Lead Paint Swabs: A Thrifter's Best Friend

thrift lead paint vintage toys photo
A lick of lead in these vintage toys? (Photo: ercwttmn via Flickr)

For those of you who are irrepressible thrifters, the thought of "what's the lead content of this vintage (fill in the blank)" may have crossed your mind while you're appraising some promising specimen. So how to determine whether something is contaminated with lead?It's a good question to ask too, in the face of lead-related scandals a couple of years back. Lead poisoning can cause a variety of health and developmental problems, with children being especially susceptible. It's found in lipstick, cheap mass-produced toys, contaminated soil, drinking water, household dust, lead-glazed pottery and jewelry -- the list goes on.

No wonder the US government reacted strongly with the introduction of the of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in 2008, effectively placing the responsibility of lead safety certification squarely on manufacturers (take a look at John's informative post on the issue).

So what about thrifters and small businesses?
But in the rush to legislate, small business owners and others were left by the wayside. Over at Crafting a Green World, crafter and blogger Julie Finn writes that instead of tripping up small businesses with unaffordable certifications, a viable alternative could be that humblest of detectives, ie. the lead swab:

Lead swabs are made by a number of manufacturers, but they all work the same way: a swab is dampened with a chemically-reactive liquid, then brushed across the surface of an object. If the object contains lead on its surface, the chemicals on the swab change color.

Finn describes how after a lead scare with her daughter, she now keeps a few swabs handy in her backpack and uses them everywhere:

I'm an avid thrifter... [and I've] used lead swabs over and over again on apartment searches and later on house hunts, often finding lead paint that hadn't been discovered or disclosed to me. I use lead swabs when I thrift or garage sale, to determine if I should buy that gorgeous vintage toy or that piece of furniture. I use it when I travel to countries that don't have strict lead laws, and I've even been known to surreptitiously use it at a dinner party, when served with gorgeous, handmade, glazed dinnerware.

We've covered various methods of testing stuff for lead and detoxing your home of lead before. Though they're not completely foolproof, compared to sending stuff off to be tested at expensive labs, lead swabs and other home-testing kits are simple but cost-effective back-up solutions for those of us who love to craft and shop vintage, without the questionable spectre of lead hanging over our heads.

More on Lead in Consumer Products
Detox Your Home: Detect, Remove Lead Paint
February Deadline To Get The Lead Out Of Kid's Clothes & Toys: Recycling Allowed?
Barbie, Don't Blame China

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