Can leaded glass be used in a backsplash?

Answered by Jeffrey ~ November 8, 2010 ~ Comments

I want to install a new backsplash in my kitchen using vintage leaded glass from old windows in combination with tile. Would the lead be toxic? How would it stand up to heat behind the stove?

Linda ~ Seattle, Washington

Jeffrey Anderson

Hi Linda, It sounds like the makings of a very pretty kitchen backsplash. I have never seen a kitchen backsplash using leaded glass, but that doesn't mean that it can't be done.

I wouldn't think that the lead in your vintage glass would be toxic, but when it comes to the safety of your family that's an issue that you're going to have to make your own decision on. I will say that there are a lot of vintage leaded glass drinking glasses, wine glasses, and wine decanters in use on a regular basis and I don't think there has ever been a safety issue with them. You can probably find them in higher end antique stores around where you live in Seattle, Washington and I know that my parents have a set they use for the holidays and we have never gotten sick.

The heat issue is a little different with it being vintage glass. I have seen a lot of glass kitchen backsplashes and also a lot of glass tile kitchen backsplashes and have never heard of any problems with the heat affecting the glass. I assume you're having a glass shop cut your tiles out of the vintage glass windows you have so you might want to get a couple of sample tiles cut at first. The glass shop is probably going to want to cut a few sample tiles anyway as a sort of trial run. I would take those tiles and place them adjacent to your stove while cooking for a week or so to see if the heat does anything to them. I really don't think it will, but you just don't know until you try as there's no telling what their procedures were for making the glass if it's really old.

I think my main concern would be a sanitary issue. Most kitchen backsplashes have a fairly smooth surface for ease of cleaning. The exception is when someone uses 4 or 6 inch ceramic tile and you have the uneven grout lines, but even then they are normally sealed so that food particles can't get in. Most of the leaded glass I've seen has a pretty rough surface, and while food is not going to be able to penetrate the glass, it might be a little difficult to wipe it clean. You can see what your glass looks like and I can't so you can make a better determination on that than I can.

One last consideration I'll mention is that some vintage glass can be pretty thin so you might want to keep that in mind when selecting your ceramic tiles. I don't know what type of pattern you have in mind for the leaded glass and ceramic tiles, but you aren't going to want a lot of difference in thickness between the two materials as that could really create a cleaning nightmare and probably wouldn't look too good either.

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