What Are the Pros and Cons of Using an Old Decanter?

Dan Cavallari

An old decanter can be used to store wine, liquor, or other liquids in an attractive unit that is eye catching and even perhaps vintage. Decanters are great for separating sediment from wine, or for allowing the wine flavors to become bolder or more pronounced as oxygen interacts with it. Other decanters are merely decorative, as is the case with whiskey decanters. While an old decanter may look very nice, one must be careful using old crystal decanters, as lead in the crystal can leach into the liquids being stored, potentially leading to health problems.

Whiskey decanters are commonly used for decoration.
Whiskey decanters are commonly used for decoration.

Many experts say the lead in the crystal is not significant enough to cause any health problems, though others advise pregnant women and people with existing health problems to avoid such products. If the old decanter is made of crystal, it may be wise to use the unit simply for decorative purposes rather than for serving liquids for drinking. The decanter can be used as a planter, or simply a knick knack on a shelf meant for display. If the owner cleans out the decanter thoroughly and feels comfortable using the unit despite the risk of the presence of lead, he or she may do so, but it is wise to use the unit only sparingly rather than on a daily basis.

Newer decanters made of glass may be less of a health risk than older decanters made from lead crystal.
Newer decanters made of glass may be less of a health risk than older decanters made from lead crystal.

Care must be taken with an old decanter to prevent damage to it. Depending on how well the unit has been taken care of over the years, the materials may be brittle and more susceptible to cracking or breakage. The units must be cleaned thoroughly, and non-abrasive cleaning agents should be used to prevent scratching or other damage. Glass decanters may become cloudy over time, depending on the manner in which the unit has been stored. It is probably not possible to clear up such cloudiness, so the old decanter may not live up to everyone's presentation standards.

Some decanters come with stoppers meant to prevent oxygen from entering the decanter and affecting the flavors of the contents. The stopper can wear out over time and allow the passage of oxygen into the decanter, so it is important to keep this in mind if the owner of the old decanter plans to preserve the flavor of the contents. One should inspect the stopper carefully for damage as well; a crack in the stopper can lead to a splinter of glass or crystal that can end up in the liquid being contained in the decanter.

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