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Lead Leaching Bathtubs? The Dirtiest Secret in Your Bathroom

Affiliate Disclosure | in Everything Else | by | with 58 Comments

lead-leaching-bathtubs

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Is There Lead In Your Tub?

I vetted my rubber ducky’s lifeguard certification before I put him in the tub with my kiddos. Okay, not really, but as a mama I have tried to make bathtime safe. Skid-proof tub? Check! Filter to remove nasties like chlorine and heavy metals? Check! Homemade non-toxic shampoo and soap? Yep, that too. 

But could my tub have a dirty little secret that pretty much knocks all that stuff out of the water? According to, Laura Rudeseal, the answer is YES.

1376985_10151799611584342_233995987_nOver the weekend a Dallas Morning News article popped up on my Facebook feed about Laura’s family. I immediately recognized her as one of the amazing mama’s I’ve gotten to know through this blog and contacted her to clarify some things that weren’t covered in the DMN article. She graciously made time to share some incredibly important info with us – thank you Laura! Here’s her story:

Earlier this year, blood tests revealed that Laura’s two small children – two-year old Trevor and six-year old Kassidy – had elevated levels of lead in their system. She searched for the source with no luck, so she hired an expert to come do a little detective work. After eliminating the usual suspects – door frames, windowsills, walls, etc. – he headed straight for the . . . bathroom?

Yep. Though few parents know about it, experts estimate that 62 percent of the porcelain tubs in American households have lead leaching into the bath water, placing millions of children at risk. (source)

Okay, that can’t be good, but how serious is it really?

Lead Poisoning Leads To Lowered IQ, Learning Disabilities, & Impaired Growth

According to the National Safety Council, All it takes is the lead dust equivalent of a single grain of salt for a child to register an elevated blood lead level.” Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure because their brains and central nervous systems are still developing.

“Tests in August showed Trevor and Kassidy had lead levels of 4.4 and 4.5,” wrote the Dallas Morning News, adding that “A blood lead level of less than 5 in children can cause decreased academic achievement and a lowered IQ as well as problem behaviors and attention deficit disorders. Blood lead levels less than 10 in children have been linked to delayed puberty, decreased IQ and decreased hearing.” (emphasis mine)

Here’s another article that goes into more depth on the ADD connection:

“There is also plenty of evidence that lead may have some causal effect in relation to ADHD. One author of a previous study states:

Similar to the effects observed in children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), experimental animals exposed to lead (Pb) exhibit behaviors attributed to “impulsivity” and ‘inability to inhibit inappropriate responding.'” (Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1998 Jun;60(2):545-52)

Another study examined the lead concentrations in children’s hair samples and compared them to attention-deficit behaviors. The authors state:

The striking dose-response relationship between levels of lead and negative teacher ratings remained significant… An even stronger relationship existed between physician-diagnosed attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and hair lead… There was no apparent ‘safe’ threshold for lead. Scalp hair should be considered a useful clinical and epidemiologic approach for the measurement of chronic low-level lead exposure in children. (Arch Environ Health 1996 May-Jun;51(3):214-20).

Making the possibility of lead poisoning even worse are the studies showing that fluoridated water supplies can increase children’s absorption of lead, and, when lead is introduced into your body in sufficient quantities, it displaces zinc, which disrupts brain cell growth.” (source)

I have to say, I am so amazed that Laura followed her instincts and had her kids tested. Who knows what kind of potential problems she prevented by acting as soon as she had suspicions!

Is Laura’s experience an isolated one?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Last year it was discovered that a Richmond, VA toddler was being slowly poisoned by his bathtub, and in 2010 Good Morning America reported on a family that spent $15K removing lead-based paint from their home only to find that their children’s blood still measured dangerous levels. The problem turned out to be the tub. (source 1, source 2)

How many more cases are out there? Experts say that there are often no obvious symptoms of lead poisoning and the effects can take years to show up. The only reliable way to determine exposure levels is through a blood test.

So, Where Is The Lead Coming From?

Believe it or not, it is actually ADDED to some porcelain enamel glazes as a bonding or pigmenting agent. When the glaze  cracks/chips or begins to wear thin due to use the lead leaches into bath water. Children are likely to drink bath water, which increases their exposure, but it can also be somewhat absorbed through the skin. (source)

Many U.S. companies have stopped using them voluntarily, but there are no regulations in place that restrict the use of lead. In other words, the brand new tubs at your local hardware store may be laced with lead. (source 1, source 2, source 3)

How To Check Your Bathtub For Lead

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Ironically, as I type this a brand new tub is being installed in my bathroom. Though I’ve done what I can to ensure that it is unlikely to contain lead (it is made by a U.S. company and has a base of steel rather than cast iron), after it turns three years old I will be checking it every six months just to make sure.

These test kits from Lead Check are considered very reliable. They are orange if no lead is present, and pink or red if it is. Here is a photo of Laura Rudeseal’s tub after the test. Note: This test may stain the tub!

1385384_10151799611534342_1394760492_n

Other Potential Sources Of Lead Exposure

If you decide to pick up a lead testing kit you might as well check the other common sources of lead exposure in homes, right? Here are some places you might want to start:

  • Dishes – Many dishes (especially imported ones) contain lead and cadmium in the glaze. I recently switched all my dinnerware to this brand because it is lead and cadmium-free.
  • Paint – According to a healthy home expert whose lecture I attended this year, old paint is not always an issue. If it peeling or exposed it definitely is. However, if it is painted over and you don’t sand or otherwise remove the paint it is often best left there. (Please note that I am not an expert . . . just passing along the opinion of one!)
  • Plastic – ” The use of lead in plastics has not been banned. It softens the plastic and makes it more flexible so that it can go back to its original shape. It may also be used in plastic toys to stabilize molecules from heat. When the plastic is exposed to substances such as sunlight, air, and detergents the chemical bond between the lead and plastics breaks down and forms a dust.” (source)

For more info check out this resource from the EPA: Lead In Your Home: A Parent’s Reference Guide

What To Do If You Find Lead

I am not an expert on lead in the home, but I did find several suggestions for dealing with it’s presence in researching this post that I wanted to pass along.

  • Consider switching to showers – It’s a simple solution for those who do not have it in their budget to take other steps and/or are renting.
  • Encapsulate your bathtub – This involves hiring an expert to paint a protective coat on top of the ceramic coating to prevent it from leaching. It is a far less expensive option than replacing the tub!
  • Replace your tub –  If you want porcelain instead of plastic, your best bet is to find a U.S. manufacturer that makes steel tubs coated in porcelain. You might also want to check with them and see if they will confirm whether or not they use lead in their glaze.
  • Consider a detox protocol – I haven’t researched this extensively, but I did read that a “chelating process called DMSA can help extract not only lead, but also mercury, cadmium, arsenic, antimony, and may other heavy metalsfrom your body. Heavy metals suppress the effect of a number of enzymes, some of which can be easily tested to see if you may be suffering from an excess of these heavy metals.” (source)

Does the possibility of lead in your bathtub surprise you? Why or why not?

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58 Responses to Lead Leaching Bathtubs? The Dirtiest Secret in Your Bathroom

  1. Monica

    says:

    Oh my! Another danger to beware of. :( our tub is a 1949 pink thing that probably has lead. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t bathe my daughter very often? :P Does this have an effect on adults? Also, why did you say you’ll start testing when your tub is 3 years old?

  2. Another thing to be wary of, indeed! I don’t have children yet, and we just take showers, so right now I’m most wary of the dishes! We just spent a good amount on a pretty, new set of ‘organic reactive glazed’ stoneware dishes & mugs from World Market…I wonder if they’re a danger (just checked, and they’re made in China). And I have no idea what the ‘reactive’ glaze means.
    {On that note, when clicking the link to see what dishes you switched to, the ‘page was not found.’}
    Do you know if there’s anything to prevent lead leaching from dishes…like is microwaving or washing in dishwashers going to make it worse (even though they say its safe)? Do I need to worry about mine (I’m hoping you’ll say no). These are what we got: http://www.worldmarket.com/product/organic+reactive+indigo+collection.do?&from=fn

    • Kathleen S.

      says:

      I used to buy plates and pottery from local artisans who claimed to use lead free glazed, but found out that any plate, dish etc. made from clay has lead and cadmium as it all comes from the earth. Fiesta ware does a good job of testing and making sure their products have the least amount, but impossible to remove 100%. I wonder of Le Creseut pots and pans have lead in the porcelain? They are made in France.

      I would never buy anything made in China. Even stainless steel items made in China are problematic.
      I would also be concerned about mineral makeup unless it’s tested for lead and cadmium. Burt’s Bees lip glosses have tested positive for lead also. Anything coming from the earth is suspect and must be tested.

    • Hi Krystal – on my facebook page I often post photos of dishes that test positive for lead (and also pictures of some that test negative!) So if you scroll through the photo album you can see if you find some that are similar to yours. Alternately as a free resources my nonprofit the Lead Safe America Foundation does free XRF lead-testing for items like dishes. You can send one of your smaller dishes or mugs to us – include return postage – and I can test it for you and let you know if it contains any lead, mercury, cadmium, etc. Unfortunately a lead-check swab is not always a reliable way to test dishes for lead. Dishes (and bathtubs, and crock pots) may contain high levels of lead – but not test positive with a lead-test swab, and it is still possible for that lead to leach – especially with heat (microwave, crockpot, oven) and acidity (vinegars, alcohol, juice, tomato sauce) – immediately and overtime… A really good example is leaded crystal. Most leaded crystal will not test positive with a lead-check swab even though it is fully immediately leachable and may contain up to 300,000 parts per million lead or more.
      The swabs are a definitive test for a “positive” but are not a definitive test for a “negative”… I have tested bath-tubs ranging from 79,000 ppm lead to 350,000 ppm lead – and even though some of them did not test positive with a lead-check swab, I would not say they are non-toxic (instead – they have the potential to leach and so a tub with any wear should be tested by a professional and/or re-sealed or replaced.)
      Please check out http://www.TamaraRubin.com
      http://www.MyChildrenHaveLeadPoisoning.com
      and
      http://www.LeadSafeAmerica.org
      and
      http://www.Facebook.com/MisleadMovie.com
      for answers and feel free to ask me specific questions and I will be happy to answer them.
      Tamara Rubin
      Executive Director
      Lead Safe America Foundation
      & Mother of Lead Poisoned Children
      Portland, Oregon

      • Beth

        says:

        Tamara, I am filled with gratitude for all you are doing. Keep it up!
        Would you mind sharing what type of dishes and mixing bowls you use? Also, have you ever tested an electric Nesco roaster oven/crock pot with a cookwell that is not nonstick? I browsed all the lead photos on your FB page – very sobering. Is there a webpage that has a fairly comprehensive list of dishes and housewares that have been tested using the XRF testing?

  3. Emily S

    says:

    Ahh!! This is maddening. I had my first baby 8 months ago, and like so many others I know, having a child pushed me to really start researching real foods and decreasing the toxins in our environment (and I found your blog!). Literally every day, I’m finding out about another product we use on a daily basis that is coated in chemicals and toxins. Thank you so much for this post, I had my husband read it too, and we ordered a lead testing kit right away. As a side note, have you ever looked into nontoxic car seats? That was my project last week as we are looking at convertible car seats. I never thought about all the toxic flame retardants and “chemical baths” the seats are soaked in…until now! I’d love to hear your take on that, too.

  4. Sarah

    says:

    Dear Heather,
    You often bring up insightful articles and push me to look into further detail on, well in this case our new dinnerware that we are beginning to purchase. I called the company and they will not or are unable to directly say (in order to protect their propriety blend) whether the glaze contains lead and or cadmium. They were able to say that it meets the standards of Proposition 65 in the state of California. In laymen terms I found the following information from a website that states, “Prop.65 provides that persons doing business in California may not expose individuals to chemicals known to cause cancer and/or reproductive toxicity without giving clear and reasonable warning, nor dishcarge such chemicals into drinking water.” Is this company giving me the runaround? If and item meets the standards of Prop. 65 is that enough to alleviate concern for my family? On a side note your dinnerware that you have switched over to is very cute and I like it!!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Sarah, it is my understanding that Prop 65 requires there to be **no more** than “X” amount of lead in the glaze. Personally, I don’t think the standards are stringent enough. I’m also not sure whether items made in China have to conform to those standards at all :(

      • Anything sold in California (regardless of country of origin) needs to comply with prop 65 standards. Prop 65 standards do not have a minimum or maximum on the amount of lead contained in an item – but rather a limit on the amount of lead that is allowed to leach from a particular item (in parts per billion) before it considered toxic (in terms of food related items – like dishware and faucets.) In general prop 65 compliance is one of the best standards out there, however there are potential pitfalls with that – in that a product line may meet prop-65 standards but with something like ceramics there is potential for any given batch of an item that has been leach tested to have a firing anomaly (lower firing temp of a ceramic cup for example) and not meet prop 65 standards (even though the product line does.) Plus… what happens to the item over time / as it wears and how does usage impact the long-term prop 65 compliance. These are considerations I have when looking at dishware that has sometimes lead levels as high as 50,000 ppm or more yet “passed” prop 65 compliance tests in the initial stages of manufacturing…

  5. ashley says:

    Thanks a BUNCH for posting this! It’s something I’ve been meaning to research for a while and being a research driven mama already, I can literally spend all my time looking into things. :) One question…do you have any suggestions/sources for a detox protocol if needed?

  6. Beth

    says:

    Coincidentally, I just bought a 3M Instant Lead Test at Home Depot. I was going to use one of the two swabs to test the cookwell of my electric roaster oven/slow cooker. I was wondering what else I should test and I think it will now be our vintage claw foot tub! I didn’t realize the “red means lead” slogan on the package meant that the item you’re testing would turn red. The instructions say the swab tip turns red. Maybe both the item and the swab turn red? If our beloved tub tests positive, we’ll have to seriously consider getting it coated or swapping it for another tub. (Oh, the cruel irony of doing detox soaks in a tub that’s dousing you with lead!) For the slow cooker, the cookwell is black so I doubt the red would show up on the surface.

    All readers, let’s report back here on what we discover!

    Incidentally, I’ve heard that fabrics used in things like tote bags can contain lead. Ugh.

    • Beth

      says:

      By the way, if you head to the home center to find this test, it will probably be in the paint department. The Home Depot employees I asked didn’t know where it was until I finally found it in the paint section.

  7. Great article and a really important topic! I’m just finishing up an essay on ADHD, and yes, lead is a very significant heavy metal that can affect kids’ brains. In addition to the issues noted here, it blocks the uptake of both zinc and iron. There was a fascinating article in the January 2013 issue of Mother Jones on the bell curve of crime in the U.S. (which rose through the 80s or so, and then started to drop – crime rates are much lower overall than they were a few decades ago, and it’s not just better policing); the line almost exactly parallels the use and decline of leaded gasoline in this country. (Look up “America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead” on motherjones.com – it’s well worth a read.)

  8. Heather

    says:

    Not a surprise! There’s a mama in Portland, OR working on a movie about lead poisoning. I’ve seen a rough cut and it’s very interesting. There is a lot of history behind why there is lead in so many products. Check it out: http://www.misleadmovie.com

  9. I am a Cellular Detoxification Specialist. Check out our facebook https://www.facebook.com/HealthForaPurpose or our website http://www.HealthForAPurpose.com for information.

  10. Erin

    says:

    Ack! I’m surprised but not. The thought of whether or not my cute porcelain dishes contain nasties crossed my mind just yesterday. Apparently, brown rice contains not only arsenic but lead and cadmium as well. The amount of heavy metals we’re exposed to is crazy, and I’ve just started learning about it! It can make me feel crazy and defeated… Thanks for this. Now to pray and research!

  11. Daphne

    says:

    Thanks for this info Heather. I am wondering how you can test your child’s lead levels. Is this something that a doctor does through a blood draw or is this something you can do at home? Any info would be helpful. Thanks for all your research and outreach. Can’t thank you enough!

    Daphne

  12. AMC

    says:

    Just a note on detoxing….pregnant and lactating Mommas should NOT do any detoxification without careful consideration by their healthcare provider. The toxic agents could be mobilized to the fetus or into the breast milk.
    AMC, MD

    • nancy

      says:

      Thank you for making this important point. DMSA chelation should be very carefully considered by anyone beforehand because of the risk that removing the metals from the tissues is not always directly folowed by excretion. In fact it sometimes leads to redistribution within the body and can make matters worse. Low dose and doctor’s care are important. Alpha lipoic acid may be a better, milder natural chelation approach, though not the quickest. Lead poisoning is such an important topic! Thank you, mommypotamus!

  13. Abby

    says:

    Hi Heather,
    I just so happened to be testing some things around the house for lead, when this post showed up on my news feed. thank you, and I’ll be sure to add the tub to my list.
    Do you have suggestions for thorougly removing the lead tester goo from the test area? I tested my crock pot and will do the tub later, Want to make sureI don’t leave any lingering toxins from the lead check sticks.
    is soap and water enough?

    • Beth

      says:

      Please report back and let us know the results for your crock pot and other things!

      • Abby

        says:

        my crock pot, which was my biggest concern, tested negative. thank goodness, because I use it all the time.

      • Abby

        says:

        Also, my bathtub, windows, and paint are all now confirmed to be lead-free. This isn’t surprising because this isnt’ a very old house, but it’s still reassuring to know :)

        • Beth

          says:

          Abby, did you use a lead test swab or other method? I just read the subsequent comments above by Tamara Rubin. The swabs are a definitive test for a “positive” but are not a definitive test for a “negative” (so they are considered unreliable if they test negative).

          • Abby

            says:

            Hm, so in other words, we will never know? lol
            The strips do come with these lead test papers that you blot the test swab on after use, and if it turns red, then the test was done correctly..

          • Beth

            says:

            It looks as though the XRF test Tamara mentions above would be a way to test definitively if you get a negative with the 3M product.

  14. Kirstyn says:

    Yet another great post and more info to soak in…and it’s timely, because we’re about to remodel our bathrooms this winter. So far we haven’t used our 50’s tub (only the shower), but I’m sure it’s guilty of lead. It is so frustrating that no matter how hard we try to clean up our environment the industry is always handing us new ones to find a way around– the inconvenience is one thing, but my goodness it ends up costing a lot…

  15. Hazel

    says:

    Wow, thank you. We just purchased and installed a new bathtub from Kohler, so I have contacted them to check on this. If it has lead we can surface it prior to use.

    I want to test my crockpot now too, and also will be sure to check our new dinnerware set is lead-free.

    My kids have sulfation/methylation issues, which means they are especially sensitive to toxins like lead. (Many autistic kids share this issue too, but we are fortunate they are only ADHD and allergy-prone, not ASD)….

    Following may interest some readers:
    http://www.evenbetterhealth.com/lead-poisoning-detox.php

    • Heather says:

      Hi Hazel! If it is brand new and does contain lead it is unlikely to leach it for at least a few years (unless it gets chipped somehow). So glad you found this info helpful!

  16. Marcie

    says:

    Thank you for this article! We are remodeling 100 year old home and saved money by using the two cast iron tubs. I will be testing and looking into the protective glaze you mentioned. Scary!

  17. Jessica

    says:

    Just tested my lovely 1923 bathtub. It was positive for lead. Thanks for this post, Heather.

  18. Sarah

    says:

    I read the reviews of the 3M lead test kit on Amazon from this link. People were warning that Amazon does not actually have the 3M brand in stock, but are sending another version…the 3M kits are considered too old to be reliable, according to some reviews…might be better to purchase the kit from your local hardware store so you can be sure it is not expired, etc.
    Otherwise, great info in this article, thank you for doing the work, and checking into this…never would have occurred to me to even check my tub, or worry about it! Now I will also be checking my sink…an old enamel surface…great.

  19. Kory

    says:

    Argh! It’s always something, isn’t it?? Sometimes it feels quite hopeless, like no matter how much I try to reduce my children’s exposure they’re going to end up bathed in the stuff… Well, here ya go ><

    Guess I'm getting some tests and going on a frenzy!

  20. Cait

    says:

    So many things…we are renting a house built in the 1940’s and I’m assuming the bathtub is original, though it might not be. It’s not especially cute or vintage looking ;) We only take showers, but my toddler sits at the foot of the tub when I shower until I rinse her off and wash her hair when I’m about to get out. Obviously no contact would be best, but I wonder if soaking in water would be worse than just sitting on it, plus the likelihood of her drinking the water is reduced. I always feel bad about not letting her play in a full bath more, but maybe it’s a good thing.
    Our thrifted dishes I’m scared about now…at least if I replace them we won’t have lost much!

  21. Hazel

    says:

    I got word back on our new Kohler cast iron bathtub:

    Thank you for contacting Kohler Co. with the question regarding the lead content in your new Highbridge tub. I am happy to let you know our cast iron enamel tubs do not have any lead content in them.

    • Moss

      says:

      I contacted Kohler the other day about lead in their cast iron tubs and was told that the cast iron tubs DO contain lead. The rep said the level is less than it used to be, but that the current tubs do contain lead.

  22. Naomi C

    says:

    As far as paint goes, there are lead encapsulating primers. We use them in the construction industry all the time when working in very old buildings. It’s usually more costly to remove the lead paint properly and safely than it is to just encapsulate it. But you do need to remove any loose paint first.

  23. Jo says:

    Thank you for the information. What kind of silverware and baking pans do
    you recommend.

  24. […] Baths – Unless your bathtub is leaching lead, like ours most certainly is (oh, the wonders of renting an apartment in a turn of the century […]

  25. Ashlen

    says:

    Thank you x 1000, after reading your post I ordered the test swabs. Our bathtub (an old claw foot porcelain) tested positive. We’ve been renting this home for eight months and our two young boys have been bathing and playing (and drinking) in that tub. Our next step is to contact our landlords. Heather, your post saved our kids from who knows HOW much exposure to the lead in this tub. Thank you.

  26. Carl says:

    Well have to admit I never thought about the problems of lead leaching from an old bath tub, it really makes one think… I know of people that still get their drinking water through old Victorian lead water pipes.

  27. Jessica

    says:

    This is such a great post! I am in the fortunate position of renovating, and currently choosing a new tub. But it is so hard to assess what is the most non-toxic material for a new tub! Acrylic? Concrete? Composite? I am worried about the hot water causing the tub material to leach phthalates or other toxins. Do you or your readers have any resources on this question? Thanks in advance.

    • amy

      says:

      I am wondering the same thing. I have even looked into wooden bathubs http://www.qieastqiwest.com/tubs.php but they are also coated with a polymer and so I wonder about leaching. Is acrylic an okay option? Did you find a reason to not use it? I have read that the stainless steel tubs do not last as long as the porcelain.

      • Jessica

        says:

        Hi Amy. I ended up using a healthy homes consultant on my reno, and got a clean bill of health for acrylic and composite tubs. I went with a composite quartz (similar to a corian or caeserstone counter). I love it. One warning. I learned a lot of companies are using a sealant on their porcelain or other materials meant for bathrooms that contains triclosan, the anti-bacterial. Unclear how that leaches, but I decided to avoid it.

        • Andrea

          says:

          Jessica, do you mind telling me where you purchased your composite quartz bath tub and which tubs you found that use triclosan? Thanks

          • Jessica

            says:

            The tub we got was from Blu Bathworks. The Duravit brand has something called “Wondergliss” coating (triclosan) but lots and lots of building products have triclosan now… shower glass, tile grout, etc. You really have to look closely or ask the manufacturer because it is hidden in tricky language.

  28. Wendy

    says:

    This is a great post – very well researched with helpful links. Unfortunately I only found it after discovering that our tub (that we’ve been bathing our 9 month old in) was leaching lead and then doing a internet search. I don’t know why this risk isn’t more widely publicized. I’m posting a link to your entry on Facebook to help get the message out!

  29. […] this is not fun to talk about, but last year a Mommypotamus reader discovered that lead was leaching from her bathtub and causing elevated levels in her children. According to the CDC, there is no “safe” […]

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