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.

Photo of the LeadCheck package which features a photo of a baby.

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.

Photo of a LeadCheck cylinder being snapped in my wife's hands.

Step 5. Vigorously shake the cylinder.

Photo of the LeadCheck cylinder being shaken by hand.

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.

Photo of the LeadCheck cylinder being squeezed. A yellow droplet has fallen to the ground.

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.

Photo of the LeadCheck cylinder being rubbed on a small wooden red elephant.

Photo of the now-yellow tip of the LeadCheck cylinder and a small wooden red elephant in the background.

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.

Photo of the a small wooden red elephant being held under a stream of water from a kitchen faucet.

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.

Image of a spreadsheet with two columns, one labeled Toys, the other labeled Colors Tests. Toys and the names of colors are listed in the columns.

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.

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.


15 Responses to “How to Test Toys for Lead Step-by-Step in Photos”

  1. MetaMommy says:

    This is a great post. I’ve been meaning to test the few toys we do have, so I’ll hopefully get to it this week.
    I’ll be testing some of our ceramic dishes as well, just in case.

    September 18th, 2007 at 4:43 pm

  2. JGF says:

    Thanks for this; I will definitely put it to use. For what it’s worth, I contacted Playmobil, a big favorite in our house, and got a very reasuring answer to my question about their product safety – they test all raw materials, and their finished products are all tested by independent labs for compliance with US & European safety regulations. Thats a lot of money saved on lead paint tests in our house!

    September 18th, 2007 at 4:58 pm

  3. AnnoyedMom says:

    Rather than spend my money on possibly tainted toys and lead kits, I think I’ll be giving my kid extra money for the college fund and some clothes instead.

    This is beyond ridiculous. We might as well start putting arsenic on our faces again. It’s amazing that we aren’t all complete vegetables with the crap we surround ourselves with. All these chemicals. All because it’s CHEAPER to produce. This is where capitalism has truly failed us.

    September 21st, 2007 at 2:27 pm

  4. Oli says:

    The limit value of this test kit is 25 times over the maximum concentration allowed by the standard for lead in toys.

    This test is not usseful.

    October 3rd, 2007 at 12:01 am

  5. Ruby says:

    AnnoyedMom we are the ones who buy cheap crap. We are the one who are looking for chemicals instead normal food. (For example WE KNOW cream is made of the fat of the milk, yet we want it FAT FREE! We make companies to come up with synthetic crap!) We are the onew to buy toys on a daily basis, and not for only occasions anymore. Our kids don’t even appreciate the toys anymore. So we all deserve. You say we could all stop buying crap? Show me nation! I’ll believe it when I see it.

    October 10th, 2007 at 2:26 pm

  6. Concerned Mom says:

    I ordered a set of leadcheck swabs directly from the manufacturer. They included an insert that said that you must leave the liquid sit on the test surface for an hour because it can take that long to develop a pink color. Every toy I have tested, all from major companies…but most made in China…have tested positive on the surface after the liquid has been in contact for several minutes. None of them tested positive on the swab within the two minutes that it says to use the swab. When you did your testing did you wait for an hour? The full instructions are on the leadcheck website.
    We have contacted leadcheck and they claim that any pink/red color that develops on the surface during any time frame indicates the presence of lead. The US product safety commission told my husband that the only way to know if there are dangerous levels of lead (why is there any acceptable level of lead?) is to send the toy to a private lab for testing…you then lose your child’s favorite toy even if it is negative for lead. If anybody has had any experience with accurate testing please let parents know…I feel as if there is no option but to remove all the toys from my children…I’m not even sure if I trust toys made in the USA since regulations allow a low level of lead. We are taking our two year old for a blood test on Tuesday and hope all parents do the same.

    October 15th, 2007 at 8:13 pm

  7. AJ says:

    Concerned Mom, Consumer Reports tested five lead kits and found, “If lead concentrations are low, these swabs can take up to 2 hours to change color, but in CR’s tests, high concentrations produced immediate results.”

    October 22nd, 2007 at 12:51 pm

  8. Phil says:

    Great idea to create a spreadsheet to track this.

    Even better if someone would set up a website and collect everyone’s results and make them available. We could all share results and cut the expense of testing everything.

    Wouldn’t that start a media mess!!!

    October 29th, 2007 at 7:46 am

  9. Jeddo Woods says:

    I’m wondering if there has been any relationship with lead poisoning to the startling increase in autism in recent years ? Is there a correlation in the increase of autism to the increase in products bought from China?

    October 29th, 2007 at 8:19 pm

  10. Mercedes Redman says:

    Good question, Jeddo.
    I am a little confused: the instructions say that if the swab remains yellow the test is negative and I can proceed to the next test, but they also say that I should set the swab aside after each test because color development may take as long as an hour. Should I perform two tests with each swab or not?

    November 2nd, 2007 at 1:54 pm

  11. Shea says:

    Phil had a great idea – set up a website where parents can share their lead test results with one another. Does any one know of a website like this ? Unfortunately, I don’t know how to set up a website or even how to search for one like this… so I will ask the question here!

    November 30th, 2007 at 1:33 pm

  12. Mighty Mom says:

    This site helped me a lot in securing my child’s health and well being! This is the most reliable site I have found. (Even after searching Google and Ask!)

    January 1st, 2008 at 6:06 pm

  13. Jamie Pokusa says:

    Intertek Provides Toy Safety Testing, Inspection and Evaluation

    Children’s safety is the principal concern of every parent and the responsibility of the whole community. We should provide both a safe home and the safest possible environment for children everywhere. Juvenile products and toys in general should always be tested, inspected, and assessed by third party service providers to ensure there are no potential risks or hazards that could be overlooked by the naked eye.

    As the leading international provider of quality and safety services to both global and local industries, Intertek works with clients to enhance the design, safety and quality of juvenile products and toys everywhere. Our unique testing services ensure product compliance in accordance with international standards including the US Code of Federal Regulations Title 16, ASTM F963, the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials, European Standards EN 71 & EN 50088, European Directives, and more.

    February 28th, 2008 at 12:15 pm

  14. Jeff says:

    Unfortunately, the Consumer Products Safety Commission does not approve these swab type test kits as reliable. In fact they are often unreliable and lead to false positives. The only way to accurately and cost effectively test these toys is with the use of an XRF device.

    Our company conducts in home screenings of toys and playthings with an XRF system. Don’t waste your time and money with the kits you can buy at Home Depot.

    Read this CPSC Report for more on the topic:

    April 17th, 2008 at 9:28 am

  15. AJ says:

    However, Consumer Reports has found the tests have value:

    The Consumer Products Safety Commission is not exactly a reliable trustworthy organization in my book. Some might say it’s conflicted about who is exists to serve.

    April 17th, 2008 at 9:32 am

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