WebstaurantStore / Food Service Resources / Kitchen & Cooking Tips / Is Lead Crystal Safe?
Is Lead Crystal Safe?

Is Lead Crystal Safe?

Last updated on 12/21/2020

You may have seen lead crystal glasses, decanters, and goblets in movies, or perhaps encountered them in antique shops or relatives' homes. These glass items often feature intricate designs that add three-dimensional texture and help catch the light at every angle, giving them an upscale look perfect for formal events. While lead glass crystal was commonly used in the past, more and more people today are questioning its safety. Keep reading to learn what lead crystal is, if it's dangerous, and what alternatives are available.

What Is Lead Crystal?

A Crystal Wine decanter with two crystal sniffer glasses

Lead crystal is a kind of glass that contains lead oxide. The addition of lead oxide raises the glass's refractive index, a measurement of how fast light passes through something. This means that lead glass has a more reflective appearance than traditional glass. Leaded glass also stays malleable for longer periods of time when heated, making it easier for artisans to work with.

Is Lead Crystal Safe?

No, it is not recommended that you drink out of lead crystal pieces.

The greatest risk of drinking from lead crystal is the consumption of any lead that may leach into your beverage. Similar to the debate on copper cups, many people argue that the amount of lead that makes its way into a drink depends on the amount of time that the liquid has spent inside the vessel. While it’s true that the lead content in a liquid can increase over time, studies have shown that no amount of lead is safe for consumption.

Lead has been linked with blood disorders and can have a negative impact on the human nervous system. It is especially dangerous for children because it can cause permanent brain damage. So, it makes sense that lead is no longer used for many of the products it once was and that everyday use of lead crystal has fallen out of favor.

Does All Crystal Have Lead?

No, most modern glassware that is manufactured for drinking purposes does not contain any lead.

Is Lead Crystal Real Crystal?

No, lead crystal has a misleading name because it is not crystal at all. It is merely glass that contains lead oxide.

In a scientific sense, the word “crystal” refers to the molecular structure of a material. Here are some examples of solids that have a microscopic “crystal lattice” structure:

  • Diamonds
  • Salt
  • Ice

Lead crystal simply became the common name for leaded glass. Glass is considered a “non-crystalline amorphous solid,” meaning that the structure of its molecules differs from that of a true crystal.

How to Identify Lead Crystal

Lead crystal is often found in the form of vintage decanters, glasses, and goblets. The safest way to know if something is lead crystal is by having it lab tested. However, if you'd like to test items in your home, in an antique shop, or at a flea market, you can try the following techniques to identify the differences between crystal and glass.

Close up of cut glass on crystal goblet

1. Tap It with a Metal Utensil

The easiest way to identify lead crystal is by tapping it gently with a knife—if it makes a drawn-out chiming sound, chances are that it’s lead crystal. Regular glass tends to make a duller, briefer sound when struck.

2. Compare Its Weight to Traditional Glassware

Because it contains lead oxide, lead crystal is heavier than traditional glass. One clue that your piece is lead crystal is if it is much heavier than a glass piece of similar size.

3. Look for a Prism

Lead crystal will give off a rainbow prism when you shine light through it. While some common glass is cut to do the same, this could be a helpful clue.

4. Look for Smooth Cuts

When looking at the decorative cuts made on the piece, take note of whether the cuts' edges are rounded or sharp. Lead crystal tends to have cuts with rounded edges, while glass cuts are sharper.

Safe Alternatives to Leaded Glass

There are plenty of glassware collections that are designed to mimic the classic style of lead crystal without any of the hazardous material included. You can find some of the most iconic products that were commonly made of lead crystal, including:

Rocks Glasses

You can serve whiskey and other classic cocktails on the rocks in an old fashioned glass. These products are available with different patterns, so you can choose the look that suits your decor.

Glass Decanters

Decanters are not only an attractive way to serve wine, but they are also great for helping certain varieties develop flavor. You can find glass decanters in antique or modern styles to create a cohesive presentation.

Glass Champagne Flutes

For your next special occasion, you can choose glass champagne flutes as a safe alternative to lead crystal choices. Some options feature cut glass designs, while others are smooth and sleek for a contemporary appearance.

Lead crystal, while not crystal at all, was once prized for its highly reflective appearance. Today, users are wary of serving liquids in a vessel that contains lead. Fortunately, the style of traditional lead crystal can easily be mimicked with traditional glassware, so you can get the vintage look without the risk of lead poisoning. Next time you're browsing around a flea market and you find a piece that catches your eye, use this article as your lead crystal safety guide.

Join Our Mailing List

Receive coupon codes and more right to your inbox.

Recipe converter
WebstaurantStore blog
Videos of demonstrations, how-tos and more