Seeking Safer Garden Hoses
A reader recently asked me to write about drinking quality or safe hoses. This is an often overlooked issue, because few people realize that most ordinary garden hoses are NOT safe to drink from. I learned this a few years ago when I trialed half a dozen hoses for various qualities. I am always looking for a hose that won’t kink easily, since I tend to drag them around corners, behind big rocks, and under bushes. At the time, I ended up preferring both Flexogen and Colorite Water Works hoses. Over time, however, my Flexogen hoses have gotten softer and more prone to kink.
After some five years of use (and mild abuse), the Colorite Water Works hoses are still in good shape and are still less readily kinkable. They remain more supple than most hoses in cold weather as well. In one informal test, I was able to demonstrate that this hose keeps on flowing even with a UPS truck parked on top of it.
What’s In That Hose Anyway?
Certain Water Works hoses (sold as safe to drink from) are among a mere handful that are indeed safe to drink from and mine have never developed that nasty, mildew flavor most hoses get with age. They are lined with medical grade plastic that prevents lead and other harmful substances in the hose itself from reaching the water.
I honestly never though twice about drinking from a hose until my kids were small. I discovered then that most hoses carry a disclaimer on the label. They read: “This hose is NOT intended for drinking water use. WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer. WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
Next time you shop for a hose, check the small print first. Often, the disclaimer is printed on the underside of the labels, where you can’t see it until after you buy. If this label is present, or if there is no disclaimer and no statement about drinking safety, it means that it is NOT a good idea to drink–or let your kids drink–from that particular hose.
It’s probably not a great idea to fill their kiddy splash pool with it, either. And you might not even want to use it on the vegetable patch or the bird bath. To find a new hose that doesn’t leach lead into the water, look for hoses that are labeled “Safe for drinking” or “Drinking quality safe”. Such hoses are rated safe because they don’t contain or release enough lead to be considered hazardous.
Mom Was Right
Remember when your mom told you not to drink from the hose? She was right. Until I began to research safe hoses, I had no idea that lead is a common stabilizer in the kind of plastic (polyvinyl chloride) used to make many types of hose, including garden hoses. The lead can often leach from these hoses, so a quick slurp on a hot day can deliver an unsafe amount of lead to an unsuspecting child, gardener, or dog. Hmmm.
What’s so bad about lead? Even small amounts can lead to brain damage, significant anemia, and other health problems, especially in children. Since lead damage is irreversible, a safe hose starts to seem like a bargain. In May of 2003, Consumer Reports Magazine tested 16 leading hose brands for lead. Even some of those labeled as safe contained tiny amounts of lead in water left standing in the hose for a day or so, but all the drinking quality hoses tested lead-free after running fresh water through them for a full minute.
Many other hoses not specifically labeled safe ended up leaching significant amounts of lead into the water passing through them. Bottom line? Don’t let your kids drink from any hose you don’t KNOW to be safe, and flush safe hoses well with clean running water first.
Which hoses are currently the safest? Consumer Report listed four: Gardener’s Supply Company hose #33-469, Teknor Apex Boat and Camper Self-Straightening, Swan Marine/Camper, and Better Homes And Gardens Kink-free. A quick check on the internet found all of these widely available, as well as quite a few newer models from many companies, including Flexogen and Colorite. However, it is important to understand that not all hoses from any company is safe to drink from: Only hoses specifically labeled as drinking quality or drinking safe are safe to drink from.
If you can’t find such hoses locally, do a Google search using “hose safe drinking” or similar key words. You’ll find about a million links to sites selling safe hoses, as often for campers and boaters as for gardeners. Some sites even offer lists of hoses along with vendors offering the best prices (add “best prices” to your word search). Prices ranges from $15 for a 15-foot lightweight safe hose to about $50 for a 50-foot, 2-ply, reinforced heavy duty safe hose.
Tip: Don’t Drive Over The Hose
Drinking water quality hoses are guaranteed to remain safe for a lifetime. I’m pretty sure that the manufacturer would not recommend allowing the UPS truck to park on one, but with more careful use, these admittedly expensive hoses will last a long, long time.
Here’s a link to several choices: