What is Lead Crystal?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Lead crystal is made from glass that has been treated with lead oxide and hand or machine cut to make facets. This gives the glass a higher index of refraction and creates an attractive sparkling effect that is prized throughout the world.

Exposure to lead crystal may cause abdominal cramping, as well as other unpleasant symptoms.
Exposure to lead crystal may cause abdominal cramping, as well as other unpleasant symptoms.

Englishman George Ravenscroft is credited with discovering lead crystal in 1676. Today, a number of companies are known for making it, and they produce drinking glasses and serving dishes, as well as sculptures, miniatures, jewelry, chandeliers, candle holders, Christmas ornaments, and home décor items from this material.

In many families, lead crystals will be passed from generation to generation.
In many families, lead crystals will be passed from generation to generation.

Lead crystal can be purchased from jewelry stores, fine department stores, and online specialty shops. Prices will vary according to the type of item, manufacturer, and quality of the crystal. It is a popular gift for weddings, anniversaries, graduations, and baby showers. In fact, lead crystal keepsakes are passed from generation to generation in many families.

Lead crystal may be used to produce drinking glasses.
Lead crystal may be used to produce drinking glasses.

While lead crystal is undoubtedly beautiful, it is notoriously fragile. Since even dust can act as a damaging abrasive agent, great care must be taken to clean and store items made from this material. Experts recommend that owners use a blow dryer on the cool air setting to remove dry dust particles from crystal items. People should avoid using harsh commercial cleaners, but it is safe to polish the crystal gently with a soft, lint-free cloth. To avoid leaving unsightly fingerprints, cleaners always wear gloves when working. If possible, crystal should be stored in a locked glass display cabinet.

Pregnant women should avoid lead crystal.
Pregnant women should avoid lead crystal.

Some types of crystal can contain up to 33% lead, so people should use caution when drinking or eating from it. Acidic food and beverages, such as pickles, fruit juices, wine, or soft drinks, can leach significant amounts of lead from the containers they are stored in. Research has shown that lead exposure can cause forgetfulness, memory loss, nausea, depression, fatigue, joint pain, vomiting, and abdominal cramping. High levels of lead exposure can even lead to sterility or brain damage.

To reduce the risks associated with eating and drinking from lead crystal, people should always store food and beverages in lead-free containers and only transfer them to the crystal immediately before serving. New crystal can be soaked in vinegar for 24 hours before it's used, washed by hand with a mild detergent, and rinsed thoroughly with lukewarm water. Since the dangers of lead exposure are even more prominent for children and pregnant women, however, it’s best to avoid using lead crystal entirely for these groups.

Lead consumption can cause forgetfulness.
Lead consumption can cause forgetfulness.
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the wiseGEEK team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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Discussion Comments


how do i cut the bottom off a lead crystal decanter/vase?


Does all lead crystal say lead crystal? What about a decanter that says crystal? How would I know. Help!


The whitish deposits are most likely hard water mineral deposits. You might try a cleaning solution of vinegar and water.


How can you tell lead crystal from ordinary glass?


For cleaning purposes you can buy small ball bearings specially designed for swirling around decanters. Crystal Decanters


Have recently heard of lead crystal diamonds by swarovski. Do these have any harm on your skin? And also, do cubic zirconia (CZ diamonds) also contain harmful levels of lead?


Might denture cleaning tablets work? Have used them on vinegar cruets and flower vases too difficult to reach otherwise. Don't know if I did the right thing or not, but items came clean.


How do I clean whitish deposits on the inside of lead crystal decanters?


My crystal water glasses have developed a white-ish stain. How can I make them sparkle again?

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