Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Lead from Water?

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After the Flint, Michigan[1] and Newark water crisis, lead became a common topic of conversation or concern among ordinary people and the government alike. These unfortunate incidents resulted in Americans taking their lead water levels quite seriously.

Unfortunately, even after so many years, not so much has changed and people must still be concerned about their water quality and lead contamination in particular.

It is imperative to eliminate all kinds of contaminants to attain safe and healthy drinking water. But with so many filtration methods and techniques available, is there a technology that can remove lead? Or is the possibility of eliminating this toxic heavy metal equal to none?

Before you lose all hope, we have an answer for you. Reverse osmosis (RO) can help you kick lead out of your drinking water. But there are certain things you need to consider.

So, here is our guide answering the question, does reverse osmosis remove lead?

Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Lead?

Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Lead

Yes, reverse osmosis removes lead from water. And the good thing is that RO water purification is effective, simple and fast.

An RO system provides a precise filtration process that utilizes several filter stages including a semipermeable membrane. This is often more effective than using just an ion exchange filter or just an activated carbon filter cartridge and can remove more than 99% of lead.

Let’s briefly talk about reverse osmosis membranes:

They separate water molecules from the impurities. The latter get rejected and flushed out of the RO system in a wastewater stream.

This mechanism is very powerful and removes almost all contaminants. As a result, the end product tastes and smells good and is pretty healthy too.

How Much Lead Does Reverse Osmosis Remove?

Since there are a variety of reverse osmosis systems available, there is no fixed percentage of lead they can remove. For instance, many filters can eliminate 97 or 98% of the element. On the other hand, some are more effective achieving 99% reduction and more.

Here are two examples:

  • AquaTru: 99.1% lead reduction
  • Aquasana OptimH2O: 99.3% lead reduction

Regardless of the reverse osmosis system you choose, your ultimate goal should be to eliminate as many lead particles as possible.

Many experts will tell you that an actionable level of 15 parts per billion is acceptable, but that’s not true. Any amount of lead in water is a threat as it can cause severe health issues. The metal is biocumulative in nature which means continuous exposure will result in more and more lead accumulating in your body – not safe at all!

Therefore, it is wise to invest in a water filtration technique that eliminates the maximum amount of lead from your drinking water. You can’t risk your health by using a water filter that removes a small amount only.

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How Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Lead?

As discussed earlier, a reverse osmosis water filter system features a semipermeable membrane. This membrane has pores with a size equal to 0.0001 microns.

Their tiny size helps eliminate the majority of contaminants as your water passes through the membrane. This means they successfully reject lead and many other particles.

Besides, for an RO membrane to perform well factors like water pressure, water temperature and solute concentration play a vital role.

What’s more, a reverse osmosis system contains more than just an RO membrane. Multiple filter media such as block carbon, granular activated carbon and ion exchange resin can be added to increase effectiveness when removing lead.

What Else Does Reverse Osmosis Remove?

Interestingly, an RO system can remove different suspended and dissolved compounds from water. Moreover, it also helps to eliminate harmful microorganisms.

Ideally, an RO membrane eliminates 95-99% of inorganic and organic material. Thereby, it also reduces the hardness of the water.

That said, a few impurities should be pre-filtered before the water passes through the membrane. This step is essential to prevent premature wear and tear. And it’s why all RO systems have at least one pre-filter stage that saves the RO membrane from damage.

In addition, a reverse osmosis filter also has post-filters. These polish to make your drinking water perfect for consumption.

Below is a list of contaminants a reverse osmosis system can remove:

  • Copper
  • Sodium
  • Disinfection byproducts
  • Chlorine and chloramine
  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Chromium 6
  • Radium
  • Fluoride
  • Nitrate
  • Sulfate
  • PFOS
  • Phosphorus
  • VOCS
  • Bacteria, viruses, cysts, mold
  • Herbicides/pesticides

Farming tractor spraying a field with pesticides

What is Not Removed by Reverse Osmosis?

Reverse osmosis can remove many contaminants, but it would fail to work against water disinfectants and their byproducts, and other organic chemicals and compounds like solvents without the additional filter stages.

That is why combining different filter media and filtration methods is crucial to generate optimum results.

Testing Your Home Water for Lead

It is impossible to detect lead through your senses. Lead is not visible to the naked eye, nor does it produce any smell when mixed with water. So, how can you determine its presence?

The answer is straightforward and it’s by testing your water. There are numerous ways in which you can test your water for lead:

  • For instance, the most common method is by sending a water sample to a certified laboratory. The technicians will conduct tests that will help you select the ideal filtration system to eliminate lead.
  • If you do not have much time or funds, you can also buy home test strips for this task. A lead water test kit is secure and pretty simple to use. Unfortunately, it does not measure the exact concentration of lead in your water nor does it highlight the presence of any other contaminant.

Drawbacks of Reverse Osmosis Systems

Like any other type of water filter, a reverse osmosis system isn’t perfect for everyone. It has a few drawbacks which are worth mentioning here.

Wastewater

During the filtration process, standard RO filters produce lots of wastewater that helps flush the membrane. However, this water remains unused and flows down the drain.

Normally, the ratio of wastewater to RO filtered water is 4:1. This means that for every gallon purified, an RO system wastes 4 gallons of water.

It implies that reverse osmosis systems are unsustainable. However, keep in mind that most households don’t need more than 2-3 gallons of RO purified water a day. What’s more, RO systems using a pressure pump – one example is the AquaTru – can lower the wasted-to-filtered-water ratio to 1:1 or even better.

Healthy Impurities Are Also Removed

An RO system not only removes the nasty stuff but also eliminates some good minerals too. As per the World Health Organization, consuming RO water with low TDS can harm you.[2]

The lack of healthy minerals such as magnesium and calcium can also result in a flat taste.

To avoid both issues, you can always remineralize RO water before consuming it. There are two ways to do that:

  1. You can either add a small amount of mineral blend in the filtered water,
  2. Or purchase a remineralization filter and install it on top of your reverse osmosis unit.

Impact of Lead Poisoning on Our Bodies

Lead poisoning is the result of long-term exposure through drinking water and other sources. Even if you are exposed to low lead levels, you are still prone to various health implications as this heavy metal accumulates quite quickly in your body.

Lead enters through the bloodstream and is stored in various tissues like bones and organs. It then spreads rapidly through every part of your system and damages your body’s various functions.

Unfortunately, children suffer the most. Lead causes irreversible harm that affects their physical and brain development.

Adults often suffer from kidney failure and high blood pressure caused by long-term lead exposure.

Moreover, pregnant women are at high risk too. Lead can easily cross the placental barrier and cause:

  • Stillbirth
  • Miscarriage
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth

woman with headache

What to Consider When Buying an RO Water Filter System

Before we wrap up this article, let’s look into some factors that you should consider before investing in an RO system:

System Type

There are three primary types of RO systems:

  1. Whole house
  2. Countertop
  3. Under sink

A whole house RO water system treats all the water flowing throughout your house. It is a point-of-entry filter unit and thus quite expensive. We wouldn’t recommend this type unless there is a specific contaminant in your water that you can’t remove with other filtration methods.

On the flip side, both countertop RO and under sink RO systems are point-of-use water filters. This means that they only treat water flowing from one particular faucet.

The most significant difference between countertop and under sink is that a countertop system installs over the counter while the other is fixed underneath.

NSF Testing and Certifications

Before you purchase a reverse osmosis system, it is imperative to confirm its NSF certifications. You can check this by reading the fine print searching for NSF standards 42, 53, 58, 401 and other. These standards cover the minimum requirements needed to reduce different contaminants, including lead.

Filter Process

A superior quality RO system ensures that your water is free from all kinds of contaminants. It passes your water through multiple filter stages to achieve excellent purification results.

While looking for an RO system, choose one that comes with several different pre and post-filters. These additions help to give you healthy and crisp water.

Water Demand, Pressure & Wastage

RO systems do not operate with inadequate source water pressure. 60 psi of incoming pressure is ideal, below 30-40 will be insufficient without using an extra pump.

Besides, most expensive RO systems already come with built-in water pressure pumps that reduce the amount of wastewater and increase outflow rate.

Installation and Maintenance

Before you seal the deal, make sure you are mentally and financially ready to bear an RO system’s installation. For one, a functioning drain line is required.

Is it tough to install an RO system on your own? Not really. But for some people hiring a professional would be a smart move though not free.

Moreover, RO systems require regular maintenance to prevent clogging of the filter cartridges.

Cost

A good reverse osmosis filtration system isn’t cheap. So, make sure you have enough funds available to make the purchase.

Conclusion

Reverse osmosis removes lead.

To be more precise, sophisticated RO systems can remove more than 99% lead.

This can be achieved using multiple filter stages including a reverse osmosis membrane with extremely small pores rejecting the vast majority of lead particles.

Aside from lead, reverse osmosis systems remove salts, minerals, chemicals, other heavy metals, microorganisms and more.

If you want to buy an RO system for lead removal, start by testing your water to find out more about its quality.

Also keep in mind that reverse osmosis produces wastewater and that the purified water is mineral-deficient.

System type, NSF certifications, the filter process and other factors are to be considered when shopping.

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.

Get in Touch with Jason

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