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How to Choose Nontoxic Lead-Free Mugs

Sep 06, 2018

by editorial team and Sophia Ruan Gushée

 

Ceramic mugs can be nontoxic as long as the mug doesn’t contain high levels of lead.

Conventional mugs are often made of ceramic or pottery, and they can contaminate your beverages with lead, primarily from the finish or glaze on the mug. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration received reports that several manufacturers in Mexico labeled pottery as “lead-free,” but testing revealed high lead levels. According to the FDA, “If the pottery is not manufactured properly, this lead can leach into food and drink that is prepared, stored, or served in the dishes.”

Some ceramic and clay pottery manufacturers choose lead-free glazes, but then they use kilns that previously fired leaded glazes. The lead from prior use can attach to the lead-free glaze, and contaminate food and beverages.

Health problems associated with exposures from contaminants in some mugs

While lead is toxic for people of all ages, certain demographics are much more vulnerable to the potential damaging effects of lead exposure. Generally, the younger the life, the more protection is needed. So pregnant moms and parents of young children should take extra precautions. 

Exposures to higher levels of heavy metals, including lead, may contribute to learning disabilities, behavior problems, and anemia. The FDA states, “A child with lead poisoning may not look or act sick.” It advises that if you see the following behaviors in children, talk to your physician about having their blood tested for lead levels:  

  • learning disabilities
  • developmental delays
  • lower IQ scores

What are the nontoxic options?

While stainless steel and glass or great nontoxic options, if you're looking for ceramic or pottery, then lead-free ceramic or clay mugs can be a fine nontoxic option for mugs. Ceramic and clay can be among the least toxic materials available.

The primary concern is with lead glazes that are sometimes used to coat the mug, and the kiln that is used for firing. Mugs made in the early 1900’s and prior often contain more lead since lead standards were not in place at that time. 

What should we look for in a nontoxic mug?

Besides stainless steel and glass, nontoxic mugs can include those made of ceramic or clay and that are finished with a glaze that’s “lead-free.”  In addition, when choosing nontoxic pottery mugs, consider these tips from the U.S. FDA:

  • avoid using antique mugs for drinking
  • avoid damaged or cracked mugs
  • purchase from reliable manufacturers
  • buy mugs made of lead-free glaze and fired in a kiln that has not had lead glazes fired in it
  • avoid orange, red, yellow coloring on mugs, as they typically contain higher lead levels in their pigments

Also, purchasing mugs from commercial companies that manufacture mugs for everyday use may reduce the risk of lead contamination.

Conclusion

Ceramic or clay mugs can be a good nontoxic mug option as long as the mug is lead-free. Foreign manufacturers sometimes label ceramic mugs as “lead-free,” but have been found to have high levels of lead. This can happen when lead-free glaze is used, but the mug is fired in a kiln that was previously used to fire leaded products. When choosing nontoxic mugs, consider purchasing mugs from commercial manufacturing companies that make everyday dishware, avoid using antique or damaged mugs, and avoid mugs colored with orange, red or yellow pigments.

 

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