How to Remove Lead from Water: Filtering, Boiling & Other Ways

Author: Jason Hollow - Published: 2021/02/15 - Updated: 2021/02/17

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Lead is extremely harmful to our health and estimated to contaminate the tap and well water systems of millions of Americans – think Flint, Michigan.

Most of the time, lead-based service lines or lead pipes inside homes are the root of the problem.

Fortunately, removing lead from water is relatively simple, first and foremost with the help of a lead water filter. You just need to know what to look for.

So, here is our guide on how to remove lead from water.

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What is Lead?

On the one hand, lead is a heavy metal that naturally occurs in the outer layer of the earth’s crust.

On the other hand, the fact that today lead can be found everywhere in our environment is manmade. Most of it was released by the mining and fossil fuel industry. The manufacturing of products in general has played its role, too.

Can Lead in Water Make You Sick?

Can and if how does lead affect our health?

As a neurotoxin, lead poses a serious health threat when it finds its way into our bodies, for example through ingestion.

Mild symptoms range from fatigue, headache, and tingling or numbness of the extremities to severe issues including high blood pressure, abdominal, joint, and muscle pain, and even premature birth or miscarriage in pregnant women.

Lead exposure has also been linked to delays in physical development, brain damage, and behavioral problems in infants and young children. It may also affect their ability to concentrate and cause conditions including loss of appetite, fatigue, constipation, and vomiting.[1]

woman with headache

How Much Lead is Acceptable?

There simply is no safe level of lead in water for home use.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency may have set the action level for lead concentrations in tap water to 15 ppb (parts per billion), but their maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) is zero. This is the level in drinking water for which there are no known or expected health risks.[2]

Bottled water for which no lead pipes are used must not contain more than 5 ppb. This standard was defined by the FDA.[3]

How Does Lead Get Into Our Drinking Water?

The likelihood that your water supply contains lead for natural reasons is slim. Lead usually gets into our drinking water in two ways:

  1. Most problematic are lead pipes. These are most often found in homes built before the 1930s (this is when the switch to copper pipes happened). Also, the American Water Works Association did a lead service line analysis. They estimate that 6.1 million lead service lines remain in U.S. communities. Thus, lead in water can be a problem even in a brand new house if it’s connected to an old supply system.[4]
  2. Another possible contamination source is old lead solder which is often found in homes built before 1986 when it was banned.

In addition, brass fixtures can also be problematic as they may contain low levels of lead.

When lead-containing pipes, lead solder, or brass fixtures corrode they can release some of the lead into the water. That is especially the case for water with low pH levels, in other words acidic water, or low mineral content which is more corrosive than alkaline water and can aggravate lead contamination.

That covers municipal water, but what about private well water?

Old wells may include an old submersible pump or another element containing lead.

Finding Out if and How Much Lead is in Your Water – Through Testing

Tap water or well water, the only bulletproof way to know if and how much lead is in your home water supply is through testing.

How can you test for lead in water?

We recommend working with a professional and independent laboratory or service provider that does the testing for you. Usually, the cost is less than $100 USD. Alternatively, you can buy a test kit and test yourself.

Either way, make sure to test several water samples over the course of a few weeks. This solves the problem that lead doesn’t distribute evenly in water. Theoretically, you could do a test today and find no absolutely lead, but next day’s test results show 25 parts per billion.

Another option is to take a look at your latest water quality report in case you are on tap water. Public water suppliers have to test their water for lead content on a regular basis.

People on well water don’t have that choice. They either need to test on their own or hire a lab. We don’t consider this a disadvantage, though. That’s because your water supplier does not directly test the water in your home but at their utility which makes it impossible to detect contamination that happens while the water flows to you.

By the way, you can neither taste nor smell nor see lead dissolved in water. And even particulate lead is too small to be visible to the naked eye.

How to Remove Lead from Water?

How to Remove Lead from Water Thumbnail

Okay, so how can you filter lead out of water?

Your first step should always be to try to identify and remove the lead source itself if possible.

If the pipes, solder, or fixtures in your home are the root of the issue you should have them replaced.

For private well owners, check if one or more of the different components contain lead and have them replaced.

The Right Filtration Methods and Filters to Remove Lead from Drinking water

If your plumbing system or well is not the source of your lead problem or you don’t have the money to have them fixed right now, you should consider buying a water filter to purify the water you use for drinking and cooking.

Water filtration is the best way to remove lead from water for drinking. Commonly used methods are:

  • Activated carbon filters – Activated carbon comes in block or granular form and adsorbs lead among other heavy metals and chemicals into its surface pores.
  • Ion exchange – Ion exchange through KDF filter media and cation exchange resin both help to lower the amount of dissolved lead in water.
  • Reverse osmosis – Reverse osmosis water treatment is one of the most effective methods to remove lead. What’s more, reverse osmosis systems combine several filter stages including carbon filters to, in many cases, eliminate more than 99% lead and hundreds of other contaminants.
  • Distillation – Distillation provides almost pure water free from any impurities like lead.

NSF Certified Water Filters

Even if they use the filtration methods listed above, we like to rely on NSF testing and certifications when reviewing drinking water filters for lead removal.

Simply put, some water filtration systems remove lead more effectively than others. And thanks official testing standards you can compare how each filter performs compared to other models on the market.

Look out for NSF standard 53 for regular water filters and standard 58 if you’re shopping for a reverse osmosis system. The product manual or a performance data sheet should list a reduction rate specifically for lead. Reduction rates above 99% are pretty solid.

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Filter Replacements

At some point an old water filter cannot retain anymore contaminants. That’s why replacing a filter cartridge once it has reached its filtration capacity is of utmost importance if you want to ensure that as much lead as possible is filtered out.

How long a filter lasts depends on several factors such as filter size, the amount of water you use on a daily basis, and the condition of your water. With POE filters, a drop in water pressure is often an indicator that it’s time for a new filter.

Other Measures to Reduce Lead Risk in Drinking Water

There are two other precautions you can take to reduce the risk of high water lead levels in your drinking water:

  1. Flush your pipes for a few minutes before using the water. The longer water sits in pipes the more lead it likely contains. Therefore, if a tap or faucet hasn’t been used for several hours make sure to flush thoroughly. Of course, you can collect the water for other uses such as in your garden or cleaning.
  2. Use nothing but cold water. Warm or hot water dissolves lead faster than cold water. If you need hot tap water, first draw cold water and heat it afterwards.

Does Boiling Water Remove Lead?

Boiling water does not remove lead. Instead, it may increase the levels of lead due to evaporation of some of the water.

Conclusion

Removing lead from water isn’t overly complicated. If you cannot remove the lead contamination source itself, just use a water filter that meets the NSF standard for lead removal. Most effective are reverse osmosis systems and water filters applying carbon filtration or ion exchange.

Lastly, remember to replace filter cartridges on a regular basis.

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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