How Long Can You Leave Alcohol In A Crystal Decanter?

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Before glasses as we know them today were made, the ancient people made do with what they had on hand to make vessels for their drinks. Men came with the most innovative materials they have at the time - wood, stone, pewter, ceramics, etc. As knowledge progressed, men became more inventive until the Venetians started using the lead crystal to make glasses and other vessels of liquors. 

As you would finish a diamond, crystal glasses get their luster and shine from the polishing and are further enhanced by cutting. The intricate cuttings on the crystal vessels are more than decorative - they enhance the brilliance and luster of the crystal. 

Why use a liquor decanter?

In the olden days, only the rich can afford glasses, and owning a decanter and glasses to go with it is a way to flaunt wealth. Even today, one of the main reasons why we use liquor decanters is more for aesthetics and value rather than function. That, of course, excludes the wine since the purpose of decanting wine is more functional than anything else. For other liquors, these vessels are more of a wealthy thing to do. 

When used to serve liquors, especially vodka, tequila, and gin, a beveled cut crystal is a good way to mask the blandness of the clear liquor. For whiskeys, the gem-like cut enhances the appearance of the liquors, making it look more enticing, therefore adding value to it, even if it is just a less-than-superior bottle. 

How long can you leave alcohol in a crystal decanter? 

The most pressing concern about crystal decanters is the amount of lead in it and its effects on health. Here are a few facts about lead:

  • US FDA has enforced several action levels for the amount of lead that a person can consume without ill effects.
  • The latest Interim Reference Levels (IRLs) for children is 3mcg/day and for women in the childbearing age is 12.5mcg/day but to reach a BLL of 0.5mcg/dL, you need 10x of that amount.
  • The same literature showed no adverse effects of lead occurred at the blood lead level (BLL) with 0.5mcg/dL but levels more than this would require intervention. 
  • We may be drinking more lead from our water or from the food we eat if they were planted in soil contaminated with lead. You can test your drinking water using this water test kit to test lead content and other contaminants in your drinking water. 
  • The new standards on lead content for glasses is 10%. If anything is found to be more than 10%, it is considered to be crystal.

That said, not all crystal decanters should warrant alarm for us. In the case of antique crystals, it may have more than 36% lead content which was the standard in the '70s, and here we should take caution. 

Now, let's go back to the issue: how long should I leave my liquor in the crystal decanter. Research showed that lead takes at least 24 hours before it leaches into the 50/50 vinegar-water found in the decanter. Depending on the type of liquor in a crystal decanter, lead can leach at different levels. 

  • Lead starts to leach out from crystal decanter in minutes with wine; in fact, 50% of the leached lead comes from the 1st minute
  • Depending on the lead content of the crystal decanter, lead can leach up to 1000mcg/L in just 2 days in sherry, port, and scotch whiskey

With these figures, it would be safe to say that wine should never be served in lead crystal decanters or glasses. Couple that information that grapes planted in soil contaminated with lead will result in wine high in the lead since lead is not removed during the processing and cooking. In fact, one research gives an alarming statement about the severity of drinking liquors from a leaded crystal decanter

The good news is not all crystal decanters are leaded. We recommend you to find borosilicate crystals. They possess the same luster and brilliance without a threat to health. 

Which decanter shapes for which liquor

To accurately represent the liquors in the decanter, it is important to choose the right one. You might also want to label each decanter with these decanter labels so you won’t pour the wrong liquor.  

1. Gin

Gin is best served in a decanter with beveled corners. Since they are colorless, gin is best served in a clear decanter without embellishments or engravings. This design allows the refraction of light and adds beauty to gin. 

2. Tequila

Tequila is another liquor that will work well with a decanter with clean lines for the same reason as the gin. Decanting tequila takes away some of the stings from this intense liquor. Add intensity to your tequila with this raging bull decanter. Speak of keeping with tradition. 

3. Whiskey

A beautifully-weighted decanter is a perfect choice for the brute strength that whiskey wants to portray. Clean, bold lines paired work best for this liquor. 

Novelty and designed decanters can be used to serve whiskey and its other forms (bourbon, scotch, and rye) because the rich color of these liquors needs no masking and refracting to make it look more enticing. Another very good addition to your office or home bar is this globe-shaped decanter which can be used for any liquor. 

4. Vodka

Vodka works well with decanters with thick walls and base, especially if you chilled the vodka before decanting it. It is best to chill the decanter, too, before filling it. Choose a thick glass also when serving vodka as the thin glass may break when chilled through. 

Limit Your Lead Exposure

  1. Before using or washing your new crystalware, conduct a lead test. This kit can be used to test lead from glassware, toys, paint, and plumbing.
  2. Vinegar leaches out the lead. Soak your new crystal decanter and glasses with vinegar for 24 hours. 
  3. Hand wash crystal decanters and glasses with mild detergent. It may be more work but dishwasher detergents can cause minute abrasions on the crystalware causing more lead leaching
  4. Use only your crystal decanters and glasses for serving, never for storing


There are alternative decanters that we can use without jeopardizing our health. Borosilicate crystal decanters are a good alternative as it has the beauty of leaded crystals without the sting of fear of lead contamination. Another is to choose decanters that have less than 10% lead content in it. But the best solution is to limit unnecessary exposure to lead as we expose ourselves to it more than we ever know. 

Here is a good list of no lead decanters that you can choose from as well as personalized no lead decanters for your personal use or as gifts.

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