How To Test Your Bathtub For Lead (2023)

How To Test Your Bathtub For Lead (1)

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. Filter to remove nasties like chlorine and heavy metals?Check! Homemade non-toxic shampoo and soap?Yep, that too.

I’d considered everything I put in the tub, but what about the tub itself?

Over the weekend a Dallas Morning News articlepopped up on my Facebook feed about Laura Rudeseal and her family. I immediately recognized her as one of the amazing mama’s I’ve gotten to know through this community and reached out to her to clarify some things that weren’t covered in the 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-yearold 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, one study found that 64% of tubs tested had leachable lead on at the surface.(source) According to the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, “it has been determined that about 75% of pre-1978 bathtubs have lead in their glaze and that about 40% of these tubs will have measurable levels of lead dust when dust samples are collected from the surface of the glaze.” (FHCO)

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

According to theNational Safety Council, “All it takes is the lead dust equivalent of a single grain of salt for a child to register anelevated blood lead level.”(NSC) 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 thatgoes into more depth on the connection between lead exposure and attention:

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

(Video) Bathtub Lead Test

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 thatfluoridated 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. (NBC, LeadCheck)

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?

The lead found in porcelain enamel glazes is usually intentionally added as a bonding or pigmenting agent. When the glaze cracks/chips or begins to wear thin due to use, the lead leaches into bathwater. This particular type of lead is not easily absorbed through the skin, but it is quickly absorbed when ingested. The main concern is with small children who are likely to drink bathwater, but as mentioned above some bathtubs may also have lead dust on the surface which could be inhaled.

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 contain lead. (Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, Dallas News, Hudson Valley Parent)

How To Test Your Bathtub For Lead

How To Test Your Bathtub For Lead (2)
(Video) Bathtub Refinishing Stops Lead Poisoning

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 that as the finish wears no lead is coming through.

The most accurate way to test for lead is with an XRF machine, which will analyze the surface and what’s underneath the surface so you can be aware of the potential for leaching as the finish wears. Unfortunately XRF machines are not readily available and you do need some training to use them, so testing with an XRF is most often done by a lead expert.

However, according to lead-poisoning prevention advocate Tamara Rubin,

The cheapest, easiest and most effective way to test for lead in a tub is to use aLeadCheck swab. In almost allcases a tub that is positive for lead will instantly turn aLeadCheck swabpink or red! In some cases a tub will have lead, but the finish will not be deteriorating/chalking and it maynottest positive with aswab(in cases like that anXRFwill give a definitive, quantitative result.) In some cases the tub may take awhileto turn red (depending on the type of coating) – so I recommend testing a dry tub and if it doesn’t turn red right away… check back in a couple of hours to see if either the swab used or the spot tested has turned pink or red [this is true formany of the “off-label”instances — whereLeadCheck swabsmay*detectlead onitems that are metal or have a metal substrate (*PLEASE NOTE: strictly speaking, any chemicalreagentswabs such as LeadCheckare onlyintendedfor testing house paint, and so shouldn’t be considered in anyway a definitive or reliable substitute for XRF testing of anything other than paint; that said, in some cases – such as a badly chalking leaded porcelain or enamel tub, you can often get an easy positive detection using them.)” (Rubin)

You can find thetest kits from Lead Check here.Belowis a photo of Laura’s tub after the test.

Note: This test may stain the tub.

How To Test Your Bathtub For Lead (3)

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 while researching this post that I wanted to pass along.

  • Consider switching to showers – It’s a simple solution if it’s not in your budget to take other steps and/or you 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 –If it were me I’d get in touch with Quicksilver Scientific. They mainly make supplements that assist with the detox of mercury, but some are thought to be helpful for lead as well. Theymaybe a good referral source for a qualified practitioner.

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

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Sources for this post:
Lead Action Network (1996)Lead in Baths. Retrieved from

Fair Housing Council of Oregon. The Risk of Salvaged Building Components (PDF). Retrieved from

National Safety Council. Lead Poisoning. Retrieved from

DePompa, Rachel. (2012) NBC12 Investigates: Child poisoned by bathtub. Retrieved from

LeadCheck (2010, July)Lead Exposure in Porcelain Enameled Bathtubs. Retrieved from

Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (2004) Facts About Lead In Porcelain & Enamel Glazes.

Wigglesworth, Valerie (2013, Oct) Dallas News:Old bathtubs found to pose lead exposure risks for children. Retrieved from

Hudson Valley Parent. Lead In Bathtubs Could Be Poisoning Your Child. Retrieved from

Rubin, Tamara. (2013, August)Q: What about my original bathtub? Retrieved from

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Does my tub have lead? ›

Bathtubs and sinks are some of the most common sources of lead in the home and are often overlooked because they are not involved in food preparation. The heavy metals begin to leach out of them as they age, and the metals slowly work their way into the body through ingestion, either through food, water or air.

What to do if bathtub has lead in it? ›

If your tub has lead, you can have it professionally refinished. Be aware that the finish can wear off over time and re-expose the lead. Most advise replacing the tub. If children must use an older tub, place a large plastic bin or container in the tub and fill the container, instead of the tub, with water.

Do bath tubs have lead paint? ›

Lead is found in many household items such as household paint, in vinyl miniblinds, and in household dust. And did you know that bathtubs can contain as much as 88% lead in the glaze from the manufacturer?

Do old claw foot tubs have lead? ›

In a study involving over 1400 bathtubs, approximately 62% of the tubs tested positive for leachable lead with lead check swabs (77% of the cast iron bathtubs and 25% of the steel tubs were positive. 100% of the clawfoot bathtubs we tested had extremely high levels of lead leaching from the surface.)

Can old bathtubs have lead? ›

Short answer: “Yes!” Lead in older bathtubs is a big issue—and yet usually overlooked as a potential source of toxicity for children. Both porcelain and enamel coatings can have extremely high levels of lead – both in the surface coating (glaze) and substrate.

Does lead come off with soap and water? ›

Both phenomena make lead difficult to remove with soap and water. NIOSH-developed hand wipes as a removal method for toxic metals proved to be more effective than soap and water, and were also gentle on the skin and non-abrasive. The NIOSH-developed wipe resulted in 99.8 percent lead removal efficiency.

Does lead come off in the wash? ›

You should use detergents to remove lead. Other clothing should not be washed with the work clothing. After clothes are washed, the empty machine should be run through the wash cycle to remove any lead dust.

Can lead be washed off skin? ›

Hand washing with soap and water remains the standard recommendation for workers (as well as the public) to clean skin known or believed to be contaminated with toxic metals, such as lead.

Can lead be absorbed through skin from shower? ›

Can I shower in lead-contaminated water? Yes. Bathing and showering should be safe for you and your children, even if the water contains lead over EPA's action level. Human skin does not absorb lead in water.

Is it OK to bathe in a rusty bathtub? ›

Rust not only can be unattractive, but it can also be a health hazard as well. Rust, if not properly treated, can expose a person to high levels of lead. This is especially a concern because bathtubs are an item we use every day.

What is safest for a bathtub? ›

Wall mounted seats are the safest, so there is no chance of the seat moving or slipping. Tub seats can be folded up against the back wall when not in use. These tubs seats the lay across the edges of the tub.

What are the black stains in bathtub? ›

Hard water contains high levels of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. Hard water dries on grout or tile can leave behind white mineral deposits. These deposits can eventually turn black if they are not cleaned regularly.

Do fiberglass tubs contain lead? ›

Cast iron, fiberglass, acrylic, Vikrell

Cast iron tubs with enamel finishes are unlikely to contain lead unless theyare old, were re-finished prior to the lead paint ban or are manufactured in China. (Not allChinese made tubs have lead in them but you should be cautious).

Are Kohler tubs lead free? ›

Kohler: Made in the USA, Kohler's enameled steel tubs are a great option because not only are they easy to find in showrooms and in hardware stores, but they do not use any lead in the glazing of their tubs.

Does antique porcelain contain lead? ›

Lead poisoning is most commonly associated with old paint and plumbing, but traditional, handmade, and antique ceramics can cause lead poisoning, as well.

How do I know if my tub is cast iron or steel? ›

Find a strong magnet and hold it against the wall of your bathtub. If it sticks, then your tub is made of steel or cast iron. Unlike metal, acrylic and fiberglass bathtubs are not magnetic.

What are signs of lead poisoning in adults? ›

Lead exposure can cause high blood pressure and brain, kidney and reproductive health issues in adults. Symptoms of lead poisoning include headaches, stomach cramps, constipation, muscle/joint pain, trouble sleeping, fatigue, irritability, and loss of sex drive. Most adults with lead poisoning don't look or feel sick.

Are acrylic tubs toxic? ›

Acrylic-lined tubs have a shell of fiberglass. So it's fiberglass on the outside and acrylic on the inside. The toxic element in fiberglass is polyester resin. Polyester resin has a styrene carrier which outgasses VOCs.

Can you absorb lead from touching it? ›

Absorption can also happen if you handle items contaminated with lead and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Lead dust on your clothes, shoes, or hair can be hard to notice.

Does white vinegar clean lead? ›

If you encounter leaded soap scum build up, it can be removed with an acid wash. Add 4 cups of white vinegar and run a wash cycle with the largest amount of warm water the machine settings will allow. Then run a rinse cycle.

Can Lysol remove lead? ›

To clean up Lead dust you must use disposable wipes with surfactant-containing detergent. Clorox Wipes or Lysol Wipes or any similar brand have been proven to work well for this.

Can bleach clean lead? ›

Do not use bleach. Industrial vacuum with a HEPA filter, known as a HEPA vacuum.

Will a water softener remove lead? ›

A Water Softener Alone Cannot Remove Lead

A water softener alone is not designed to eliminate lead from a home's water supply. Water softeners reduce the hardness of water by removing things like calcium, magnesium, and iron.

Does hot water get rid of lead? ›

Hot water releases more lead from pipes than cold water. Boiling water does not reduce lead levels and may actually increase them. Test your water. The only way to know if lead has been reduced by letting it run is to check with a test.

Does regular hand soap remove lead? ›

Washing skin with soap and water is not sufficient to remove lead residues. To prevent adverse impacts from Pb exposure, exposed individuals need cleaning methods that will effectively remove Pb ions from the skin to less than the limit of identification (i.e., 10 µg or less).

What detergent removes lead? ›

What is this? You need to use a detergent with surfactants to clean up lead dust. Clorox wipes (and similar brands like Lysol) are bleach-free, and have the surfactants necessary to clean up lead dust — and are good to use on non-launderable surfaces.

Should I wash my hands after touching lead? ›

It is okay for water with lead in it to touch your skin. Just don't drink it! You can still wash your hands and take a bath. Make sure you brush your teeth with the water from a sink with a filter on it.

What are signs of lead in water? ›

How do I know if my tap water is contaminated with lead? The only way to know whether your tap water contains lead is to have it tested. You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in water. Therefore, you must ask your water provider whether your water has lead in it.

What does lead in water look like? ›

Lead in water cannot be detected by sight, taste, or smell. Even the commonly observed subtle metallic taste shouldn't be attributed to lead in water. It's instead most likely caused by either lower pH levels (acidic water) or an excess of trace minerals due to rusty municipal or residential pipelines.

How long does it take to get lead poisoning? ›

Lead poisoning usually takes months or years of exposure to a small amount of lead at home, work or daycare. When exposed to large amounts of lead, it can quickly lead to lead poisoning (acute poisoning). Lead poisoning usually happens due to prolonged exposure at home, work or daycare.

Does rust come off with soap and water? ›

Minor Rust Stains

Start by cleaning the surface with soap and water, no matter what level of rust stain you have. This will wash away surface-level grease or dirt that could prevent the acids from effectively removing the stain. Simple dish soap should do the trick.

Does a vinegar bath remove rust? ›

To tackle items with significant corrosion, submerge your rusty tools or knives in a bowl of white vinegar and let them sit overnight or as long as 24 hours. Once they have had a good soak, remove them from the vinegar and scrub the rust off with steel wool, a scouring pad, or a wire brush.

How toxic is bathtub refinishing? ›

Health Effects

At high enough levels, it can stop breathing. Methylene chloride exposure may cause dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea, a “feeling of intoxication,” and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Prolonged skin contact may cause irritation and even chemical burns.

How long is it OK to stay in a bathtub? ›

On the whole, a bath should last no longer than 30 minutes on the high end. The normal average is anywhere between 15-30 minutes, with prolonged exposure causing severe dry skin which leads to agitation, irritation and promotes bacteria growth, which carries a multitude of health risks.

What should you not clean your bathtub with? ›

Things To Avoid When Cleaning Your Bathtub
  • Don't leave your soap or shampoo bottles on the bathroom or bathtub floor as this can cause more stains and marks to emerge. ...
  • Never use any abrasive scrub pads, hard tools, or steel wool to rub or scrub the surface of the bathtub.
Jun 26, 2017

What is the lifespan of a bathtub? ›

What Is the Lifespan of a Bathtub? Bathtubs typically last 10-30 years, depending on the material used. Modern, low-cost acrylic and fiberglass tubs will survive for 10-15 years. Although a porcelain-enameled cast-iron tub will survive far longer, it will need to be refinished every 5-15 years.

What is brown stuff in tub after bath? ›

Reddish-brown stains: These types of stains are usually caused by dissolved iron in your water. Once this iron is exposed to oxygen, it forms iron oxide, which gives it the reddish-brown color.

What does black mold look like in a bathtub? ›

Black mold is typically dark in color, but less mature specimens can take on a gray or dark green hue (there may even be white flecks or shades of orange). The surface of the mold can be smooth or have a slightly furry texture. Dark stains tend to appear in moist areas or those that have been flooded or water damaged.

What is the brown stuff in the tub after a shower? ›

Most instances of brown shower water are caused by iron and sediment deposits. of iron, you may notice that your toilets, sinks and clothes develop brown, rust-like stains.

What is the little metal thing in a bathtub? ›

That is the tub drain overflow plate, though it's actually above the drain, not the faucet. (The opening in this plate leads to a tube that prevents the tub from overflowing by allowing water to run out even if the drain in the bottom of the tub is stopped.)

Are fiberglass tubs OK? ›

Both acrylic and fiberglass are great options for tubs. If you want something more flexible, then gelcoat or fiberglass is the better option. Since most tubs include fiberglass in the final product, fiberglass is one of the most important materials in tub sustainability.

What is the least toxic bathtub? ›

Cast iron tubs are the tub of choice for many people. New cast iron tubs, especially if made in the US, Canada, and Europe should not contain lead.

Does porcelain enamel have lead in it? ›

Porcelain Enamel

Some people have worried about lead in the enamel cookware, since the enamel coating is often made of clay, which can leach lead. For peace of mind, we got this lead test kit and tested the Le Creuset cookware in two of our homes. No lead was detected.

Do all faucets contain lead? ›

Some faucet manufactures produce plastic faucets that have virtually zero lead. Other manufactures are substituting other metals for the lead in the brass, inserting copper tubes inside the brass faucets, or applying special coatings on the inside of the faucets in order to minimize or eliminate lead leaching.

How can you tell if porcelain has lead? ›

Test the pottery. Consumers can buy lead-testing kits in hardware stores or online. The kits contain swabs with instructions on proper use of the swabs and reading of the results. In most cases, the consumer will rub the swab on the food-contacting surface of the pottery.

How can you tell if ceramic is lead? ›

The only way to determine if certain crockery has lead is to test it. Home test kits can tell you if the dishes have leachable lead. These tests are most useful in detecting high levels of lead.

When did they stop using lead in porcelain? ›

Since 1971, the Food and Drug Administration established and began enforcing limits on leachable lead in ceramics and tableware. If you purchased your dishes after that and they are made in the USA, they are safe to use.

Do acrylic tubs contain lead? ›

Cast iron, fiberglass, acrylic, Vikrell

Cast iron tubs with enamel finishes are unlikely to contain lead unless theyare old, were re-finished prior to the lead paint ban or are manufactured in China. (Not allChinese made tubs have lead in them but you should be cautious).

How do I know if my house has lead in water? ›

The only way to know whether your tap water contains lead is to have it tested. You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in water. Therefore, you must ask your water provider whether your water has lead in it.

How can you tell what your tub is made of? ›

Find a strong magnet and hold it against the wall of your bathtub. If it sticks, then your tub is made of steel or cast iron. Unlike metal, acrylic and fiberglass bathtubs are not magnetic.

Are acrylic bathtubs safe? ›

Technically speaking, yes, there are chemicals in acrylic tubs, but these chemicals aren't harmful and are only chemicals in the scientific sense of the word. Acrylic bathtubs are perfectly safe and have no adverse health effects.

Are fiberglass bathtubs toxic? ›

Both fiberglass and acrylic are somewhat toxic to make and repair but have low toxic health impacts once in use (at least as bathtubs). To find out whether your tub is fiberglass or acrylic, research the company that made it. A contractor should also be able to tell you.

What happens if you shower in lead water? ›

Bathing and showering should be safe for you and your children because human skin does not absorb lead in water.

Can Brita filter remove lead? ›

Get cleaner, better-tasting water right from your tap.

This table lists all the contaminants our filters are certified to reduce including chlorine, lead and copper for great-tasting water.

How can you tell if lead is present? ›

Wet chemical testing (i.e., rhodizonate swabs) and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) are the only available alternatives for verifying the presence of lead in the field. Paint sampling provides the most definitive and quantitative approach to determining if lead is present but it requires laboratory analysis.

Does removing tub hurt home value? ›

“There absolutely has to be at least one bathtub in any condo or home. When you sell, you're also selling a lifestyle and having no tub will hinder a sale to most buyers,” she says. Research backs up the anecdotal evidence.

What are old heavy bathtubs made of? ›

Unlike the plain molded fiberglass tubs popular today, some of the earliest bathtubs were intricately carved wooden cabinets lined with tin or copper. Next came more sanitary materials, like vitreous china, glazed earthenware, and porcelain-coated cast iron.


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