How To Test For Lead On Your Homestead

Many homesteaders enjoy re-purposing vintage materials and using antiques around their property. Unfortunately there is a danger that many older items can be contaminated with lead, which was once a commonly used material. Thankfully there’s an easy, inexpensive way for anyone to test for lead that works great. We know, because we put it to use for ourselves.

My Antique Bean Pot

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On our recent visit to Tennessee, we did a little antique shopping. We found an old cast iron bean pot that was in great condition and too reasonably-priced to pass up. My wife Cheri purchased it for me as an early birthday present.

After checking with a few cast iron cookware resources, I was able to determine through the overall shape and the Gate mark on the piece that it’s likely a pre-1900 cast iron bean pot.

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Why Test for Lead?

Lead can be in many items in your homestead from piping and insulation to drywall and paint. It can even be found in older plastic items, believe it or not.

It’s especially concerning that lead may also contaminate many cooking items, especially antique cast iron and old enameled cookware.

With as old as my new bean pot appeared to be, I knew it would be vital to check it for lead before using it. The problem isn’t in the iron itself but in the fact that, in days gone by, pots like these were often used to melt lead to make ammunition. The lead residue left behind by such activity would leave the pot too contaminated to use for cooking.

So, as an added gift, my wife picked up a lead test kit from our local home improvement store. 

How To Test For Lead

3M Lead test kit found in most big box home improvement stores

Each lead test kit costs about $10.00 and comes with two small vials of the test chemicals in each packet.  The kit includes instructions for testing many items including plastic, painted items, metals and alloys, copper pipe and drywall. You will need to scrape and clean an area to be tested. It’s okay to leave some dust as the test will also detect lead in the dust.

The instructions tell you to remove a test vial, crush each end marked A and B. This will release the test chemicals in each side of the tube and combine them for the testing. Shake the tube twice to mix the chemicals. The contents will turn yellow.  Squeeze the tube until the cotton swab on the end turns yellow.

Once these steps are completed, simply rub the swab on the area to be tested for about 30 seconds. If the end of the cotton swab turns red or pink, lead is present. 

I chose to test the bottom inside of my bean pot as this would be the area most likely to have any lead residue. Fortunately my test swab did not turn red or pink, which was great news!

Confirming Your Test

The lead test kit also includes a small cardboard panel with circles on it that contain lead. Once you have finished a test that shows no lead is present, you can use the swab on the circles with lead to confirm the test was performed correctly. Place the swab in one of the circles and move it around a bit. It should turn red or pink now due to the known presence of lead which will confirm you swab was testing your item accurately. If the swab does not turn pink or red on the lead test circle, then you will want tostart over with a new test swab.

If you are at all concerned about lead around your homestead, these inexpensive and easy-to-use lead test kits can confirm or allay your fears. Considering lead’s toxicity, it is definitely better to be safe than sorry.