We Found Lead in Our Vintage Clawfoot Tub


A couple of weeks ago an Instagram friend sent me a message that said, “Do me a mom favor and check your clawfoot tub for lead.” It turns out that her son had gotten lead poisoning from an old clawfoot tub. So I ordered some lead testing swabs from Amazon. I performed the test and it turned out that the tub was positive for lead. You can watch me perform the test here:

The positive lead test caused me to spend that entire day researching lead. I knew a little bit about lead since our last home in Oregon was pretty old and had lead paint in multiple places. We never hung any pictures on the wall there because of this, and we just used 3M strips instead. We also lived in NYC for two years and were always given pamphlets about how to protect your family from lead. Lead was banned in paint after 1978. The buildings there are old and often have lead paint, so I knew lead was a concern. I didn’t know it could also be in bathtubs. 

Why is lead bad?

Microscopic amounts of lead can be inhaled or ingested. It enters the bloodstream and can cause brain damage. This is a problem for both adults and children. However, children’s brains are still developing, so it’s more of a concern for them. 

In leaded wall paint, if it peels or chips off, it can be inhaled or ingested. If you use nails (or create holes in the walls somehow), over time gravity can pull your pictures/decorations down slightly and cause microscopic amounts of lead dust to escape. Babies put everything in their mouths. They also crawl on the floor where lead paint chips or dust could have settled if you haven’t taken appropriate precautions. 

Lead poisoning is 100% preventable, but its effects are irreversible. It can affect mental and physical development in kids and a myriad of problems in adults. You can read about the symptoms of lead poisoning here.

If it’s in paint, why is it also in your bathtub?

The glaze they used on bathtubs contained lead. If the bathtub happens to chip or crack, the lead will definitely get into the water. Even if it doesn’t chip or crack, it still leaches into the water! Kids love to drink bath water, which means they’re drinking lead water. Even if you convince them not to drink the water, they will still put their wet, lead hands into their mouths. If that’s not enough for you, your skin is extremely absorbent. I’d argue there’s a chance you could still soak up lead water if you’re bathing in a leaded bathtub. 

How do I check for lead?

You can use the lead swabs like I used to check your bathtub and any place with paint on your house. Remember, lead was banned in paint after 1978, so this is really just a concern if you live in an older home. Professionals use an XRF device to test for lead. This is the most accurate way to check anything for lead, but the swabs should work fine for most people’s uses.

What if I have lead in my walls or bathtub?

You can obviously replace the tub, but there are also tons of companies that will refinish and reglaze an old tub for you. I figured that would be too expensive for us, so I found a product that can be used on both bathtubs and walls and we plan to use this to fix our tub. Here is a link to that product. It is a lead encapsulant. Just like the tub, you can get the walls encapsulated, with a product like this or by a professional. You can also be careful to not cause any holes in your walls so you don’t create paint chips or dust.

Where else is lead besides walls and bathtubs?

This list is a VERY short summary of what I found that specifically applied to me; it’s in a TON of stuff:

-old bathtubs

-vintage dishes

-vintage toys

-old plastics (like Tupperware)

Wait, plastic?! I thought it was just in paint and glaze? 

They used lead in old plastics for colorants! So if you have any old Tupperware or vintage kids’ toys (i.e., Fisher-Price Little People dolls), they could contain unsafe levels of lead. We used all kinds of plastic Tupperware products (plates, cups, pitchers, storage containers, measuring cups, etc.) when I was a child. I also played with Fisher-Price toys and many other vintage toys. I likely didn’t put those toys in my mouth, but as I stated before, MICROSCOPIC amounts of lead are dangerous and potentially detrimental. To get a good idea of just how little lead can be harmful, read this. 

I also learned that some of my vintage Pyrex bowls contain unsafe levels of lead. They were super cool and mustard yellow. But they’re going to be disposed of as soon as I get my stuff out of storage. If you have a bunch of vintage dishes, don’t despair, not everything contains lead! My mom has some Corningware dishes with blue flowers that do not contain lead! In the old dishes, the lead is often in the colored designs. So while it’s not on the inside where your food is, the design can rub off and still be harmful.

How can I get more info?

Please visit tamararubin.org for a long list of various toys and dishes that contain lead. This lady has a bunch of info on her site and many more details about lead. I encourage everyone to read a few articles on her website so you can get a better understanding of where lead might be lurking in your life. Her sons were lead poisoned and she has dedicated her life to educating people on the dangers of lead.

What if I love vintage stuff?

I love vintage stuff too! But my child’s health (and my own) is obviously WAY more important than having cool dishes. Please tell your friends and family about lead. My mom has a ton of vintage toys and dishes. If it weren’t for my Instagram friend, I would NEVER have known about this. I almost bathed my toddler in a lead-filled tub. I had never heard that lead was anywhere besides walls! I don’t think it’s widely talked about enough. If you have anything in your house that MIGHT have lead, please test it. Like I said, lead poisoning is 100% preventable, but the effects are irreversible.