Abstract Commercial home test kits are advertised as a convenient means for assessing heavy metal hazards in old ceramic dinnerware. This paper reports investigations carried out with four commercial kits for detection of lead (Pb) and one for detection of cadmium (Cd) on pre-1970s ceramic dishes subsequently subjected to 24-h leaching tests with 4% acetic acid to determine heavy metal release. With the lead kits, fewer than 10% of dishes leaching greater than 3.0 μg Pb/ml yielded negative results (i.e. false negatives). When the cadmium kit was used according to manufacturer's instructions, 29% of dishes leaching greater than 0.5 μg Cd/ml yielded false negatives. Home lead test kits appear to be useful for screening of old dinnerware, but the cadmium kit may not be suitable for this purpose.