How to Test the Ink in Newspapers to See if It Is Toxic

By Sam Morgan; Updated April 25, 2017
Teenage girl reading a newspaper.

Older newspaper inks have been known to be toxic, but most modern inks have a base of soy or water. Not all newspapers are necessarily safe, however. Some newspapers might still use dangerous petroleum-based inks with a high amount of volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) in them. It is often best to test them to be on the safe side.

Testing Newspaper Ink

Place the newspaper up to a light source so you can see through it. How dark is the ink, compared to any source that you know is soy-based? If the ink color is less crisp or dark compared to the soy-based ink, it could have petroleum in it. This is because soy-based inks are known for being substantially darker than those which contain petroleum. To be on the safe side, it is best to dispose of any ink that looks too faded; it is more likely that this type of ink contains a higher amount of dangerous VOCs.

Slide your finger over the surface of the newspaper and rub it a little. If a lot of deep, inky black residue smudges your finger, this could mean that the newspaper is using petroleum oil, which never completely dries. Obviously, you should wash your hands afterward. The oil used in petroleum-based inks is similar to that used for automobile lubrication. It is not safe to have long contact with, and it is especially not safe to give to animals for bedding because they will tend to chew the newspaper.

Visit the newspaper’s website and look for information about what goes into the ink. Many sites will have information about the exact composition of the ink. If it contains petroleum, it’s less safe. But inks with soy as a listed ingredient will often be safer. Call the listed number on the newspaper to talk to staff directly if you can’t find any information on the newspaper’s website.

Take the newspaper to a university or lab if you have pressing reason to be concerned, and need a definite answer. They can test it for its properties directly. This option may involve some expense, and will obviously be easier or harder based on your access. But, outside of getting the information directly from the source, it’s the only way to be certain.

About the Author

Sam Morgan has a master's degree in environmental science and policy. Morgan has been interested in science writing since childhood, and enjoys writing about anything relating to science since it's challenging and interesting to learn about our world.