Does Distilling Water Remove Lead? Let’s Find Out!

Author: Rory Mullan - Published: 2022/02/11 - Updated: 2022/08/05

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Water contaminants cause aesthetic water issues and can also lead to several health problems.

That explains why many US citizens turn to different water treatment solutions, including water distillation.

Distillation removes up to 99.9% of pollutants found in residential water supplies, but can it remove lead? We’ll explore more on the topic below.

So, here is our guide answering the question, does distillation remove lead from water.

What is Distillation and How Does it Work?

Distillation is a very effective water treatment method for both home and commercial use. It uses a series of steps to purify water and provide a fresh, clean end product.

To begin with, a distiller boils the water. As soon as the water evaporates, steam moves from the boiling chamber towards the cooling tubes. The steam condenses in these tubes, and another (second) chamber collects it and preserves it in the form of pure water.

Any contaminants remain in the first chamber, and you can remove them after the process.

Fortunately, a water distiller is easy to operate and maintain with not too many parts included. Here are the basic components of a water distiller:

  • A heating element
  • A boiling chamber
  • A condenser
  • A water collector

The Process Step by Step

To help you understand the distillation process even better and how to use a water distiller, we’ll explain how these units work in more detail, step by step:

  1. First, you need to add plain tap water into the boiling chamber.
  2. Second, turn on the energy source. There’s usually a simple on/off switch on the distillers front panel.
  3. Slowly and gradually, the water begins to heat up.
  4. It reaches its boiling temperature at 212 °F and begins to vaporize.
  5. Steam escapes the boiling chamber, leaving behind all the contaminants and impurities.
  6. When the steam enters the condenser, it cools down and turns into liquid.
  7. After the process has finished, all the distilled water is stored in the collector ready for use.
  8. You can now clean the boiling chamber making sure that any contamination is removed.

Does Distillation Remove Lead from Water?

Does Water Distillation Remove Lead thumbnail

A water distiller works great to purify water and remove contaminants. In fact, you can expect your water to be more than 99% pure after distillation.

But the question remains, does distillation remove lead from water? Yes, it does.

Being a heavy metal with a boiling point of 3180 °F, lead does not evaporate easily. It will remain in the kettle during the distillation process.

Nonetheless, distilling water must not be confused with boiling water. A few people assume that distillation is the same as boiling, and that they could boil their water in order to get rid of lead.

Nothing could be further from the truth! Boiling will only increase lead concentrations since some of the water evaporates but no lead.

Other Water Pollutants Removed by Distillation

Though several water treatment solutions have made their way into the market, distillation is still one of the most thorough.

Generally speaking, water distillation helps you achieve different purification levels. However, perfectly distilled water is around 99.99% pure.

  • Distillation eliminates heavy metals including lead, chromium, mercury and iron.
  • It also removes fluoride, arsenic, nitrate, asbestos and several other substances.
  • Water distillation destroys microorganisms like bacteria, protozoan cysts and viruses lurking in your water.
  • The process successfully eliminates radioactive elements, too.
  • Hard water minerals that leave stubborn stains on kitchen and bathroom surfaces also get removed from the water.
  • Chemicals like pesticides and benzene stand no chance of being in your water after distillation.
  • Last but not least, distillation solves aesthetic water issues like bad taste and smell.

Water Pollutants Not Removed by Distillation

No single water purification method eliminates all contaminants, and distillation is no exception.

Regardless of the efficiency of the process, there are certain limitations.

Specific volatile organic substances like solvents with boiling points close to or less than water tend to evaporate with the heated water during distillation.

So unless you add a chemical filtration stage, these compounds will remain in your water.

Typically, this is solved by using tiny activated carbon filter sachets. These are already incorporated into most home water distillers. Using activated carbon is the most appropriate way to target chemicals in water.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Distillation

Here are a few good and bad points of water distillation.

Advantages

Effectiveness

If water contaminants have been bothering you lately, a water distiller offers a perfect solution to treat your home water.

Investing in a quality unit means gaining access to the purest water possible constantly throughout its lifespan.

Ease of Installation and Maintenance

Most of the time, water filters/purifiers require a series of steps for installation. Fortunately, a water distiller saves you from the hassle. They come pre-assembled, and you only have to plug them in and turn on the power source.

Beyond easy installation, water distillers are easy to maintain as well. Occasional cleaning and replacing carbon filter sachets is enough to keep them up and running.

Ease of Operation

As mentioned earlier, water distillers are easy to use because they come pre-installed. You do not need to go through technical steps to set one up. Instead, you can plug in the switch right away, pour in water and start your first distillation cycle.

Inexpensive

Because distillers offer an efficient way to treat water, you might assume they are expensive.

Surprisingly enough, they are cost-effective. A water distiller will cost you between $200 and $300. And you can produce distilled water at around 40 cents per gallon, making it a great alternative to bottled water that typically costs $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon.

Bottles of water

Portability

If portability is your preference, water distillers are perfect for you. Yes, countertop water distillers are not too small in size; however, you can still move them from one place to another.

Disadvantages

It Does Not Eliminate All Water Impurities

As stated earlier, no treatment solution can make your water 100% pure. Every technique has its drawbacks, and distillers are in the same boat.

A few chemicals like chlorine have a boiling point lower than water, so distillers cannot remove them without carbon filtration.

Distillation De-Mineralizes Water

Water distillation strips away naturally occurring minerals. For example, healthy calcium and magnesium are being removed in the process.

Though de-mineralized water isn’t considered harmful, consuming it for extended periods can cause mineral deficiency.

On top of that, it makes your water bland-tasting.

So consider re-mineralizing your water before drinking if you’re concerned about mineral intake.

Time-Consuming Process

Let’s get this straight: Distillation cleans water drop by drop. So, do not think you’ll access purified water in split seconds when using a water distiller.

A conventional machine may take up to 5-6 hours to process a single gallon. So, you would need to be patient if you plan to use a water distiller.

Limited Capacity

Again, water distillation is a time-consuming, slow process and hence limits you to around 4 gallons of purified water within 24 hours.

High Energy Consumption

Distillation requires electricity, almost 3 kWh per 1 gallon of water.

How Lead Enters Our Water Supplies

How lead makes its way into our water supplies is a mystery to some. Why? Because natural water hardly ever has lead in it.

One of the biggest culprits of leaching lead is plumbing. That is, if your household distribution channels or plumbing system has lead pipes or solder, the heavy metal can easily contaminate your water.

For this reason, Congress banned lead pipes/solder in 1986.

Unfortunately, small income US households still have lead pipes in their plumbing system and are therefore vulnerable to lead exposure.

But wait, if your plumbing system has copper pipes, does it mean you’re on the safe side? Well, I guess not!

The American Water Works Association mentions that almost 6.1 million US distribution channels still consist of lead[1]. If you’re on any of these distribution lines, you’re highly prone to lead contamination.

Additionally, if your water pH levels are low, it corrodes pipes quicker. Hence, your water can get polluted pretty easily.

Those on well water may be less exposed to lead, but we cannot rule out the possibility entirely. An old well pump can be another lead source.

city of flint water plant

Maximum Permissible Lead Levels in Water

Quite simple, no amount of lead in water is considered safe. Even if your water has lead in tiny amounts, it can deteriorate your health over time. Even worse, it can be life-threatening in some cases.

This is why the U.S. EPA has regulated maximum permissible lead levels to zero. The action level, however, is 15 parts per billion.

US bottles need to ensure their water doesn’t have lead levels of more than 5 ppb.

Note that a few side effects like poor brain development in children are irreversible. Therefore, it’s best to restrict drinking lead-contaminated water at all costs.

The Health Effects of Lead Consumption

Regrettably, the list of issues following lead consumption is long.

The water crisis in Flint[2] speaks volumes about how lead exposure can wreak havoc on our lives.

The crisis reports almost 80 kids who became sick after drinking lead-contaminated water. Even worse, 9 children passed away.

Consuming lead, even in small amounts, can cause problems like headaches, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, constipation and loss of appetite.

Additionally, drinking lead-laden water for extended periods can lead to reproductive issues, kidney problems and high blood pressure.

Pregnant women are also at risk. Lead can cross the placental barrier and might lead to premature birth or miscarriage in a worst-case scenario.

Children are particularly at risk of experiencing long-term irreversible side effects. These include loss of concentration, brain damage, constipation and hindered physical growth.

All in all, it’s best to remove lead from water to ensure safety for all age groups.

Lead Testing

Understanding the biochemistry of water is essential before looking for an effective purification method.

And conducting a water test is the simplest way to know about the impurities in your water.

There are three ways you can check your water for lead.

By the way, when testing your water, it’s best to conduct more than one test. Lead presence in water is inconsistent, and a single test will not outline exact levels. To be on the safe side, consider testing several water samples.

1. Consumer Confidence Report

You can access your local water quality report to know about the contaminants swimming in your water. Simply get in touch with your local supplier to receive a copy.

Public water suppliers are bound to conduct water tests and publish reports annually highlighting pollutants and their concentrations.

However, note that you cannot entirely depend on these reports because they might not consider lead that enters your water through the distribution channel or your plumbing system.

So, what’s next? A DIY test!

2. DIY Testing

DIY testing kits offer a straightforward way to test your water for lead. You can easily purchase one; they are inexpensive and provide results right away. However, DIY tests have downsides.

For instance, they might point out the presence of certain contaminants in your water, but not specify their exact levels.

So, if precision is of utmost importance to you, you may want to consider a laboratory test.

hand holding water test strip

3. Laboratory Test

Lab tests are more time-consuming and more expensive than DIY testing, but they tell you exact contaminant concentrations in your water.

Lab professionals conduct the tests under strict industry standards and provide you with accurate reports afterwards.

Conclusion

Distillation is among the most effective water purification methods.

In the process, water gets heated so that evaporates leaving all contaminants behind. The pure water collects in a container.

Distilling water removes lead and metals in general, microorganisms, chemicals, salt, minerals and more.

Only few volatile substances may remain in the water.

Further Reading

Resources

Meet Rory Mullan

Rory Mullan Rory has joined the Water Masterz team as a contributing writer. He has covered all sorts of topics in the last several years.

Outside of his writing work, Rory enjoys photographing the Irish landscape and making music!

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