Candid About Crystal


All crystal is glass, but all glass is definitely not crystal.

Crystal is mouth-blown glass that contains lead oxide. When added to molten glass, it adds weight and gives a much higher index of refraction than normal glass, greatly increasing sparkle and brilliance and creating a prism effect. It can be cut and faceted into intricate patterns.

There are several processes/techniques which are used to enhance crystal. These include etching and frosting; engraving; glazing and gilding. Colored glass is usually created from the fusing of two layers of glass, one clear and one colored. The cutter cuts onto the colored glass to reveal the clear glass. The color comes from the addition of metal oxides, i.e. real gold results in ruby; cobalt in blue; and iron oxide in green.

Terms generally used:

  • Full Lead Crystal: Glass containing at least 24% lead oxide can be called “full lead crystal”; however, many well-known brands contain higher levels into the 30%’s.
  • Lead Crystal: Glass containing 10-24% lead oxide.
  • Crystalline: glass containing 6-10% lead oxide. However, American standards permit clear glass containing any amount of lead to be considered “crystal”.


Crystal is a product that really requires personal perusal–at least at first. Once you have done your homework, reviewed and handled a variety of crystal, online purchasing is a viable option. But no Internet picture is going to allow you to see or feel differences in light refraction, color, quality of edges, balance and weighting. Information regarding lead content is often absent from websites that sell crystal, so it is wise to call the manufacturer or retailer about the specific item to determine whether it is full lead crystal. You may also wish to inquire as to whether the crystal product is hand-crafted or machine made. Many manufacturers make handcrafted crystalline, crystal and full-lead crystal, but also their lead-free, machine-made cousins, so one should not make assumptions based on only the name of the manufacturer.

High quality crystal will display the following qualities:

*Sparkle, clarity and translucency

*Smooth, precise, polished cuts and edges

*Uniform shape and thin walls

*No seams, as this indicates pressed glass that was molded, not mouth-blown

*Slight or few variations, such as bubbles, cords (small lines), chill and flow marks (surface indentations).

*A crisp, clear high-pitched ring when you tap the rim. Lower-pitched or muted sounds indicate lesser quality.


*Temper your crystal–get it gradually used to temperature changes–when adding hot or iced drinks. Never put boiling water into crystal, or put it in the freezer.

*Since crystal easily absorbs stains and odors, rinse glasses soon after use. As for vases and carafes, don’t leave flowers or wine in them for long, as they can become permanently stained.

*Use warm soapy water (no abrasives) to wash crystal (one at a time to avoid breakage), with a rubber mat or towel cushioning bottom of sink. Dry with a lint-free towel.

*Keep items away from dust, as it can act as an abrasive.

*Store glasses right side up to ensure the rims don’t chip–or put your crystal in a stemware rack.

* For water spots, sub on lemon juice or vinegar; for hard-to-clean stains or residue, use denture-cleaning table or mix uncooked rice with lemon juice or vinegar and swish it around; use ammonia, but never on metal rims or decoration.


For the most part the lead contained in lead crystal is not dangerous. However, since heavy metals accumulate in the body and can cause serious harm, consumers may want to follow some guidelines to reduce the danger that lead crystal can present. The FDA recommends that people rethink the way they use lead crystal for food and beverages.

–Soak your new crystal in vinegar for 24 hours, then rinse thoroughly.

–Use a mild soap, as abrasives can make lead leaching more likely.

–Do not store food or beverages for long periods in crystal. This is particularly important for juices, vinegar and alcoholic beverages.

–Do not pour wine/alcohol into guests’ glasses until time for drinking.

–Pregnant women should avoid using crystal.

One response

  1. Glen Heitritter

    If stemware is stored in wooden cabinets, will the glass absorb the odors from the wood, stain or sealant?

    February 9, 2013 at 3:31 pm

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