. I am not convinced either are completely nontoxic? Elyte (Super) does not hold it’s shape, & the adhesive is weak. It thus comes out of place. The heaviest Organyc is not long enough.
For moderate to heavy leakage, there’s not much available. Those 2 are the only ones I’ve found. I think they are better than others. I suspect the chemicals in incontinence pads worsen incontinence. There is lots of attention to toxins in menstrual & diaper products. This is a neglected area & a marketers dream I’d think. So many are searching for answers. If someone could actually reduce incontinence with pure products, I bet the results would be fast, obvious & convincing. It would also impact bladder infections & other related issues. The increase in quality of life would be substantial.

Lisa’s Answer

I haven’t looked into this category.  That will be an extensive research project so beyond the scope of the Q&A.  I’ll keep it on my list of future products to investigate.


Question from Bonnie


I remember Debra wrote cotton plus polyester blend fabric has formaldehyde added. I looked at sweaters -st. john bay from JCP which have cotton plus nylon. Macy’s Karen Scott sweaters have cotton plus acrylic, but I did find some cotton only ones. Would the nylon /acrylic added ones also have formaldehyde added?

Lisa’s Answer

Formaldehyde is typically used in clothing to minimize wrinkles.  It can be found even in 100% cotton clothing particularly if it is something that wrinkles easily like a dress shirt.  Here is one older study that tests several clothing items (pg 36) and as you can see there is formaldehyde found in 100% cotton as well as many types of cotton/synthetic blends.  What it also shows is that items that are prone to wrinkling are more likely to test higher in formaldehyde.  Given that a sweater is less likely to wrinkle it may not contain formaldehyde regardless of the material but I can’t tell you that for certain.  You can call the companies and ask them but they are not required to disclose that information.  If the item has a chemical odor that is an indicator (but not definitive) that it contains formaldehyde.

I wish that there was a standard rule of thumb that could tell more definitively what has it and what does not, but that is not the case.

Is There a Safe Slow Cooker or Pressure Cooker?

Both slow cooking and pressure cooking are thought to be healthier cooking methods and they are certainly convenient but are the materials used in the appliances safe?


Why I Prefer Pressure Cookers to Slow Cookers


There is no perfect pressure cooker or slow cooker and there are issues with the materials in each type.  The concern with cookware materials is that heavy metals, synthetic chemicals, and contaminants can leach into food. Leaching increases with acidic foods, higher temperatures and longer cooking times.  I prefer pressure cookers because of their short cooking time.  The longer cooking times associated with the slow cooking method will increase leaching of any heavy metals or contaminants in the cookware.


Additionally, most new pressure cookers are made of stainless steel, which I consider a safe cookware material unless you are sensitive to nickel or chromium.  Make sure that the steel does not have a non-stick coating.  Some pressure cookers are made of aluminum which I don’t recommend.  You can read more in the Ultimate Guide to Non-Toxic Cookware about stainless steel, aluminum and non-stick coatings.


There is one caveat.  I don’t recommend using a stainless steel pressure cooker every day or with high frequency.  While stainless steel is one of the safer cooking materials, it does leach nickel and chromium.  You can read more about the health effects here.  I recommend using stainless steel cookware in a rotation of other safe cookware.


Are Slow Cooker Materials Safe?


I don’t recommend any slow cooker for regular use but some are better than others.


Glazed Ceramic

Most of you are probably aware of the danger of lead leaching from ceramic slow cookers.  This became widely publicized after a 2004 investigation by KUTV Salt Lake City found 20% of slow cookers leached measurable levels of lead.  Lead had been used as an ingredient in the glaze to improve shine.  Many manufactures have since stopped adding lead as an ingredient but it may still be present as a raw material contaminate.  Additionally, glazes can contain additives such as titanium dioxide to make white interiors and aluminum oxide to stiffen glazes.  The FDA randomly tests ceramic cookware for lead and cadmium but doesn’t test for other additives.  Additionally, the FDA limit for lead in large ceramic containers like slow cookers is 1 mcg/mL . There is no safe level for lead so it’s important to reduce exposures as much as possible. California Proposition 65 has a much more stringent limit for lead at 0.5mcg/day.  If you have a product that meets or exceeds Prop 65, it’s a better choice than one that does not.  But, due to the long cooking time that could increase the leaching of any contaminants I recommend avoiding this type of slow cooker.


Non-Stick Ceramic Coating

I don’t recommend non-stick ceramic coating for any type of cookware or appliance.  You can read more about it in the Ultimate Guide to Non-Stick Cookware.


Unglazed Ceramic

VitaClay and Miriam’s earthen cookware are two brands that make slow cookers with natural, unglazed clay.  There are no heavy metals added to the clay but because it is a natural material and there is no coating to protect against leaching, any contaminants in the clay could migrate into food.  Both VitaClay and Miriam’s provide testing that shows they meet or exceed California Proposition 65 standards for lead.  Miriam’s earthen cookware website lists one test performed by an independent lab that shows no extractable lead, extractable cadmium or arsenic.  That’s reassuring however, it doesn’t explain the testing method and because it is just one test, it doesn’t show consistent results with different batches of clay.  VitaClay provides one test performed with an acidic solution to accelerate leaching that shows no detectable levels of lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic.


If you currently own one of these, I’m not suggesting that you don’t use it.  There is no evidence that there are harmful substances leaching from these appliances and people have cooked in earthenware for centuries. They may be fine to use but they are not without risk.


Stainless Steel

Stainless steel slow cookers are more of a concern than stainless steel pressure cookers because of the long cooking times, which increases leaching.  If you only plan to use a slow cooker occasionally, stainless steel slow cookers are fine but I don’t recommend them for regular use.


My Choice is an Instant Pot multicooker

For many years I used a VitaClay slow cooker but when it broke, I replaced it with an Instant Pot that has both pressure cooker and slow cooker functions.  I use the pressure cooker a couple of times a month and I use the slow cooker function only on occasion.  I don’t use it for highly acidic foods such as chili or tomato sauce.  I cook those in my glass ceramic Visions Dutch Oven.

Paint Gasses Smell

Question from Debra


I painted an old childhood piece of furniture with Kitz oil based sealer. I waited two days to dry and then I painted it with a latex paint which you could use on furniture. The smell is horrible. It’s getting better with the fan that’s facing the open window, But we can’t use the room with the furniture. Will it ever stop smelling.

Lisa’s Answer

It will eventually cure and stop smelling but the length of time will depend on many factors including the humidity, ventilation, thickness of coats, and whether each coat was dry before you put on another coat.  You can use a fan and humidifier to quicken the pace but I don’t think you want to be breathing the fumes in the meantime.  I would remove it to an outdoor location or garage until the odor subsides.  You can read more here about how to minimize the odor and off gassing from paint.


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