Are Leaded Crystal Decanters Dangerous?

Chris asked a very important question in our post about why do people put scotch in decanters. He wanted to know why I suggested lead free crystal decanters instead of leaded crystal decanters, which are often heavier and sparklier (is that a word?). Leaded decanters are beautiful but they have one drawback – lead.

Is lead really dangerous? Only if you store the whisky, or other spirits or liquids, in the decanter for longer periods of time. The lead can leach into the spirit and ingesting it is not safe. According to The Nibble, the leaching of lead is must faster than you’d guess.

Researches stored port wine in lead crystal decanters and detected 89 micrograms (per liter) after 2 days and 2,000 – 5,000 micrograms after four months. White wine doubled its lead content within an hour and tripled within four. Brandy stored in lead crystal had around 20,000 micrograms of lead after five years.

The EPA’s lead standard in drinking water is a mere 50 micrograms per liter.

The Nibble says that it’s safe to use leaded crystal while you eat – to decant into (but not store), to drink out of, and to serve out of. The key is that you cannot store anything in them or you’ll run the risk of exposing yourself to lead.

Personally, I’m happy to skip it. Why expose yourself in the first place?

About Jim

Jim is the founder of Scotch Addict and one of the many fans of whisky in all its forms. Connect with me on Google+.
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37 Responses to Are Leaded Crystal Decanters Dangerous?

  1. Fred Diver says:

    Interesting to learn of the danger of decanting in leadded glass. Are the levels of lead forever constant? Or will levels drop the more the ladded glass is used? Is there a formula for how much over time?
    My though: Can a “cheap” alcohol be decanted and tossed, say once a week, till there is relatively no lead danger? Surely leaching can occur only into a certain “depth” of the total thickness of the glass, and/or for so long … Or will all the lead of the decantor eventually have to be leached until the glass is left with “0” lead?

  2. Kyle says:

    Fred, I believe you are correct in that the acid (spirits) will only leach to a certain depth of the crystal, but the problem is that the overall efficiency that lead is leached out of the crystal is relatively low, and consuming even a small amount of lead is dangerous.

    For example, the crystal decanter I own has an interior surface area of about 420 cm^2 and it is 24% lead. That means in the first 0.5 mm of the inside of my decanter, there is over 66 grams of lead (lead crystal that is 24% lead has a density of about 3.15 g/cm^-3). Based on the higher rate above of leaching 5,000 micrograms in 4 months, it would take over 4400 years and over 13000 bottles of cheap liquor to remove the lead in just the first half of a millimeter of a 24% lead crystal decanter.

    • Jim says:

      Only 4,400 years?

    • Andy says:

      Why 0.5 mm and not 0.5 cm? It would be even more impressive. You know, half a millimeter is a pretty thick layer of glass for a liquid to penetrate. If it can do that it can just as well penetrate the whole thing. Most likely, only atoms of lead on the very surface would be leaked to the spirit and that’s what, micrometer? Nanometer?

      But let’s look at the numbers. So brandy absorbs 20,000 µg per liter in 5 years. that means 15,000 µg per 750 ml. Then, it’s unlikely it’d last so long, more like 1 year max, so we’re down to 3,000 µg. But since you’re actually consuming it, not just storing, part of your spirit was consumed with less lead, so really it’s just 1,500 µg. What gives you about 4 µg per day average.

      Now they say water with 50 µg per liter is safe. 80 ml of such water contains 4 µg of lead. In other words, keeping spirit in lead crystal decanter is as “dangerous” as drinking an extra half a glass of water per day.

      • Martin says:

        I’m inclined to agree, and would add that children are a lot more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults. So the standard for water will be set taking account of the fact that children drink water. Although it’s true that any lead is bad, it could well be that the alcohol in the whisky is at least as bad for us. That’s a risk we’re willing to take, though, isn’t it?

      • Cathy says:

        Note: The lead standard for water is 15 micrograms per liter, not 50.

  3. Kyle says:

    A less mathy and nerdy view would also be that decanters that don’t contain lead are commercially available already, and the lead in lead crystal decanters are what make them more brilliant and generally more expensive. So if you had a nice looking lead crystal decanter and removed the lead from it, it would be not so nice looking anymore, and you could have gotten one like it for a lot less.

    • Jim says:

      I prefer your great nerdy and mathy explanation though, thanks Kyle!

    • Andy says:

      That’s not true. Since lead would be remover only from the very thin layer on the inner surface of the decanter, the overall look wounded change at all. The ideal decanter would be lead crystal with a tiny layer of regular glass on the inside but, I think, it would be actually even more expensive.

  4. Lynn says:

    Hi Jim,

    I appreciate your insight and am in search of a well made lead-free Decanter set (Whisky/Scotch).

    Any suggestions on brands that I should be looking to? Who also ship to Canada?

  5. Lord Z says:

    On our honeymoon 28 years ago, my wife and I bought a leaded crystal decanter and poured a bottle of Chives (our beverage of preference at the time) into it with the idea of driving it several decades hence. We are considering drinking it two years hence, but the idea of the levels of lead content concern us. Informed comments, please?

  6. RC says:

    I’ve read that you can “pre-leach” the lead out by filling with 50%vinegar and 50% water…not sure why the specific mix. Obviously it stands to reason from a scientific standpoint that the lead levels almost have to diminish over usage time, because otherwise we’d have a decanter that eventually could not hold liquid. That doesn’t help the previous poster who’s had something stored for a great length of time…to him I’d say it’s not worth it. Go ahead and treat yourself to a new bottle of whatever your favorite beverage is now!

  7. RC says:

    One more point – I’ve also heard that waiting until your event to transfer your spirit into a crystal decanter is safe. Enjoy your beautiful decanter for the evening, and pour the rest back into the bottle as soon as practicable…

  8. Steven says:

    Drinking a beverage from a leaded glass or decanter is safe, when you first add a 50/50 mix of water & vinegar to any lead crystal glass or vessel. Let the contents sit for 24 hours … drain … rinse … enjoy your beverage and vessel! Any loose lead molecules on the crystal will have leached into the highly acidic vinegar (which is subsequently drained). If a liquid is stored in lead crystal, over time, loose lead can apparently continue to leach from the lead crystal into the liquid for decades after manufacturing.

    If you use your lead crystal only during special occasions, to reduce exposure, merely give your vessel a douche (as above) every few years, or prior to use. This procedure may also be performed when acquiring a pre-owned lead crystal decanter.

    This aforementioned the procedure is suggested by Waterford.

  9. I love the look and feel of a nice, weighty decanter of good spirits. However, after reading from these posts, by Gentlemen obviously of some knowledge on the subject of lead in Crystal Decanters, I believe I shall peel the label off of a nice bottle of Jack Daniels (Single Barrel, of course) and commence to drink directly from the bottle, sans lead, and get royally snockered and go butcher a hog of choice for vittles this week! Cheers To ALL!!

    • Deb says:

      “Gentlemen” don’t abuse animals. I guess this is how you get attention though. Being rude and cruel. Sad. And definitely NOT gentlemanly. A gentleman is GENTLE to ALL beings.

      • Michelle says:

        I didn’t find anything about his post to be rude or cruel. This is not a place to cast judgement on others. Get on with your life and don’t worry about others.

        Southern Gent, sounds like a good Southern weekend to me!

      • Petunia Wisebody says:

        Gawd lighten up.

    • Linda K. Turner says:


      Out of all the replies about crystal decanters, yours was the best, however, my question is a bit different: whatever I put in one of my beautiful decanters, has ‘hardened’ over time~ I guess it would be a liquor with alot of sugar, like brandy but I can’t remember.

      How can I soften it to remove the hardened liquor w/o breaking the crystal? My Iowa roots tell me a pan of hot water on low heat with vinegar. Am I right?

      I’d appreciate your sharing your knowledge. Most pieces are from Germany near the Chek border, and are probably 24% lead crystal.

      Thank you and will look forward to hearing from you!

      Regards, and Prost~!


      • Jim says:

        Yikes, I don’t know if I’d apply heat. I’d try white vinegar and water and then throw in some salt as am abrasive component and swirl it around.

  10. darren cullins says:

    Sure lead is bad for u but they use to line canned goods with it. As a child i would throw a handful of lead pellets in my mouth and suck on them while playing with my pellet gun. As a teenager my friends introduced me to a game of stabbing each other in the hands arms legs with pencils. I still have a few chunks of lead under my skin or at least lead tattoos. I am a red seal mechanic, not retarded. I get checkups every couple years, no problems. I hardly think a little lead in your liquor will hurt you, unless you are a severe alcoholic, in which case its probably not sitting in the bottle very long.

    • sianz says:

      don’t be silly, the lead in pencils are not the same lead that will kill you. i am still surprised at the age of google, people are still having such misconceptions.

      lead stays in your body and builds up. have fun.

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  12. Gary says:

    I have a six pack of leaded glass shot glasses. I noticed sediment in the bottom of one of the glasses after I used for some Tempeton Rye. I washed it out thoroughly and poured another shot of the Templeton. Both the rye and the glass looked clean but by the time I finished the shot, more sediment or prrecipitate was in the bottom of the glass. Any ideas of the cause. Surely the rye couldn’t leach lead out that rapidly.

  13. Ken says:

    Did all of the lead crystal decanter users for the hundreds of years before the “leaching” discovery die of lead poisoning? I honestly believe there is minimal danger here. Let’s concentrate on things that are truly damaging our health.

  14. dee says:

    ok this is an odd question – I collect decanters – I think that they’re beautiful. As I have so many I’ve had to resort to keeping them in storage. I was wondering if it would be harmful to put bubble baths in the decanters? I already have a few on show in my bathroom but my husband wants me to move them as he says they serve no purpose. I’d also like to give some away as presents to friends and fill them with bath products.
    any advice would be much appreciated!

    • Jim says:

      An interesting question that’s outside my area of expertise. If it were me, I don’t think the lead leeching would be an issue for bubble baths if it were for adults. Children, I’d probably avoid it since they can’t control ingestion of the bubble bath.

    • C. S. says:

      Even HANDLING lead crystal has been said by some experts to risk transfer of lead through the skin, so I don’t think I would risk using it for bubble bath items…

  15. Hal Leonard says:

    I love the beauty of our circa-1970 Waterford lead crystal decanter, but don’t want lead exposure, so I appreciate the advice in this thread. But we may be missing another obvious takeaway here: if extended exposure is the issue, but we’re too lazy to pour spirits back-and-forth, well then we just have to drink it faster!

  16. Hermione says:

    I was gifted a hand-cut crystal decanter for Christmas. I looked it up on the retailer’s website and it is 25% lead crystal. I’m not following how to calculate the risk of storing alcohol – say bourbon – in it for a few months at a time. I gather I can rinse it w/the 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water, and I can use it only for events and then remove the alcohol after. But if I left the booze there for 3 months, what is the articulated danger?

  17. J. Andrews says:

    I keep my mouthwash which contains alcohol in a glass decanter in the bathroom because it looks pretty. I only swish a shot-glass amount around in my mouth and spit it out; I do not swallow it. I am not sure if the decanter is lead crystal. Assuming it is, would it be safe to use once a day if I don’t swallow it???????
    I’m going to also get a lead testing kit to find out if it does contain lead.

  18. LJ says:

    Hey guys,

    I got this glass decanter from my girlfriend, but I have not been able to find out if it contains lead. Can anybody help me out?


    • Jim says:

      It says it’s just glass so I don’t expect there to be any lead. It’s only when they say it’s crystal that you run the risk of lead.

  19. Bob Peffers says:

    I have a three bottle tantalus which I purchased in England 40 years ago. It was new but has shiney cut glass decanters which I assume contain lead. I have been using the decanters to store and serve spirits (bourbon, gin, and scotch) for most of the 40 years. I have always periodically clean the decanters out with vinegar and water. Over the years my wife and I have probably drunk many gallons of spirits from these decanters and to our knowledge haven’t suffered any ill effects. I just came upon this issue recently. I will ask our doctor to test us for lead poisoning but at 75 I really don’t intend to quit using the decanters. I am not sure how to determine the exact lead content of the decanters. Perhaps the periodic use of a vinegar and water wash has bleached out the lead. Of course now that I have read this damn report I will have to research it all.

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