How Safe are Decanters? | Advanced Mixology



Almost everyone seems to go gaga over lead in decanters and other crystalware so it’s kind of intriguing why so many still want to justify the use of these for that matter. We understand that an industry may be at stake here so we come up with plausible efforts to make the best out of your decanters.

What is lead crystal?

First of all, let us clear the path for crystalware - decanters, stemware, dishes - that are used for food storage and service. First and foremost, lead crystal or simple crystal is a misnomer since these are not really crystals. Crystals are more common than we know - sugar, table salt, and gemstones such as diamonds. So, technically, crystalware is not really crystal but a type of glass. For the benefit of discussion for this article, we use the word crystal to mean something that contains lead oxide which gives it brilliance from its high reflective value.

Before we go any further, we have to establish that before anything can be called crystal, it has to have the following attributes. The European Union (EU) standard, though, is at 24% lead oxide. Aside from that, it has to have a density of more than 2.9 and a reflective index of more than 1.545. These very specific requirements make it easy to classify as crystal. However, the US Federal standards labels anything with more than 1% lead oxide to be crystal. 

The EU standard is currently used to classify crystals in the international arena so anything that satisfies these criteria is considered crystal. 

Are crystal decanters safe?

If safety is your concern, then your best bet is to keep your crystal decanters for display, rather than making use of it for your liquors. Research showed us that keeping wine in a crystal decanter shoots up the numbers of leached lead into the wine in just 4 months! The numbers are even staggering that considering to use a crystal decanter can verge on insanity but hey, who are we to judge? If someone is okay with more than 5000 mcg/L of lead in his wine, who are we to tell them otherwise? The fact that the approved 50mcg/L based on federal standards should be able to say everything. 

Are Waterford crystal decanters lead free?

Not all Waterford decanters used lead crystal. The Linsmore collection is known to be using lead crystal for their decanters and drinkware but the Elegance and Marquis collections use lead-free crystal. These collections use crystalline which is also a high-quality glass with the sparkle of crystal but without the threat of lead intoxication. In fact, only those very familiar with the nuances of real crystalware can differentiate the crystalline used in these series and the crystal used in the Linsmore series. The biggest tell is the lower price of these glassware and decanter series. 

Are Waterford decanters safe?

Waterford is very upfront with the lead content of their crystalware, containing over 33% of lead oxide which is higher than the standard 24% for the full lead crystal. Given this fact, Waterford or any crystal decanters for that matter are not really safe to use. 

Do all decanters have lead?

As we mentioned earlier, for the sake of this article, we agree that any mention of crystal equates to having lead oxide in it. However, depending on similar articles, some take into contention that not all decanters made of crystal have lead. For example, if you read the product description for decanters on Amazon, it is normal to read phrases like “lead-free crystal”. 

Does my decanter have lead in it?

Here are a few tests you can do to know if your decanter has lead in it. 

  • A simple test to know if a decanter has lead is to hold it against the light. If rainbows form on it, it means that it works like a prism, giving it a high reflective index that is an indication of lead oxide on it. 
  • Lead crystal decanters are also heavier than a glass one of the same or larger size. 
  • Price is also a good indicator since crystals are pricier than glass ones, even if the glass is as elaborate as the crystal.
  • Tap the decanter with a metal utensil - knife, fork or spoon. The sound has a good and clear ring to it compared to the slightly dull sound from a glass decanter.
  • Crystal decanters also do not have visible seams. Because they are more malleable and easier to work with than glass, the edges are smoother and the seams are well-hidden. 

If you already have a decanter that you are not sure if it contains lead, you can use a lead test kit. Although the test can be a bit of an expense, it is still less expensive than a laboratory lead test and you can see the result in just seconds. 

Is it safe to store liquor in crystal decanters?

No. As it is, liquors or water should not be stored in crystal decanters. Although water is less aggressive in coaxing the lead to leach out, lead still leaches out. Taking pipe fittings and faucets that leach lead, contaminating the water. Acidic liquids, like vinegar, wine and other liquors react with the lead in the crystal decanter, making it leach more compared to leaching when it is filled with water. 

Is it safe to store whiskey in a decanter?

Granting that the it made of glass and there is no threat for lead leaching into the whiskey, it is still not advisable to store whiskey in a decanter. Some pro tips tell us that whiskey can actually flatten out after a time in the decanter since these are not airtight. When the alcohol dissipates from the whiskey the aromas and flavors leave with it, resulting in a dull taste in the whiskey.  

Is it safe to use lead crystal decanter?

If safety is your main concern, no, it is not safe to use a lead crystal decanter for any liquor or spirit. 

The effects of lead intoxication is far-fetching especially for pregnant women and younger children. The most profound effect of lead in children is lower IQ and is more aggressive than we want them to be. Even after chelation, the effects of lead in the brain are irreversible. Sadly, we are more exposed to lead than we know with the water we drink or the paint used in kid’s toys and furniture. 

Scarier is that it does not have apparent symptoms and there is no safe level of lead exposure. Even if the US FDA has set a standard of 50 mcg/liter. Although the half-life of lead is low, just 36 days, if lead is ingested on a daily basis, it can accumulate to toxic levels before you know it.

So, if you can, stay away from lead decanters. In adults, lead poisoning can result in worsened conditions especially if you have aggravating conditions like paralysis, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and other diseases. It can also be aggravated when a woman is pregnant, lactating, or in the menopausal stage. The lead deposits in adults reside in the bones and teeth. These lead reserves are released into the bloodstream when a person has the aforementioned aggravating issues. As it is, lead is released from the body at a much slower rate than it is accumulated. 

In adults, treatment is recommended in persons with more than 80mcg/dL of lead in the blood. The safe level is 10mcg/dL. In children, the toxic level is 45mcg/dL but should be considered at 20mcg/dL. 

Basic Safety Tips

The most basic safety tip is also the shortest: No. Just stop making use of crystal decanters and other dishes and furniture painted with lead paints. 

If you still prefer to use lead crystal decanters, one way to lessen exposure is to wash it with a 1:1 water-vinegar solution. Soak it overnight and wash with dishwashing detergent and rinse well the following day.

Do not leave your liquors and wine in a crystal decanter overnight. If some is left after you and your friends have drunk your fill, transfer it to an empty bottle. Do not return it to a bottle with contents so it will not contaminate the wine or whiskey in the bottle. 

Conclusion

Crystal decanters can be touted as “beautiful death in a bottle”. On their own, they are not evil but caution should not be thrown to the wind when it comes to health. Keep using crystal decanters and other crystalware to a minimum to protect yourself. As it is, alcohol can have harmful effects on the body and you don’t want to take it a notch further by adding lead to it. 

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