[Disclaimer- SOFTENERS ALONE ARE NOT INTENDED TO REMOVE LEAD. This article is to provide general knowledge and should not be relied upon as a main source of lead contamination remediation. When dealing with lead contamination, always consult a trusted, local professional water treatment company.]
Water is a daily necessity. We drink it, cook with it, and bathe in it. Trusting its purity is essential. Among the many concerns when it comes to water quality, lead contamination stands out as particularly worrisome for families, homeowners, and tenants.
Many households install water softeners to counteract hard water but, do softeners remove lead?
in this article we are going to tackle the following key points:
- How Does Lead Get Into Drinking Water?
- What are the negative health impacts of lead in your drinking water?
- How can you detect lead in your drinking water?
- The science behind water softeners
- Do Water Softeners Remove Lead?
- How To Remove Lead From Water
How Does Lead Get Into Drinking Water?
As you will see, there’s quite a few different ways lead can make it’s way into our drinking water.
Old Plumbing Systems
Believe it or not, lead was a popular plumbing material until its dangers became evident.
Older homes, built before 1986 are especially at risk of containing lead. This is because it wasn’t until that year that Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act, which banned the use of pipes, solder or flux that contained lead in drinking water systems.
In areas with high purity water supplies – characterized by low total dissolved solids, reduced calcium hardness, acidic pH levels (below 7), or minimal total alkalinity – the risk of lead seeping into the water significantly increases.
This is because such pure water can be particularly corrosive to metals. This is one of the big reasons Flint, Michigan started having problems with lead in their water supply.
It’s extremely unfortunate that the very companies that contribute to the available jobs of citizens and the overall economic well-being of our country there’s no doubt that industrial factories can contribute to the presence of lead in drinking water.
Factories that produce lead-acid batteries, lead-based paints, and other lead-based products can sometimes inadvertently release lead into nearby water sources.
This potential cause of lead entering drinking water is especially of concern for those living in areas where well water is predominantly used, and are in proximity to factories like these.
In some areas, natural geological deposits can release lead into the water supply as they erode over time. There’s actually a town called Treece, Kansas that is now a ghost town due to lead mining impacting the local drinking water supply.
Service Line Disturbances
Construction or maintenance activities on piping that was constructed or put into service prior to 1986 can cause the dislodging of lead particles from service lines, leading to contamination.
What Are The Negative Health Impacts of Lead in Your Drinking Water?
One of the leading reasons why lead is so concerning when it comes to the negative impact it can have on your health is the fact that it doesn’t have any noticeable smell, does not impart any distinctive taste, nor does it cause any discoloration to the actual water. These all make lead contamination a silent threat that can have dire health consequences for people across all ages:
Exposure to even small amounts of lead can have severe and potentially irreversible effects, especially in children. And the list is long…
Young, developing brains, nervous systems and bodies make them particularly vulnerable. Neurologically negative impacts include learning disabilities, behavioral problems, lower IQ and hearing loss or impairment.
The negative impacts don’t just stop on the neurological level, they also impact physical health. In children, lead can delay or even stunt physical development, cause kidney damage as well as anemia, and future fertility problems.
Ongoing daily negative impacts to childrens include, appetite loss, abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue and weakness, joint and muscle pain as well as insomnia.
The same negative physical impacts that can affect children are also possible in adults.
Women who are pregnant not only face the same physical hazards as mentioned above, but the issue is compounded as the unborn child will be susceptible to all of the negative complications and conditions noted under the children section above.
Lead toxicity is a concern not just for humans but for animals as well. Many species, both domesticated and wild can suffer from lead poisoning if they come into contact with or ingest contaminated water. Most, if not all of the same negative neurological, and physical health impacts humans are susceptible to also apply to animals.
Detecting Lead in Your Water Supply
Lead is both tasteless and colorless, making it challenging to detect. With that being said, how in the world do you determine if it is present or not? Here are some ways to determine if lead is present in your drinking water source:
DIY Testing Kits: Available at most hardware stores as well as online retailers , these kits offer a preliminary assessment.
Local Water Reports: Regularly reviewing municipal water quality reports can provide insights into potential lead presence.
Professional Lab Testing: We always recommend having your water professionally tested by a professional lab for analysis. Labs ensure accuracy, and can detect lead at even the smallest amounts that otherwise may be below the threshold detectable level of a Do it Yourself at home test kit. One lab we have found to be especially useful is My Tap Score.
They are a certified lab, and make it easy to collect and send water samples back to their lab where they in turn provide valuable insight into the interpretation of the water analysis results as well as recommendations as to how to remediate any issues that are uncovered.
The Science Behind Water Softeners
A salt-based water softener employs the scientific principle of ion exchange to effectively remove calcium and magnesium ions present in your water.
Imagine looking inside a water softener tank: at the very bottom, you’d find a bed of small, orange-hued beads, reminiscent of tiny little orbeez (before they are soaked in water and launched at you by your friends or troublemaking children).
Resin is not just ordinary beads though. Under magnification, these resin beads within a water softener would remind you of intricately woven balls of yarn. This complex resin structure ensures an enhanced surface area, allowing more ions to attach to them, making the ion exchange process highly efficient.
As water passes through the resin bed of a softener system, calcium and magnesium ions are traded for sodium ions. This exchange process transforms the hard water into what we term as ‘soft water.’
Depending on the volume or cubic feet of resin within the water softener the resin will eventually be saturated with calcium and magnesium ions and out of sodium ions to exchange. At this point, the salt based softener is no longer capable of producing quality soft water and has reached its ‘capacity’.
Once a salt based softener has reached its capacity the process of regeneration takes place. This process involves four different stages, which ultimately results in the resin within the salt based softener’s tank being flushed of calcium and magnesium ions and now ready to be placed back into service to continue producing soft water.
It is important to note, the main intended purpose of a water softener is to remove calcium and magnesium from water in order to make it ‘soft’ and is NOT intended to be used as a means to remove lead from drinking water.
Do Water Softeners Remove Lead From Water?
Before getting into the weeds on this topic, it’s very important for you the reader to understand that water softeners are NOT intended to be used as a lead filtration device. Any equipment you ever use for drinking water purposes should ALWAYS be used for the purpose for which it was intended to be used.
A water softener is intended to be used as a calcium and magnesium ion removal device in order to have soft water produced. When it comes to needing to remove lead, you should in turn, specifically use a lead filter.
The reason why salt based softeners are not effective at removing lead ions from the water is because the cationic resin within a softener system is more efficient at capturing calcium and magnesium.
Additionally, the concentration of calcium and magnesium ions flowing past the resin bed is considerably higher. This means that the trace amounts of lead will often slip by the resin uncaptured.
An example of this would be as if you and several friends were standing in the middle of a small stream and were challenged with the task of collecting 100 pool noodles (which will be representing calcium and magnesium in this example), and half a rubber ducky (which will be representing lead in this example) in a rush of one million gallons of water.
There’s a much higher chance that you and your friends will come out with pool noodles in hand, and no rubber ducky. The pool noodles were easier to see, grab and were more plentiful!
How to Remove Lead From Water
No matter whether lead is a known issue in your area, your home is built prior to 1986, and or water lab analysis results determine the presence of lead, removing this dangerous contaminant is going to be paramount to both your health and your loved ones.
While we always recommend seeking the help from a trusted specialized water treatment company, below are some effective equipment applications you can expect to be deployed:
Specialty multi-stage filtration systems containing multiple layers, like activated carbon blocks followed by reverse osmosis membranes. When designed to specifically target lead contamination, these systems can effectively remove lead.
One manufacturer I feel has some good products and has a very solid listing of quality assurance qualifications is Tyent. The units they have on the market would especially be a good option for those that are not necessarily looking for anything other than a point of use filter for drinking water.
Best Point Of Use System – Tyent UCE-13
Tyent’s UCE-13 provides a pure water source, with 99.9% contaminant removal due to its incredibly low micron sizing of the filters coming in at 0.01 microns. One thing to keep in mind when looking at the price tag of these systems, is that if you were to install a whole home system that had all the same capabilities, your costs would be significantly higher. At least with these systems, you are focusing on the actual water you consume – This matters, because the larger the system you have and the more water you are filtering means there will be more frequent and expensive filter change outs required, also known in the water industry as consumables.
Best Multi-Stage Filter System – Kind Water System’s E-1000
This multi-stage filter provides great flow rates that under normal circumstances will not negatively impact your home’s water pressure and provides removal of not just lead but many other contaminants. Keep in mind though, whole home filter systems should be reserved for homeowners that don’t contain metal plumbing. If your home does, it is recommended to have an additional filter system in place at your drinking water tap or taps such as your kitchen sink and refrigerator’s makeup water line.
Advanced Mixed Media Filters
There are modern mixed media filters that are effective at removing lead from water sources. The resin and media found within these tanks are specifically designed to target the removal of lead through the ion exchange process. These filters will typically be accompanied by other filters like activated carbon and reverse osmosis filters.
Whole Home Mixed Media Filter – Springwell LCRSS-1
Springwellwater’s LCRSS-1 whole home mixed media system provides a ton of protection from lead and other contaminants. Additionally, the system can be expanded on to include both UV as well as reverse-osmosis filter technology. This product is sleek-looking and does not break the bank, even with all of the upgrades
It’s comforting to know you can still protect yourself from potential water contaminants even when you’re on the go. For this reason we wanted to include our recommended on the go product for lead removal
Best Portable Mixed Media Filter – Epic Naglene OG
*It is worth noting that with any filter method implemented, it is extremely important to make sure the filter changeout, monitoring and maintenance procedures are followed according to the original equipment manufacturers guidelines.
Hands down, one of the best products we have seen out there is Epic Water Filter’s Nalgene OG series water bottles No matter if you are running out to the gym, heading to a friend’s house for a pickup game of pickleball, going on a shopping spree at the mall or camping with friends in the middle of the woods their product has you covered.
Yes, their product can be used to remove contaminants from BOTH tap water and Outdoor water. They also have some really cool designs so you can be health-conscious and look cool doing it.
Distillation: Not typically seen within households yet worth mentioning is distillation. This is an effective yet energy-intensive method where water is boiled and the vapor is collected, leaving all contaminants and impurities behind.
Pipe Replacement: Probably one of the most sure fire ways to eliminate lead is to eliminate the source of it in the first place. If you know or find out your home’s plumbing contains lead piping or components, it’s strongly recommended to have these features removed and replaced by a licensed and insured professional plumbing company.
Water Softener Lead Removal FAQs:
Does a Water Softener Increase Lead in Water?
Water softeners themselves do not introduce lead into water. However, if there’s lead in the plumbing, soft water, due to its elevated sodium content, and more corrosive nature the use of soft water may facilitate the leaching of lead.
The consumption of lead-contaminated water can have severe health implications. Given the potential for lead exposure, it’s imperative to ensure plumbing systems are lead-free. To take it a step further, it’s also a good idea to avoid using softeners on systems that are primarily plumbed with copper.
Does a Water Conditioner Remove Lead?
Not inherently. Water conditioners primary function revolves around hard water minerals. So, solely relying on water conditioners in areas with potential lead contamination can expose inhabitants to health risks. Specialized equipment should be utilized when trying to remove specific contaminants such as lead.
Does Boiling Water Remove Lead?
Boiling your water is not an effective method to remove lead if your aim is to drink the water that you are boiling. In fact, boiling water to remove lead will concentrate it even further due to pure water being evaporated which leads to the minerals and contaminants being left behind with less pure water present to dilute them. Boiling water accomplishes killing off any harmful pathogens.
On the flip side, if your aim is to only drink the water that is being evaporated that would be ok. Condensation formed from the steam of water being boiled is pure distilled water.
What is the Best Way to Remove Lead from Water?
The most effective methods to remove lead include reverse osmosis filtration systems, specialized lead removal filters, and distillation. Implementing these methods can protect users from the adverse health effects of lead. When used only at the sources of consumption you can also ensure environmental best practices are maintained with minimal negative environmental impacts.
While water softeners play a vital role in improving water quality, always remember their main purpose is to soften water, and should not be relied upon as a means to remove lead from a water source.
When it comes to the health and safety of you and your family, the best approach is a holistic approach that considers not only prevention of lead contamination, but also remediation. When it comes to remediation, having multiple features within your pretreatment system is highly recommended.
When you have multiple components that are designed to remove lead you effectively have multiple failsafes to prevent lead from making its way into the water you consume. Another thing to consider and to budget for in order to put your mind at ease is to verify the effectiveness of the system you have put into place by having your final water product tested by a lab such as https://mytapscore.com/ .
This process is often overlooked but is extremely important and well worth it. Doing this simple step is the only way you can make sure the system you have invested in and installed is actually performing as designed and providing the safe drinking water you were looking for to begin with. With this newfound knowledge we hope you are better prepared to take your next step towards drinking clean and healthy water!