Do Water Softeners Remove Lead from Water?

Author: Jason Hollow - Published: 2021/11/11 - Updated: 2021/11/11

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The widespread use of lead in many industrial and consumer products has led to extensive environmental pollution, human exposure, and multiple severe health problems in all parts of the world.

The number one source of lead exposure is old lead-based paint and dust from chipping paint.[1] The next big problem? Lead contaminated water.

Unfortunately, America’s lead pipe problem is escalating and presently affecting millions of people over numerous states.

The good news is you can easily save yourself from the perils of lead-tainted water using the right water treatment system. But what’s the first step? Identifying whether you are at risk or not.

With that said, hard water is also another major water-related issue in the U.S. That’s precisely why many people have water softeners installed at home.

If you want to know whether your water softener can also take care of the potent neurotoxin, you are at the right place.

So, here is our guide answering the question, do water softeners remove lead?

Does a Water Softener Remove Lead?

Do Water Softeners Remove Lead

Quite simply, water softeners are not designed to remove lead. Instead, they deal with hardness-causing minerals (not contaminants) like calcium and magnesium.

In the broad sense, softeners are water purifiers that help soap dissolve better in water etc. Soft water is also better for your skin and hair, and it doesn’t clog pipes.

But in case your water is hard as well as contaminated with lead, you will need a double line of defense by installing a water softener plus a lead water filter.

Besides, hard water is less corrosive to lead pipelines since it tends to have a higher pH level. What this means is a combination of a water softener with lead plumbing (and without a lead filter) is highly problematic and increases your exposure to the dangerous heavy metal.

So, remember this:

Water softener + lead-based pipes = possibly lethal combination!

How a Water Softener Works

So how does a water softener system work?

Water softeners use ion exchange technology to remove high concentrations of hard water minerals. The end result is soft water.

The salt-based ion exchange systems substitute calcium and magnesium ions in water with sodium ions. They don’t essentially remove any contaminants, nor do they filter them.

A water softener has a resin tank that contains thousands of resin beads saturated with sodium. When hard water passes through the resin bed, calcium and magnesium are attracted and stick to the beads. They get trapped while the sodium is released into the water.

Unlike traditional water filters, you don’t need to replace a water softener or its resin. A system can regenerate itself and flush the resin bed sending all accumulated hard minerals down the drain. At the same time, new sodium saturates the resin.

All you need to do is add salt (sodium) periodically to the softener’s brine tank.

Can You Boil Lead Out of Water?

No, boiling water will not remove lead. In fact, you may end up concentrating the amount of lead in water as some of it evaporates.

So that’s a big no!

Is Bottled Water Free from Lead?

Chances are that bottled water contains no or less lead than many tap waters. But this is only one part of the equation!

First, let’s see why bottled water contains lower lead concentration if any:

According to the FDA, bottled water must not contain more than 5 ppb of lead. Moreover, lead pipelines are banned in bottled water plants.

However, there are a million other problems associated with bottled water. For starters, it’s ridiculously expensive compared to tap water. In addition, plastic bottles expose you to BPA, a highly dangerous toxin that may cause reproductive, immunity and neurological problems.

Add to that the plastic waste it creates; bottled water is nothing less than a nuisance.

Our verdict, a big no!

Bottles of water

How Can I Remove Lead From My Water?

It’s fairly simple. If you are looking for a permanent solution, then replacing any plumbing around your house containing lead should be the first step on your list. Of course, this solution is not applicable on an urgent basis as it requires a big budget and time.

Moreover, if aging lead town pipes are the culprit, you can’t do much about it either other than filing a complaint to the EPA.

Next best alternative?

Lead Water Filters

Depending on the concentration of lead and other contaminants in your water, you can select the right water filter for your household.

You will find a wide range of lead filter types that can remove/ reduce the infamous toxin.

Here are the two best water filtration systems that can remove lead from drinking water easily, economically and quickly.

  1. Reverse osmosis: A reverse osmosis system can remove over 99% lead. This is achieved using a combination of sediment and carbon filters plus a semi-permeable reverse osmosis membrane.
  2. Ion exchange resin: Cation exchange resin is highly effective at eliminating lead in water. Above 90 percent removal is easily doable.

Which Filtration Technology is the Best?

This brings us to the question, which water filtration technology should you use? Glad you asked.

It all depends on what’s in your water. So, you need a detailed water report to decide which system type is ideal for your household.

Suppose your water is highly contaminated with lead and several other dangerous pollutants like pesticides, chromium 6 and arsenic. In that case, an RO system will be your best bet. This is because we have a combination of different filter media for broad contaminant removal.

If, on the other hand, your water supply only contains lead, chlorine and a few disinfection byproducts, a carbon-based filter might be sufficient.

With that said, don’t just buy any water filter that claims to remove lead. Look for NSF testing and certification Standard 53 for lead reduction. The certificate ensures that a filter is indeed effective.

How to Test Water for Lead?

Since lead is odorless, colorless and tasteless in water, you need to conduct a water test to find out if you are exposed to it or not.

What’s more, in order to effectively remove lead it helps to know the biochemical properties of your water. It’s essential to know the presence of other contaminants, too, their concentration, and how badly your water is affected.

When testing specifically for lead, the best time is to take a sample in the morning. When water stays in contact with lead pipes for a prolonged period, it dissolves more. On the other hand, if you take a sample in the middle of the day, you will get a misleading, false report showing an almost clear sample.

Now, let’s move on to the simple ways you can test your water for lead.

Test Kits

Readily available at home stores locally or online, DIY lead water test kits are cheap, easy-to-use and deliver quite accurate results. The downside is that it will only give you a negative/positive response.

Professional Labs

Check the EPA’s website for a list of certified labs in your area and send a water sample to them for testing. Remember to ask them for instructions on how you should take a sample since all laboratories have a dedicated protocol.

woman in testing laboratory holding dirty water glass

Water Companies

Many famous water filter brands have their testing teams. If you are interested, give them a call and schedule a visit. Even though the test is free, you’ll probably be receiving lots of unwanted advice as they try to sell you their products.

Regardless, the results they share with you should be accurate.

Why is There Lead in Our Water?

Lead enters your water supply when it comes in contact with aging corroded lead-based pipes or fixtures. But why are we using lead pipes then?

Technically, Congress banned the use of lead in pipelines in 1986, but there are still a few more years to go before all lead service lines are replaced. Moreover, old houses (built before 1986) still use at least some lead plumbing.[2]

Since lead enters your water supply through distribution channels as well as a home’s plumbing system itself, we can’t just rely on the town’s filtration plant to provide us with lead-free water.

Lead and Its Health Effects

Lead is highly toxic. This is precisely why there are no safe levels of lead in drinking water, nil!

Moreover, it is biocumulative in nature. Simply put, it will store itself in your body as it accumulates over time. Your body can’t flush it out.

It passes to your kidneys, liver and brain, too. What’s worse is that symptoms take a long time to appear and are sometimes never evident. Only a blood test can detect the levels of lead in our bodies.

Who is Most Vulnerable?

While lead is a potent neurotoxin for people of all ages, the plight is worse for kids and pregnant women.

Kids

Kids under the age of six accumulate more lead in their bodies since they’re rapidly developing. This makes them vulnerable to multiple health issues like learning disabilities and behavioral issues.

Unborn Fetuses

Similarly, lead can harm the unborn fetus by crossing the placental barrier. Apart from low birth weight and size, exposure to high amounts of lead can lead to miscarriage.

Reducing Your Exposure to Lead

While you are contemplating buying a lead water filter, here is how you can reduce your exposure to lead instantaneously.

  • Flush water before use: Prolonged exposure to corroded pipes increases the chance of lead accumulation. Therefore, flush your water in the morning or when using it after several hours.
  • Use cold water: Coldwater dissolves fewer lead ions and therefore is better than hot water.

Conclusion

Water softeners do not remove lead. Their ion exchange process is designed to eliminate hard water minerals.

You can’t boil lead out of water either.

Is bottled water free from lead? Not necessarily.

If you want to make sure your drinking water is lead-free, you need to have it tested and, based on the test results, install the right lead filtration system afterwards.

Another option is to remove the primary lead source if possible. Old plumbing is usually the issue.

Lead in drinking water should not be taken lightly. It’s a neurotoxin associated with health effects such as liver and kidney problems, and harming your body’s neurological system.

Further Reading

Resources

Meet Jason Hollow

Jason Hollow Jason is the founder of Water Masterz and head of content creation. After six years in the industry, he has tremendous knowledge and first-hand experience on all things related to water treatment.

His credo: Not a single American should have to drink unhealthy water at home.

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