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?

69 thoughts on “Are Leaded Crystal Decanters Dangerous?

  1. Hi,
    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. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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?

  3. 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.

    • 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.

      • You can de-lead the inner layer of a decanter by keeping vinegar in it for a certain time. I’ve forgotten all the details but a search should turn it up.

  4. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

    • Actually, I have to add to the instructions from Waterford. Those cleaning instructions they gave you were NOT to “pre leach” the first stages of lead out to allow for a more lead free beverage; those cleaning instructions are to wash the acids off that they are polished with after construction. Lead does not EVER “settle down” to acceptable leaching levels after years of doing this-it’s constant. Not even worth the risk honestly. Use glass.

      • Hello, I have just given my son a beautiful lead crystal decanter for Christmas….it was his Grandfather’s and is over 60 years old….it was in constant use throughout my childhood, and then I have used it in-between. My father had his whiskey/sherry and port forever in a decanter all through the year. None of us have come to any harm due to lead poisoning….my son is 38, and has questioned the health aspect…..I told him the same……life is for living and I think the whiskey will do him more harm than the lead! lol

  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!!

    • “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.

    • Hello~!

      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~!


      • 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.

        • Hi Jim~

          I’m a bit late replying to your “Yikes!” e-mail in 2015 but still have not dealt with my ‘hardened liquor in crystal decanter’ purchased in 1984 on the German/Chech border, no doubt at least 24% lead content.

          At least you stopped me from any heat so I will do the 50/50% water & vinegar!

          Mostly, the beautiful decanters (5) are on an antique brass tray only for show. I no longer imbibe as much!

          Thanks~ Linda

  10. 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.

    • 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

    • Some of them may HAVE died from lead poisoning. How do you prove otherwise? But yes hardly ANYone dies from lead poisoning, we get that. But that’s not the point. What lead does to people is in my opinion worse than death-it keeps you alive but with horrible consequences like impaired brain functions. There’s even a decent amount of evidence that it was lead that caused Rome’s collapse. ANY amount of lead is absolutely horrible for you and there’s never ever a good enough reason to forgo that caution. ESPECIALLY for something aesthetic. Can you prove otherwise that ingesting lead for just looks is a bad idea?

  13. 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!

    • 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.

    • 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…

      • Oh now this is just being silly. I think using the leaded decanters with bubble bath is an excellent alternative use since it’s unwise to use them with anything that’s going to be ingested.
        Too many commenters on here are overly cautious and must live their lives afraid of EVERYTHING. That’s just sad, in my opinion.
        So enjoy the leaded decanters in the bathroom. I’m sure they’ll be beautiful!

  14. 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!

  15. 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?

  16. 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.

    • 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.

    • Your Bormioli set is wayyyyy to inexpensive to be real leaded crystal. Yea that’s glass. It would be 300 dollars if it were 24% or higher leaded crystal.

  17. 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.

  18. With regards to lead leaching and crystal, what do you make of the expensive whiskies that are packaged and sold in crystal decanters/bottles? (For example, The Macallan has a number of old whiskies sold in Lalique crystal and Hibiki has used Kagami crystal.) Can the amount of lead in the crystal be lowered to a safe level in these instances or are people spending thousands of dollars for lead poisoning? I’d love to know.

    • This is easy; (Tiffany & Co. did this as well) those weren’t meant to be consumed but displayed. I know, it’s silly but MOST of what rich people do is plain silliness and for no other real reason than “because I can.”. Yea, I know it’s dumb but really, it’s for display only.

  19. It seems to me that it depends entirely on one’s use.

    We keep our whiskey in a leaded crystal decanter. During football season, we go through about a bottle about every two weeks. Thus, the liquor (when consumed) has been in contact with the decanter for an average of about 1 week. Assuming that lead leaches into liquor at a rate of about 45 mcg/L/day (per the above data), this means the average concentration of lead comes to about 315 mcg/L when consumed, for a grand total of 235 mcg per 750 mL bottle. This seems like a lot!

    But remember, these 235 mcg are consumed over a period of two weeks. Even if it were only me drinking that bottle, this would mean that the daily lead consumption from whiskey is only about 15 mcg. And, when you consider that the WHO cites 250 mcg/day as the tolerable limit, and when you further consider that the average American diet contains about 70 mcg/day of lead, we find ourselves well within the safe zone.

    So what’s the bottom line? Do not keep any liquor that is not regularly consumed in a decanter. After four months, two shots of whiskey could hit you with 600 mcg of lead. But if it is regularly consumed, as in the scenario above, you should be safe. Just don’t give it to the kids…

    • Assuming you only own one decanter, you’ll ingest lead at the same rate as it leaches, regardless of how often you drink. In your 4-month/2-shots example you’d ingest 600 mcg PER 120 DAYS, which is actually fine.

      Back of the envelope, if your decanter averages half full (375 mL) it would be leaching about 17 mcg of lead per day, which is significantly less than normal exposure.

      The study was done with port wine, which is probably more acidic than whisky, so I suspect the whisky number would be lower than 45 mcg/day. And you can bring the rate down further by pre-leaching the decanter with a vinegar solution for a few days.

      In short, for children and women planning to have them, there’s no safe lower limit for lead, so stick to unleaded glass. For the rest of us, storing whisky in a lead crystal decanter won’t affect our health.

  20. Connie here, may I put my oar in? Lead and Mercury are both “heavy” metals. Both are retained by the body for a long time before exiting. In other words they build up and with that can affect our minds and bodies adversely. BUT, it takes a lot of Lead and or Mercury to do it. Anyone who is over 25 has been breathing lead from automobile exhaust since their birth as lead was added to gasoline to increase the octane of low octane gasoline, a cheap way to get high octane gasoline. The EPA stepped in and we all switched to un-leaded. I played with Mercury as a child rubbed a copper penny with Mercury and changed it to silver, so I have an overload of that too. I fill my decanters before events and pour them back into their original bottles after, just to get a firm seal as alcohol evaporates very quickly not because I fear the Lead. As we all know years and years of drinking leaded water from lead pipes in Flint Michigan DID cause illness.

  21. My mom just gave us a pretty extensive collection of lead cups, glasses, and decanters. I get the cups and glasses are fine but, I was pretty psyched to use the decanters!

    What if I push plastic wrap into the decanter and then poor the alcohol into it? It’s technically in the plastic…

    Thoughts? 🙂

  22. This conversation has made me wonder about how safe some of my 90% alcohol perfumes would be if stored in crystal. I think because it is not being used in high amounts and will not be ingested, it might be safer? But it will be stored for much longer than some of these whiskys will be and will be absorbed into the skin. What do you guys think?

    • Hmmm that is an excellent question, you still are spraying it on your skin and your body will absorb it. I don’t know if it’s safer but it’s not nearly as dangerous as drinking it I’d guess (I’m not a doctor so don’t quote me on that!).

  23. I’m curious as to whether anyone here who’s stored a beverage in a leaded glass container for a length of time has noticed whether the drink became sweeter from the infusion of lead.

  24. Years ago I studied art, and a number of us were making jewelry. One fellow compounded and glazed his own lead based enamels. He got all of us that worked in the area lead contaminated. He tested out at 12x the allowable levels, I was at 3x. It took over a decade for that to drop in my case I am not sure if he is fully clean yet or not, after over three decades. So lead is no laughing matter.

    As for a lead crystal decanter, I’m looking for some sort of clear coating that is food safe that I can coat the inside with, any thoughts?

  25. Wouldn’t leached lead “fall” and collect at the bottom of the decanter? Wouldn’t careful, non-inverted pours and sacrificing the last dram of whiskey remove most leached lead from being consumed? No matter what the alcohol, lead is more dense. It will not suspend in the alcohol.

  26. It is an old paper (and some of the new research appears to conclude that certain death will occur due to ingesting lead should you store your alcohol in leaded crystal.) Just the same, the theory presented seems sound.

    The abasract from indicates that “the new decanter imparted progressively less Pb through normal use.” And it concludes “The results of this investigation support the concept that sufficient ageing of Pb crystal prior to use reduces, to acceptable levels, the human health risk to adults associated with consumption of beverages stored in Pb crystal decanters.”

    Everybody needs to make up their own minds and decide what risks they are comfortable accepting and who they believe. Common sense to me dictates that while I may avoid felting hats with mercury (the origins of the expression “mad as a hatter”) that the occasional drink from a leaded crystal decanter is not going to kill me. A good vinegar treatment seems like a reasonable precaution.

    • Excellent comment! Thanks for including the technical link, which is quite informative and enables an analytical decision with even a quick review of only the abstract.
      Agree whole-heartedly with your common sense summary.

  27. Some years back I stored some Jack Daniels in one of my lead crystal decanters not realizing about the lead danger. What I noticed was that the taste became really distorted over time. Each time I poured some out the taste would stop me and I would smell it, but the smell seemed ok until one day it just had no smell whatsoever, and the taste just got worse and worse. I threw it all out and never stored anything in it again.
    Just decant it in when you want to impress and then decant it back to the original bottle for safe-keeping!

  28. In the real world, I think a reasonable adult would TEST their Cut Glass for lead toxicity before and after the ” Waterford”vinegar treatment, hasn’t any one performed this??? (There are many test kits available)

    • The lead crystal cullet that I use to make glass from has to have regular acid/lead leeching tests to prove its safe to use, this is a 24percent lead glass. But the fears are not just about lead, cadmium and copper are also in glass and glazes for pottery, these are equally dangerous. But if you worried about everything…………

  29. I have some scotch stored in what is probably a leaded crystal decanter form the 1950s, and it has been sitting there for about three years… so probably best not to drink it.

    Question: seeking to extract so good new from the bad, rather than pouring it away just yet, how long does it take for enough lead to leech out of the glass into the liquid to render the crystal relatively safe? After all, there must be a finite amount of lead, no? Or do I completely misunderstand the mechanics involved?

    • Best for you not to drink it.
      Please send to me. I’ll pay for shipping. It will be thoroughly tested and I’ll post the results 🙂

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