Many hose tags have a warning to not drink from the hose and/or with a California Prop. 65 warning, which for hoses likely means they contain lead.
A label that says “lead-free couplings” is not sufficient: Although the metal fittings will be low in lead, the flexible hose may contain lead as well as bromine, antimony, and phthalates; for example, both of the Swan Soft & Supple hoses and both of the Apex NeverKink hoses we tested.
“Lead-free” applies to the whole hose and thus is better than “lead-free couplings” alone. We tested 7 hoses with a “lead-free” label. While none had elevated lead, bromine, or other elements of concern, 3 contained phthalates.
Consider a non-PVC hose. Polyurethane hoses usually are labeled as such, while PVC hoses often have no material specified. PVC hoses are much more likely to contain heavy metals, flame retardants, and phthalates.
For kids’ water play and food plants, consider a hose labeled “drinking water safe,” especially if the label also says it’s made of polyurethane. In our testing, drinking-water-safe polyurethane hoses were more expensive but consistently had very low contaminant levels. (Examples from this study: Water Right Professional and Big Boss AquaStream Ultra Light.)
Polyurethane hoses not labeled safe for drinking may have lead in the metal fittings. In the present study, the highest lead level in a fitting, 1.6%, was found in a Hydrohose polyurethane hose.
For a lower cost option, PVC hoses labeled “drinking water safe” or “lead-free” (not just "lead-free fittings") were free of elevated lead, bromine, antimony, and tin. However, some of them contained phthalates.
Regardless of which hose you use, do not use water that has been left sitting in it. Let it run for about 5 seconds before using it.
Store hoses in the shade. Heat significantly increases the leaching of plastic additives into water.
Recommendations for manufacturers
Lead and phthalates are unnecessary additives in garden hoses and should be eliminated. Our study shows this is feasible for all parts of the hose, including brass fittings.
Recycled PVC e-waste should not be used in garden hoses because this introduces hazardous flame retardants, lead, organotins, and phthalates back into a new product used for water. This potentially increases contamination of soil, people, and pets. Lead, phthalates, bromine (suggesting flame retardants), antimony, and tin (suggesting organotins) remain common in the plastic parts of PVC hoses.