How Do Lead Water Filters Work? Let’s Find Out!

Author: Rory Mullan - Published: 2022/02/11 - Updated: 2022/12/19

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The Flint water crisis explains enough about the detrimental effects of lead exposure.

Drinking lead-contaminated water can have severe health effects in children and adults alike.

More specifically, kids can experience irreparable harm like poor physical development, brain damage and reduced IQ.

Luckily, the right lead water filter removes around 99% of the heavy metal, giving you pure drinking water.

So, here is our guide on how lead water filters work.


There are different lead water filters you can use:

  • Filters made of activated carbon can adsorb lead into the pores on their surface.
  • Dissolved lead can be trapped by a redox reaction in KDF-55 filters.
  • Lead is rejected by the semipermeable membranes in reverse osmosis systems.
  • Using a water distiller, all of the lead is left behind when the water evaporates.

How Do Lead Water Filters Work?

How Do Lead Water Filters Work thumbnail

One of the most straightforward ways to get rid of lead in drinking water is using a lead water filter.

POU and Whole House Lead Water Filters

You have the option to choose from point-of-entry (POE) and point-of-use (POU) systems.

A point-of-entry system supplies filtered water throughout your entire house. Therefore, you need to install it into the main water supply.

On the other hand, a point-of-use lead filtration system gives you lead-free water only at a specific point, your kitchen faucet for instance. These filters are primarily utilized for drinking purposes, and they come in different forms such as faucet units, under-the-sink filters, countertop systems, or as pitchers.

Lead Water Filter Types

Note that not all water filter types can remove lead. But, a few are designed explicitly for this purpose. They include:

  • RO systems. One of the most reliable methods to access lead-free drinking water is installing a reverse osmosis system. A quality reverse osmosis membrane will trap up to 99.9% lead.
  • KDF-55 filtration. This type of filter media converts soluble lead into its insoluble form before trapping it.
  • Activated carbon filters use an adsorption process to eliminate lead and other contaminants from water. Carbon filters also improve your water aesthetics by reducing chemicals. However, note that not all activated carbon filters do reduce lead.
  • Though a water distiller is not a filtration system in itself, it works great to remove lead from water.

How to Ensure That a Water Filter Eliminates Lead

Some filter models effectively remove lead from water, but most don’t. So, how can you be sure which ones do?

Typically, a water filter should have an NSF/ANSI certification for lead removal. So, if you have decided on a particular water filter, you need to check for standard 53 tests or certificates.

Besides, look at the filter manual to know about the amount of lead actually being reduced.

NSF International is a not-for-profit organization that sets standards for the manufacturing industry. Then, third-party agencies like the Water Quality Association[1] and the Canadian Standards Association[2] test and certify products based on the specified industry standards.

To achieve certification, a lead water filter must reduce lead levels below the suggested actionable level stated by the EPA, i.e. 15 parts per billion.

Yes, 15 ppb isn’t ideal, but it’s way better than not removing any lead at all. In fact, it won’t be wrong to consider it a great start to a healthier lifestyle.

On a lighter note, a few reverse osmosis systems have NSF standard 58 certifications for lead elimination. Both standards are valid.

Old Filter Cartridge Replacement

If you choose reverse osmosis, KDF or a carbon water filter for lead removal, make sure you regularly replace filter cartridges to keep them working properly.

Long-term operations for lead removal will exhaust the filter media, reducing its capacity until no more lead can be removed.

two water filter cartridges dropped in water

Measuring the Amount of Lead in Water

To decide on a suitable filtration system, you first need to check the amount of lead and other contaminants in your water. After figuring that out, you can make the right purchase.

If you’re uncertain how to measure the amount of lead in water, we got you covered!

Lab Tests

Laboratory tests are expensive and time-consuming, but they give you the most accurate reports. Even more, many laboratories suggest suitable water treatment options based on their findings.

Lab experts conduct the testing under strict industry regulations. As such, it eliminates the chance of errors which is otherwise highly likely in DIY testing kits.

Because lead is inconsistent in water, it’s best to conduct multiple tests to determine the average concentration.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a reliable method to know about lead levels in the water, it’s best to send your water sample to an independent lab.

DIY Testing

DIY testing kits offer an easy solution to learn more about lead in your water. They are cheap, and on top of that, give immediate results.

On the downside, they might compromise accuracy.

Consumer Confidence Report

Local water suppliers are required to test their water and publish the reports yearly. You can access the latest Consumer Confidence Report to know about lead levels in your water.

However, these reports might not highlight lead that leaches into your water through distribution lines. Simply put, these reports are not 100 percent reliable.

Getting Rid of the Lead Source

Removing the lead source entirely is one of the most straightforward ways to eliminate lead. For instance, if your home plumbing system is contributing to lead, try to renew it.

Those on well water need to examine their well and pump; are they to blame for lead in your water supply?

Alternative Ways to Lead Reduction

Avoid Using Hot Water + Flushing

Though this isn’t a long-term solution, it works temporarily. Hot water certainly has more lead than cold water. Therefore, make sure you use nothing but cold water straight from the tap.

Besides, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not using water in the morning right away.[3] This particularly applies when water that hasn’t been utilized overnight.

So, open the tap and let water flow for a bit. This will lower lead levels.

trickling faucet

The Health Effects of Drinking Lead-Contaminated Water

Yes, there are severe health effects of drinking lead-laden water.

Prolonged exposure to lead not only causes health problems but can be life-threatening.

Adults can suffer from kidney dysfunction, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and reproductive problems.

Even worse, kids often experience irreversible side effects, including low IQ, poor physical growth and brain damage.

Pregnant women are also at risk. Tiny lead particles can pass through the placental barrier and cause miscarriage or premature birth.


There are four commonly used lead water purifier types: RO systems, KDF filters, carbon filters and water distillers.

To make sure a system really removes lead, check for NSF certification standards 53 and 58.

You can measure the amount of lead in your water by running a test.

Further Reading


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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