Monday, September 17th, 2007
How to Test Toys for Lead Step-by-Step in Photos
“Everything is easy when you know how.” –A wiseacre
Conducting a lead paint surface test is easy, but a little mysterious if you’re unfamiliar.
This tutorial covers the LeadCheck Household Lead Test Kit by Homax. I found it for $8 at Ace Hardware stores, but may be cheaper online. It was routinely sold out and required several visits to find one.
The kit contains two chemical testing cylinders good for a total of four tests. That means you can test four swatches of paint, not necessarily four toys.
Yes, it is expensive to test all of your toys. The recent massive RC2 Thomas and Mattel recalls remind us that you cannot eyeball a toy for safety, and you can’t rely on the government to protect your child from consumer products.
Recalled toys have been identified after they were sold, after consumers complained, after kids were exposed. Either you accept on faith that your toys are safe, or you pay for testing.
Thingamamaby’s future product reviews will include the home-based lead testing described here, even if that only means the products tested OK at one point in time. Factories can change their paint or hire subcontractors afterward, which may explain why recalls often target a narrow time frame in which a toy was sold.
I realize I am a minority opinion, but until mandatory, regular testing by manufacturers becomes the law of the land (keep dreaming), parents must take matters into their own hands.
Note: This tutorial covers only surface testing. It is possible for interior layers of paint to contain lead, requiring you to carve into a toy and chip out paint to perform a full test. Personally, I’m not worried unless the paint on a toy begins to chip or flake on its own.
Step 1. Decide which toys you will be testing. My advice: test every painted toy. As the RC2 Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway recall demonstrated, expensive toys are not necessarily safer than toys bought at a dollar store.
Step 2. Line up your toys on a hard surface, not carpet. You might spill the testing chemical in Step 6, so your underlying surface needs to be stain resistant and easy to clean. Consider a kitchen counter, table or laminate floor. I sat down on our hard living room floor. Do this at a time when your child is not home, unless you enjoy lots of questioning and crying when you insist the child not touch any of the toys.
Step 3. Choose four swatches of paint you will test at a time. The swatches might be on four toys, or four different colors on the same toy. Plan in advance because once you activate a testing cylinder, it must be used within 2 minutes.
Step 4. Snap one of the cardboard testing cylinders. Using your thumbs and index fingers, bend the cylinder in two marked locations at each end until you hear and feel glass tubes inside breaking. It’s a snapping motion similar to how you snap various chemical glow-in-the-dark products sold around Independence Day and Halloween.
Step 5. Vigorously shake the cylinder.
Step 6. Point the swab downward and squeeze the cylinder until yellow liquid appears. Have the tube positioned over a safe area because, in my experience (and my wife’s experience), you will accidentally squeeze too much and have a droplet or two fall to the ground. The manufacturer’s FAQ states that the chemical is “a non-toxic lead reactive dye (Rodizone 8).” Still, I wouldn’t want it on my carpet.
Step 7. Rub the swab on a one-color swatch of paint on the toy for 30 seconds. Squeeze the cylinder as you rub so that liquid continues to come out and cover the paint. Afterward, if the swab or the paint has turned pink or red, it indicates a positive test for lead.
If the liquid remains yellow, proceed to your second swatch test. After the next 30 seconds, you are done. Each stick has only enough liquid for two tests conducted over a total of 2 minutes.
The wooden red elephant is from our Who Lives Where? matching game. Success, no lead paint.
Step 8. Wipe, rinse or wash and dry the portions of the toys you tested and dispose of the cylinder.
Step 9. Document your testing results. Open a spreadsheet, or grab paper and a pencil, and create two columns. In the first column write a description of the toy, such as “stacking blocks,” or “spinning top.” In the second column write colors you tested on each toy, such as “red and black,” or “all colors.”
The point is to remember what testing you’ve completed, and that you haven’t forgotten any toys. I missed some of my daughter’s toys during our first testing session. For example, I missed the wooden pawns in my daughter’s board games.
Step 10. Curse toy manufacturers that do not regularly test their own products and curse the government for neutering the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The CPSC is down from 1,000 employees in the 1970s to just 420 as of this writing, with only 1 employee testing toys in a cramped office, using the empty space where his door opens as his work space for conducting impact tests. The bottom line is: you are the first and last line of defense for your child.
- Childhood lead exposure Frequently Asked Questions
- Vinyl miniblinds and vinyl lunch boxes should be tested too
- Fact sheets from a lead testing company
Update: Consumer Reports evaluated five home test kits in October 2007 and found three of them to be useful, including the Homax kit shown on this page.