Illegal and Black Market Faucets
in North America
Index to Reviews of Illegal & Black Market Faucet Brands
Click on a brand name to display the ore review and rating report for that brand.
Index to Reviews of the Legal and Safe Faucets Brands
These are the legal faucet brands we are now tracking that are certified free of lead and other toxic materials and safe to use in a drinking water sytem. Some of the faucets these brands sell are not very good faucets, but all of them sell safe faucets.
Click on a brand name to display the ore review and rating report for that brand.
Not every faucet sold by general merchandising sites such as Amazon, Overstock, and Wayfair is an illegal, contraband faucet. Most are. But, some are not.
Many of these sites sell the major brands: brands are wholly reputable and completely legal to sell and install in the U.S. and Canada. Note 1
The problem is not with the established brands. You can be sure that name brands like are going to be certified safe and legal to sell in the U.S. and Canada.
Established companies are not going to risk the large civil penalties and even criminal sanctions that can result from selling uncertified faucets, or the resulting harm to their hard-won reputations for quality products and fair dealing.
It's the off-brands that are the problem and not even all of these. Some no-name brands are responsible and careful to ensure that their faucets are safe and legal. But, a large number simply ignore the rules for legally selling faucets in North America, including the requirement that the faucets be certified lead-free and drinking-water safe.
All of these contraband faucets are made overseas, mostly in China, but not all. A few are manufactured in Taiwan, India, Israel, Italy, and Viet Nam. So, the country of origin is not a sure indicator of a safe and legal faucet.
Determining which off-brand faucets are legal and safe and which are not is not a simple process.
Sellers of black market faucets do not identify their products as contraband. On the contrary, many claim their faucets are completely lawful, going so far, in our experience, as to produce altered and forged documentation when asked to prove the legitimacy of their products.
So, how do you avoid contraband faucets, and more importantly, why should you bother?.
Should you care whether a faucet complies with the complex web of U.S. or Canadian laws and regulations? Isn't this just more government interference in our already over-regulated lives?
The short answer is no, it isn't. Which is not to say that some government regulations are unnecessary, intrusive, and a confounded nuisance. Faucets regulations are not among them, however.
Faucets can be dangerous. They can introduce all manner of toxic materials into your household drinking and cooking water: lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and other dangerous substances, all undetectable and all very hazardous to health even in small amounts. Note 2
No one, not even the most experienced plumber, can look at a faucet or a pretty picture of a faucet on Amazon or Wayfair and detect whether it contains toxic materials. Faucets containing hazardous amounts of known toxins look just like faucets that are perfectly harmless.
The only way to ensure that a faucet is not dangerous is to extensively test it in a licensed laboratory.
This is why testing is required by law and why faucets that have not been tested and certified free of toxins and other hazards are banned in every State and Province in North America.
The Rise of Black Market Faucets
Unfortunately, there are a growing number of untested, contraband faucets being sold in the U.S. and Canada. By far the greatest number are from mainland China where lead and other contaminants in faucets are all too common and all but unregulated.
Engineer, Lawyer, Master Plumber & Steamfitter (1906-1995)
These are a fairly new problem. As recently as 2010 there were almost none. The three companies selling most of the Asian faucets in the U.S. and Canada, imported (and still import) fully tested, lawful, good quality faucets.
In 2015, however, the situation began to change.
Amazon had been selling in China for years in competition with China's home-grown Amazon-like web retailer, Alibaba. But, it had not been able to loosen Alibaba's stranglehold on its home market. In 2013, for example, Alibaba's sales were estimated to be $420 million while Amazon reported sales in China of just $74 million.
But, then Amazon had a brainstorm. Instead of trying to compete in China, why not entice the Chinese to sell in North America where profit margins are higher and competition less aggressive by offering favorable rates and terms for Chinese merchants to sell on Amazon. So began a program that Amazon dubbed "Operation Panda."
Panda attracts Chinese sellers primarily through conferences held in large cities across China each year that attract droves of merchants looking to sell in North America.
The result has been successful beyond Amazon's wildest dreams. With the tacit encouragement of the Chinese government which is always looking for ways to increase exports, Chinese manufacturers flocked to the very friendly, almost unregulated, Amazon platform that enabled them to reach an untapped trove of millions of potential buyers in the U.S. and Canada.
The statistics tell the story. Note 3
- Of the estimated 2,500,00 hosted sellers on Amazon, about 25% are based in China.
- China-based sellers constitute the second-largest national group on Amazon. U.S.-based sellers are the largest group. Canada is a distant third.
- Over 250,000 Chinese Sellers joined Amazon as sellers in 2019 alone.
- Of the 5,000 top-selling brands on Amazon, 44% are sold by China-based sellers.
- China-based sellers account for nearly one-third of Amazon's marketplace revenue and most of its year-over-year revenue growth.
The result has been a deluge of Chinese-made no-name brand goods of all sorts, including highly regulated products like faucets and showers.
Today, nearly 90% of the faucets sold on Amazon are illegal Note 4 and by far the vast majority of these originate in China. So many new brands are popping up each year that our reviewers cannot keep up even with just those that have made significant inroads into the North American marketplace.
Which of these Chinese-made faucets does not harbor harmful amounts of lead, mercury, arsenic, or cadmium?
You can’t tell by looking at the pictures or even the actual faucets.
There is no visual indication of safety. The faucets need to be extensively tested to find out, then certified free of these hazardous materials.
The made-in-China Pfister Port Haven GT31-TDD kitchen faucet on the left has been laboratory tested and is certified lead-free and drinking water safe.
The kitchen faucet on the right, also made in China by a company you have never heard of, has not been certified and may contain the high amounts of lead and other dangerous substances allowed in faucets by Chinese regulators.
Most of the reason for the explosive growth of no-name-brand imported faucets is the relative ease with which a Chinese faucet manufacturer can get started in the business of selling faucets in North America on Amazon and similar retail platforms.
They make selling in North America easy by providing the services that contraband sellers need: fully functioning international distribution systems that, for a small fee, relieves the Chinese faucet seller of the burden of handling advertising, promotion, order-taking, customer service, warehousing, and inventory control.
Black Market Faucet Websites
Without the retail platforms provided by online retailers such as Amazon, eOverstock, eBay, and Wayfair, the black market in illegal faucets would not exist at the enormous scale it has reached over the past decade. By providing easy access to third-party sellers without taking steps to ensure that the products being sold are legal for sale in the U.S., these hosting websites are largely responsible for creating the market in illegal faucets and other plubing products.
The common online selling models used in e-commerce today were largely developed by eBay and Amazon at the dawn of the Internet age.
The hosted third-party seller was the brainchild of eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, who envisioned creating an online platform through which a person with an item to sell could easily connect with buyers interested in the product.
He modeled eBay, founded in 1995, on the venerable flea market in which seller and buyer negotiated a sale face to face. In Omidyar's internet version, face-to-face contact was replaced by an auction in which the seller offered a product and buyers bid on it during a fixed bidding period, with the highest bid winning. The seller paid a fee for hosting, advertising, and managing the sale.
The model attracted its original target: individual sellers offering mostly used items and collectibles. But, more important to eBay's success, it also attracted corporate sellers looking for novel ways to sell consumer products over the then very new World Wide Web. The auction model did not easily fit the needs of these commercial sellers, however, so eBay introduced eBay "stores" and the "Buy it Now" option in 2000.
Stores allowed commercial sellers to develop a brand identity on eBay, reinforced with buyer ratings. Buy-it-now permitted sellers to bypass the often slow-moving auction process to speed up the pace of sales and increase profits by charging higher, buy-it-now prices.
Amazon pioneered the modified drop-ship model that allowed the company to appear to have a vast inventory of products for sale, while, in reality, stocking very few. In the eBay model, the host's involvement ended at the completion of the sale. The seller was (and still is) responsible for delivery after the sale and handling returns, exchanges, and warranty issues.
Amazon added fulfillment and after-sale customer service and made it an enormously licrative business.
Founded in 1995 by Jeff Bezos as an Internet bookseller, Amazon initially had fewer than 2,000 titles in inventory, filling most orders through agreements with third-party wholesalers and publishers to deliver books to Amazon only as they were purchased by Amazon customers. Amazon's receiving warehouse then shipped the products to the customers in Amazon packaging, leaving the customer with the impression that Amazon stocked a huge inventory.
After its initial public offering in 1997, Amazon used newly raised capital to expand rapidly into selling a vast array of consumer products, maintaining its deliver-when-sold model through fulfillment contracts with suppliers such as Target, Toys-r-us, Circuit City and Borders. Amazon sold the items but these contractors shipped them.
The company did not begin to host third-party sellers until 2000 when it launched Amazon Marketplace, in part to compete head-to-head with rival eBay. The idea of inviting retailers to sell competing products on Amazon was a risky concept at the time. No one had any idea how much impact the program would have on Amazon's direct sales.
It did affect direct sales but its impact was vastly outweighed by the enormous expansion of products offered for sale on the platform and the increased income derived from providing services to hosted sellers.
Amazon improved on eBay's hosted-seller model by adding fulfillment services made possible by the company's extensive network of warehouses and nationwide distribution, assets that eBay does not have. For a modest fee, Amazon takes care of warehousing, inventory control, picking, packaging, handling, shipping, and returns, making it possible for even very small retailers to sell efficiently and at a very low cost on the Amazon platform.
Wal-Mart already operating a national warehousing and distribution system to serve brick and mortar stores, adopted the Amazon model almost unchanged, adding only an option of free in-store pickup, something not available to Amazon, which, until very recently, had no physical stores. Wal-Mart's online sales have seen steady growth.
Until 2018 Walmart sold very few black market faucets. In the past five years or so, it has gotten much laxer, embarking on its own program to attract Chinese sellers of all kinds to its online selling platform. One result is that Walmart now offers more contraband faucets for sale than any other internet site, second only to Amazon.
Like the early Amazon book store, Wayfair and Overstock appear to a potential customer as though they stock millions of items in inventory. In actual fact, they stock very few of the items they sell through the Wayfair and Overstock platforms.
Wayfair rarely handles the merchandise sold through its website. Its over 7,000 suppliers tend to be substantial businesses with their own inventory management and warehousing facilities.
Founded in 2002 as CSN Stores to sell storage furniture, by 2011, the company operated over 200 online niche websites, each selling a specific type of furnishing or household product such as cookware.com, strollers.com and luggage.com. The individual outlets other than AllModern and Josh & Main were consolidated into Wayfair by the end of 2012.
When an item is sold on Wayfair, the seller is notified to package the item in Wayfair packaging and ship it to the customer. The seller saves money on shipping by piggy-backing on Wayfair's favorable shipping rates with UPS, FedEx and the postal service.
These direct sales constitute about 15% of its business and very nearly all of its warehoused inventory. The other 85% of its business are what it calls "fulfillment partners", third-party sellers who warehouse their own inventory. These products also tend to be closeout lots. A company like Swatch that does not want to discount last year's watches on its main website alongside this year's pricier models may sell its outdated inventory through Overstock, which never handles the inventory. It just takes the order and instructs Swatch to ship the merchandise.
Overtock and its CEO have a checkered compliance history. The company was investigated in 2005 for violating the Federal Trade Commission Act and paid a multi-million dollar fine in 2017 for false advertising that knowingly "misled customers".
The model has, for the most part, been successful. Overstock's initial public offering in 2002 raised $37 million in new capital. The company's 2015 revenue of $1.6 billion capped a six-year record of steady revenue growth since it first reached the billion-dollar mark in 2010.
These are not the only culprits, of course. we have found contraband faucets on plumbing and builder websites like Home Depot, Lowes, and even on Ferguson Enterpries websies like Build.com and FaucetsDirect,
These are still fairly rare but increasing as brick-and-mortar retailers struggle to complete with on-line sellers.
Of the big-box lumber stores, only Menards has so far avoided selling illegal faucets.
But, while the main offender is Amazon, other sites that host third-party sellers are also guilty. These include, but by no means are limited to Overstock, Wayfair, and Walmart.
Amazon, in particular, is the top choice of Chinese sellers. It is so efficient that a faucet can be advertised, displayed, sold, packaged, shipped, tracked, and delivered for a cost that is only a little more than an independent seller would typically pay for shipping alone.
The hosted seller does not need a website, a warehouse, bookkeeping, a sales staff, customer service, or even a telephone number — saving most of its start-up costs and most of its operating expenses.
Being listed on Amazon, or Wayfair is also an easy road to brand respectability.
Rather than slowly building up a brand's reputation through advertising and word-of-mouth over a period of years if not decades, a listing on a major hosting site alongside brings with it instant brand credibility not available from a stand-alone website, and a giant boost in buyer confidence in the reliability of the third-party seller.
Why? Because we, as buyers, are confident that Amazon, Wayfair, and Over stock carefully screen the products sold on their websites, eliminating the illegal and unsafe.
(In fact, as we will see later in this article, that confidence is misplaced. None of these hosting websites actively vet their faucets.)
It is also a lot easier to get found. Rather than painstakingly tweaking a website to work up to and keep a coveted first-page placement in Google searches, the hosting site takes care of that for you. A listing on Amazon or Overstock helps ensure that potential customers can easily find your faucets among the thousands for sale on the world wide web.
Of course, hosting sites don't do all these nice things for free. For them, it's a very lucrative business.
Amazon's third-party "marketplace" sellers produce about half of Amazon's annual sales, contributing significantly to the company's sustained growth that resulted in a net income $ 21.33 billion in 2020, almost double the $11.6 billion income of its prior year.
The New York Times Note 5 estimates that more than 50% of Amazon's revenues are derived from selling services rather than selling products. A major part of the services it provides are to hosted marketplace sellers of which 25% are based in China.
A selling option not available to the North American-based faucet companies is selling over a China-based hosting website. Chinese hosting sites are closed to all but Chinese sellers.
These sites have scratched out a foothold in North America, promoting their "wholesale" and "factory direct" prices. Some have been operating for several years but have been little noticed until very recently and still do not have much recognition, trust, or market penetration on this side of the mare Pacifica. But, some of these are monster enterprises, and thoroughly entrenched in much of the rest of the world.
Lightinthebox, for example, is aimed at buyers in Europe and North America where prices and profit margins are much higher than on its home field in China.
It started out in 2007 selling discounted wedding gowns and is still heavily skewed toward women's wear. But, it has steadily expanded its offerings to include items such as faucets and bath wares.
Its IPO in 2013 raised $86 million, even though it has never had a profitable year. It makes most of its money in Europe, where it is a minor powerhouse. It allows only Chinese sellers — European and American sellers need not apply. Its North American penetration remains shallow. Canada and U.S. sales produced only 19% of the company's 2013 revenues compared with Europe which generated 62%. But, it is working to improve its North American market performance, including a recently established fulfillment center in the U.S. for faster delivery times to North American buyers.
We have not found a single faucet on LightInTheBox that is legal to sell or install in the U.S. or Canada. Some are identified as certified to U.S./Canadian standards but these claims have uniformly proven to be false.
AliExpress is an Amazon-like e-tail shopping mall selling Chinese products to consumers outside China. Launched in 2010. It is already one of the largest Internet retailers in the world. It's parent, Alibaba Group, controlled by founder Ma Bun (AKA Jack Ma), is an experienced e-commerce Leviathan that also operates the even more massive business-to-business website, Alibaba.com, and two Internet shopping malls for Chinese consumers: Taobao and the more upscale TMall.
According to the Wall St. Journal*, Alibaba handles 80% of China's online shopping and its gross sales in 2013 were $248 billion (US), one-third more than Amazon and e-Bay combined. Alibaba's initial public offering in 2014 was the biggest in history, raising $25 billion U.S. dollars.
Only merchants based in China are allowed to sell on the website.
Thes same restriction applies on DHGate, no foreigners allowed. The company started in 2004 as a business-to-business portal connecting small and medium-size Chinese manufacturers to overseas buyers has very quickly become a source for consumer purchases by adding retail-friendly features such as easy international credit card payments, prices stated in U.S. dollars and U.S.-based product distribution. By 2015 it listed nearly 40 million products from 1.2 million Chinese suppliers.
Until 2015, Chinese sites were the primary source of untested black-market faucets in North America. Almost all of the faucets sold on these sites are untested and completely illegal to sell in the U.S. or Canada. The problem of contraband faucets, however, was a minor blip. Taken together the illegal sellers made up just a tiny fraction of the 6% market share claimed by Asian-made faucets.
*Twice the Size of Amazon: Alibaba Is Ready for Its Close-Up. Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company,, Inc. 16 Apr 2014. Web. 5 Sep 2021.
Chinese faucet sellers descended on the North American market in two waves.
First came the Chinese traders and brokers. These companies were already familiar with exporting goods to North America and found an easier and cheaper path to North American customers being offered by domestic hosting websites. They began selling faucets, slowly at first, then came the flood.
Amazon, Wayfair, Overstock, and, to a letter extent, eBay are where North Americans shop. These sites are trusted online retailers and the go-to e-commerce stores for hordes of U.S. and Canadian consumers. Over 300 million Americans shop on Amazon alone, well over 90% of the adult population of the country.
Third-party sellers cloak themselves in the hosting site's respectability, helping ensure buyer confidence in the strange new faucet brands they sell, a benefit they cannot get from sites located in Asia.
In a second wave, Chinese faucet factories entered the market as direct sellers, bypassing the traditional Chinese and North American middlemen.
Before Amazon's Operation Panda, only a few Asian faucet manufacturers sold their products directly to North American consumers. Rather, they concentrated on making faucets and faucet components for North American companies that sold the faucets under familiar brand names such as
Fewer than two dozen major Asian factories had virtually monopolized the U.S. and Canadian markets. The larger scale of Chinese manufacturers like as well as Taiwanese factories such as NCIP enabled them to offer pricing and service that smaller factories could not match..
Only a very few tried to penetrate the market with a new and unfamiliar brand. The most successful of these was It began selling its faucets in the U.S. in 2000. It was ultimately successful, but not without years of struggle.
Operation Panda introduced Chinese manufacturers to the idea that they could gain easy entry to the giant North American faucet market through U.S. based hosting websites without the cost and bother of establishing a physical presence in the U.S. or Canada, the complexity of linking up with a domestic distributor, or the pesky nuisance managing their North American inventories, maintaining a website, Note 6 or handling the sales process.
As a result, the number of off-brand faucets offered on U.S.-based hosting websites has increased explosively in just a decade.
In 2010 just a dozen or so of these faucet brands were being sold by third-party retailers on Amazon. Today most of the sink faucets shown on Amazon are offered through independent, hosted sellers, often operating as what Amazon calls "storefronts", selling preciously unknown brand names such as to name just a few.
There are two major problems with these third-party off-brand faucets:
- Very few have been tested and certified to U.S./Canadian faucet standards and
- There is usually no effective after-sale support, which means that there is no source for replacement parts and little likelihood of making a successful claim under warranty — even if the faucet has a warranty, and most do not.
Faucets Testing and Certification
Because of their potential for harm to persons and the environment, faucets, like automobiles, are strictly regulated products in the U.S. and Canada; subject to what are called "mandatory standards".
You cannot sell a new car that does not meet minimum emission and safety standards. The same is true of faucets.
Not just anything with a shiny finish used to control the flow of water can be legally sold as a faucet. It must first be tested and certified by one of seven accredited testing organizations Note 7 to meet North American safety and reliability standards that are among the strictest in the world.
There are three basic faucet standards in effect throughout North America:
- ASME A112.18.1/CSA 125.1 ("Plumbing Fixture Fittings"), which is the joint U.S. and Canadian standard that ensures the safety, reliability and durability of faucets;
- ANSI/NSF 372 ("Lead Free Plumbing Products") which limits the amount of lead in a the parts of a faucet that touch water, Note 8 and
- ANSI/NSF 61 ("Drinking Water System Components - Health Effects"), which ensures that water passing through a faucet does not pick up lead or dozens of other harmful substances while passing through the faucet.
ANSI/NSF 372: Lead Content
The ANSI/NSF 372 standard is very strict. It permits no more than a "weighted average" of 0.25% (one-quarter of 1 percent) lead in the parts of a faucet that come in contact with water. This is often called the "content standard".
Lead content in brass can be measured in several ways, most of which destroy the test sample during testing. The most common non-destructive method, and easiest to use, is X-ray fluorescence in which high energy electrons striking a brass sample cause it to emit x-rays. A detector identifies the elements in the brass by analyzing the energy spectra of the x-rays, showing the results on a screen.
Early detectors were the size of a small car and required considerable expertise to interpret the results, usually displayed on a graph. Modern detectors are hand-held and display the results as numeric values requiring no interpretation.
ANSI/NSF 61: Drinking Water Safety
The ANSI/NSF 61 safe drinking water standard restricts the amount of lead and a wide variety of other harmful contaminants that may be absorbed by water as it passes through a faucet. Note 9 The limit of lead absorption is a maximum of 5 parts per billion (ppb).
To determine the level of absorption of lead and other contaminants, faucets undergo a rigorous three-week course of testing in which the faucets are exposed to typical household water formulations, including various blends of mineral-rich water, designed to extract specific types of contaminants. If any are found in concentrations above what is considered a safe level, the faucet fails and is not certified.
A faucet that passes is as free of lead and other toxic materials as current technology allows.
The lead and toxic materials standards in other countries are much less rigorous.
The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) has been working toward a common European standard for several years but has found it difficult to find agreement among its member countries with widely varying water systems. The strictest national standard is probably Germany's which allows 10 ppb of lead in drinking water, twice the North American legal limit.
In China, where most black market faucets originate, testing standards (GB18145) do not include a lead contamination limit for faucets, and faucets sold in China's home market often contain dangerous amounts of lead.
Lead in brass makes the material more malleable and easier to form. Its safer substitute, bismuth, is ten times more expensive, so Chinese manufacturers tend to prefer brass with a relatively high lead content to keep costs down.
Shi Hongwei, Deputy Director of Quality Supervision for China's National Building Material Industry, Inspection and Testing Center promised in 2013 that China would implement standards for heavy metal content in plumbing fixtures in 2014. But, 2014 has come and gone without action by the Chinese government. Note 10
ASME A112.18.1/CSA 125.1: Faucets Durability, Safety, and Reliability
The North American reliability, safety, and durability standards contained in ASME A112.18.1/CSA 125 are also very rigorous.
Faucet Life Cycle Testing
While ASME/NSF 61 and 372 are intended to protect you against harmful substances that may pass from the faucet to the ware flowing through the faucet, ASME A112.18.1 looks at the mechanical safety of the faucets. For example, it tests for thermal stability to ensure that once the water temperature is set, the faucet maintains that temperature. It should not change the temperature on its own, unbidingly spewing out scalding hot water after being set to lukewarm.
Faucets are required to function without leaking at pressures of 20 to 125 (137895 to 861845 Pa) at temperatures between 40°F and 160°F (4.44 to 71.1°C). The flow rate of the faucet may not exceed 2.2 gallons per minute (8.33 liters per minute) at a water pressure of 60 psi (413685 Pa).
The faucet must be designed to be serviced from the top of the faucet without being uninstalled.
Sprays that can be pulled out or down far enough to touch the water in a sink must include backflow prevention in their design so contaminated sink water cannot be drawn back into the household drinking water system.
A faucet is tested for corrosion resistance. It must show no effects after prolonged contact with soap and household cleaners or mild abrasives. Its bending strength is tested to ensure that it cannot be deformed under even rigorous household use.
Faucets valves and cartridges are tested for long life and durability. The standard test requires operating the faucet through 500,000 on/hot/cold/off cycles under 60 psi of water pressure without a single failure. At about two cycles per second, the test takes three full days to complete.
Five hundred thousand cycles are equivalent to about 70 years of ordinary kitchen faucet use, which means that the faucet is very robust.
But, some manufacturers voluntarily test their faucets to even stricter standards. The new Diamond Seal Technology® ceramic cartridge used in Masco's faucets were tested to four million cycles while under development in Germany – equivalent to about 700 years and 560 years respectively of use in an average kitchen.
In other countries, the standard is much less rigorous. The European (EN 817) and Chinese (GB18145) requirement is just 70,000 cycles.
The Consequences of Failing to Certify Faucets
Failure to certify a faucet's compliance with U.S. and Canadian faucet standards can have some serious legal consequences.
The first is that the faucet is not lawful for installation in any drinking water system in the U.S. or Canada. Every plumbing code in effect in North American requires that only certified faucets may legally be used in a household water system. Note 11
The Energy Policy and Conservation Act limits water flow from sink faucets to a maximum of 2.2 gallons per minute (GPM) at 60 PSI, and requires each faucet be tested to by an accredited testing organization to determine whether it meets the flow limit, and its compliance certified by filing a statement with the Department of Energy. The Act prohibits faucets that have not been tested and certified from being "distributed in commerce" in the U.S. Note 12
The penalty for importing, selling, or offering to sell a faucet that does not meet maximum flow limits or that has not been certified is $440.00 per day for each non-compliant faucet distributed in commerce.
The Department of Commerce can look back to the day the faucet was first placed in commerce in the U.S. and assess retroactive penalties of several hundred thousand dollars. For a second "willful" offense, the penalty is criminal prosecution, a $50,000 fine, and six months imprisonment for each offense.
Each day a non-compliant faucet is offered for sale in the U.S. is a separate offense. A seller that offers 10 illegal faucets for sale for ten days commits 100 separate offenses, so the penalties can pile up quickly.
The federal Safe Drinking Water Act has similar provisions. A faucet that does not meet the lead-free standard cannot lawfully be "introduced into" commerce in the U.S.which means that it is illegal to sell the faucet or offer the faucet for sale. The statute provides substantial penalties for doing so.
Similar restrictions apply in Canada. Canadian law prohibits the "sale or lease" of uncertified faucets in that Country. Note 13
If the federals want to get really nasty, they can also charge mail and wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. §63 and 18 U.S.C. §1343 as these "instrumentalities of interstate commerce" are typically used to "facilitate" violations of the Energy Policy and Safe Drinking Water Acts. The penalty for mail and wire fraud is more serious: up to 20 years imprisonment, and each phone call, letter, e-mail, or Internet transaction is a separate offense.
At the state level, every sale of an uncertified faucet is statutory fraud as well as false advertising and a deceptive business practice, all of which can result in some very serious jail time and hefty fines.
California laws are more restrictive than the federal laws that govern the rest of the country. In California, the maximum flow rate from a kitchen sink faucet is 1.8 gallons per minute (gpm) and 1.2 gpm from a lavatory faucet. To be sold in California, a faucet must be certified by the California Department of Energy. Selling an unapproved faucet is an offense that nets the seller a fine of $2,500.
Georgia is even tougher. Selling or installing an uncertified faucet in the Peach State is a crime that may result in a hefty fine and jail time for repeat offenders.
Other states and Canadian Provinces have similar laws, and many impose stiff penalties for violations.
So, one would think with all of these hefty legal consequences looming, third-party sellers would be a little cautious about selling uncertified faucets. But, the problem is that many, if not most, of the illegal sellers, are out of reach, safely ensconced behind the Bamboo Curtain, where U.S. and Canadian law enforcement cannot easily get to them. And, both the EPA which enforces the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Department of Energy, responsible for the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, have been starved of funds by Congress, and simply do not have the resources needed to go after these violators. So, the legal risk to sellers of illegal faucets is minimal.
For hosting sites, the situation is a little different. U.S.-based sites and Chinese sites with facilities or operations in North America can easily be found by law enforcement and probably can be held liable for the illegal faucets sold on their sites. They are in the position of a flea market operator who knows that illegal goods are being sold but turns a blind eye to the practice. Their liability is called "intermediary" or "secondary" liability (as opposed to the third-party seller's "primary" liability). Secondary liability arises when a hosting website facilitates illegal sales ("contributory liability") or can control illegal sales but does not take reasonable measures to do so ("vicarious liability"). Generally, a website operator that makes a "good faith" effort to prevent the sale of illegal merchandise will not be held liable, even if the good-faith effort fails.
Unfortunately, with most of these hosting websites, there is no indication of any effort, good faith, or otherwise. Of the websites we examined for this report, only Costco and Sam's Club seem to have taken some of the steps necessary to verify that faucets sold by third-party hosted vendors are certified and legal. Walmart also did so at tone time but does so no longer.
Most U.S.-Based hosting websites already have written policies Note 14 of some kind prohibiting the sale of illegal and unsafe goods, in no small part designed to reassure customers that the site's products are safe to buy. Amazon's policy, for example, is the following:
Products offered for sale on Amazon must comply with all laws and regulations and with Amazon's policies. The sale of illegal, unsafe, or other restricted products listed on these pages, including products available only by prescription, is strictly prohibited.(Emphasis supplied)
But, while the sale of contraband is "strictly prohibited", the ban is not strictly enforced when it comes to faucets. In fact, we have found no evidence that it is enforced at all.
Hosting sites evidence very little if any effort to ensure that faucets for sale do, in fact, "comply with all laws and regulations". If these rules were merely enforced, the black market faucet problem would largely disappear overnight.
The sites certainly have the ability to enforce the bans. Many illegal products are effectively banned: homemade music CDs, firearms, prescription pharmaceuticals, and illicit drugs, to name just a few. But many other illegal products, like contraband faucets, are ignored. Third-party faucet sellers are not required to demonstrate in any way that their faucets are legal for sale or installation in the U.S. or Canada in order to be listed for sale on hosting websites.
It's not that the effort would be particularly burdensome. It takes about five minutes. Most plumbing supply websites do a good job of keeping illegal faucets from being sold on their venues, as do some general merchandising hosting sites. It is just a matter of requiring sellers to produce listing certificate identification numbers, then confirming the certification online. So, it's entirely possible to ban illegal faucets if even a minimum effort is made.
After-Sale Support: Warranty and Replacement Parts
"Where can I get parts?" is the most common question we see on Amazon, eBay and other hosting sites about broken off-brand faucets. The short answer is: "You can't. There are no parts."
Most hosted sellers do not provide any warranty on the faucets they sell. But, even if they do it is not worth much.
A warranty is a promise by the seller to help fix a broken faucet, usually by providing a replacement or the parts necessary to do so.
But, a seller's promise is only as reliable as the seller, and good only for as long as the seller still exists. Hosted sellers are notorious for not honoring their warranties and seem to disappear with alarming frequency. Few last as long as two years.
They almost never have a replacement parts system of any consequence. For the first year or so they can scavenge parts of other faucets but when the faucets are no longer on the shelf, there is no longer a source for parts.
So, if your off-brand Amazon or Wayfair faucet starts to leak one year, five years or ten years down the road you are unlikely to get any help from the third-party seller, even if the seller still exists, and even if you can find it (and good luck with that! Even our experienced researchers cannot identify many of them, and they know how).
Many third-party sellers are virtual businesses that may not have an actual legal existence. They are often little more than a name in a digital file. The requirements to become a hosted seller are very minimal: just a business name, a tax-ID number, a credit card or electronic account, a telephone number, and a product to sell are usually all that is required. A physical address, an actual bank account, or even a website are not usually needed. So, finding a hosted seller can often be impossible except through a subpoena to the hosting website.
Faucet retailers are usually not set up to provide after-sale support. They rely on faucet manufacturers for, warranty, replacement parts, and technical support. With most North American-based faucet companies, this works very well. If you have a problem with a faucet that you bought at Harvey's Hardware Heaven, you don't call Harvey, you call 1-800-BUY-MOEN to reach Moen's technical support hotline to get it solved. If you need parts under warranty, the Moen provides you with the parts — not the retail store.
If the faucet manufacturer is not located in North America then the product support solution gets a little trickier. Major foreign faucet manufacturers that sell in North America usually operate through a local subsidiary that provides the necessary support for North American buyers.
to name just a few of many, all handle post-sale support issues through customer service organizations based in the U.S. or Canada.
Certain Asian faucet manufacturers have established service centers in North America to handle back-end support for the retail chains that buy their faucets for private branding.
both provide warranty and parts support for the U.S. and Canadian retail stores that buy and re-brand their faucets. These include well-known retailers such as
The Canadian hardware giant, RONA, which buys its store-brand faucets from several smaller Asian manufacturers has taken a different approach. Instead of providing post-sale service itself or relying on its several manufacturers to supply parts and take care of warranty issues, it simply hired a third-party warranty service company, Mecanair, to support its Asian-made faucets. A call to RONA's warranty number connects directly to Mecanair, which stocks and inventories the parts needed to service Rona's store-brand faucets.
Unfortunately, however, the Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers providing off-brand faucets to hosted sellers do not maintain parts operations in North America and are not set up to offer post-sale support from their factories in China or Taiwan. If you could find out which Asian company manufactured a particular off-brand faucet, contacting the manufacturer would be a total waste of time. As far as they are concerned it is up to the retailer to arrange for product and parts support. Once they deliver the faucets to a freight forwarder, their job is done.
The upshot is that if you need warranty service or replacement parts you are usually out of luck. Calling the hosting website's customer service is no help at all. They don't provide warranty service for their hosted sellers and don't keep replacement parts. So, if you need to make a warranty claim, buy a part, or just get advice on installing your new faucet, you are usually out of luck. The hosting company cannot help you.
How to Buy a Safe, Reliable Faucets
Surprisingly, while these faucets are illegal to sell in the U.S. or Canada, they are not illegal to buy. There are no penalties for owning an illegal faucet. If you want to buy one as a decorative accent to display on your fireplace mantel, it's perfectly legal to do so.
A problem arises, however, if you decide to install it in your household plumbing system. While not illegal to own, uncertified faucets are illegal to install in a drinking water system. They violate every plumbing code in effect in North America. Your plumber will probably not install it. And, if you are caught with one at your kitchen sink, you will probably be required to remove it or pay a fine, then remove it. Some localities go so far as to award jail time for violations.
Your insurance company will also be unhappy. Many will not pay for damage caused by an illegal faucet. So, if your bargain brand, no-name Overstock faucet leaks and floods your kitchen, you are on your own replacing your floor and cabinets.
So, where can you buy a faucet that is legal to sell in the U.S. and Canada?
- The first thing you should do is read our article How to Buy a Faucets for a fail-safe process to follow when buying a faucet to ensure that it fits your needs and personal style as well as being safe, reliable and lead-free.
- If you don't recognize the faucet brand (and even if you do — you may be surprised), check its rating and review on our review site.
- If you are buying online, buy from a site that specializes in selling plumbing products to the trades such as Faucets Direct, Faucets.com, eFaucets or Faucets Direct. These sellers usually won't risk their reputation by selling unauthorized faucets. An online alternative is a hardware store website (Ace, True Value or Do-It-Best) or a big box store's website (Home Depot, Lowes or Menards). There is some question whether hardware and big box stores always carry the best products but they are almost always certified to North American standards and are legal to sell and install in the U.S. and Canada.
- The best evidence that a faucet is certified is the actual listing certificate. But, don't rely on a certificate sent to you by Unknown Faucets Company, it may be fake. Get the name of the certifying organization and the faucet's listing file number from the seller. With the file number, you can find the certificate on the certifying organization's website. Here are links to the three most used testing organizations:
IAPMO Research and Testing (IAPMO-RT). Enter the file number in the search box, and press the search button. Then click on the listing to display the online certificate.
CSA Group (CSA). Enter the file number in the box labeled "File Number", and press the submit button. Click on the listing to display the certificate. CSA uses the same file number on all of a company's certificates, so you my have to search more than one.
ICC Evaluation Service (ICC-ES). Enter the file number in the box labeled "Listing Number", and click the search button. When the listing results appear, click on the link to display the actual certificate.
- Look for the faucet model name or number in the search results. If the name or number is on the certificate, the faucet is certified. If not, it isn't. If the faucet company cannot provide you with a file number, then you can bet big money that the faucet is not certified and there is no file number to provide.
- Unless you are buying a major-brand faucet, stay away from general merchandising or auction sites such as Amazon, eBay, Wayfair, Overstock or Walmart. There are a lot of attractive, safe, inexpensive products you can buy at these stores but off-brand faucets is not one of them. The exception, however, is if the faucet is being sold directly by the website itself, and not through a hosted third-party seller. These websites almost never sell illegal faucets directly. So, although there are exceptions if a faucet is listed as "sold by Amazon", it is a good bet that it is legal. The same applies to Overstock, Walmart and Wayfair. E-Bay and Rakuten, however, sell nothing directly. All faucets on e-Bay are offered by hosted sellers.
- Beware of counterfeit faucets even if you are buying what looks like a major brand. Counterfeiting luxury faucets is big business and a worldwide problem. A company like spends several million dollars each year designing, engineering, and testing new faucet designs. A counterfeiter can copy the design for a few hundred dollars and sell the copies for far less than Hansgrohe must charge to recoup its investment.
- Knock-off faucets can be hard to spot. They are often identical to the originals they copy on the outside but on the inside are typically made as cheaply as possible. However, one clue that a faucet may be an unauthorized copy is where you bought it. Counterfeits are not usually found in normal market outlets like plumbing stores. But, if you buy a name-brand faucet on eBay or Craig's List, especially if the price is too good to be true, there is a very good chance you are buying a fake.
- Never buy a faucet or any other regulated merchandise from a China-based website such as AliExpress, LightInTheBox or DHGate, even those that specialize in faucets like FaucetSuperDeal. The styles and prices may be attractive but the likelihood that these faucets comply with U.S. or Canadian laws is somewhat less than your chances of being attacked by a rhino in Times Square.
- In addition, it is likely that the faucet is metric and will not fit North American plumbing without some serious adaptation. And, by the time you pay a plumber for all the adaptation, it may end up costing as much as the real thing.
- The safest course if buying a Signature Hardware faucet is to insist on a copy of the listing certificate that shows the faucet by model name or number and Signature Hardware as the primary or additional brand.
For more information on how faucets are regulated for safety and reliability, see Keeping Faucets Safe.