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How to Test for Copper in Water

By: Craig Smith
Last Updated:
How to Test for Copper in Water

If you do not have a good water filtration system somewhere on your drinking water supply line, then at the very least you should have your water tested for some of the more worrisome water contaminants. 

One of those is copper.

Although it’s unusual to find dangerous copper levels in tap water, excessive copper levels do rear their ugly heads from time to time.

 If it is present in your water, you will want to take steps to get rid of or significantly reduce it.

I am about to go over with you how to test for copper in water, why you should be concerned about its presence in your tap water, and how to eliminate it once you are sure you have copper in your water supply.  

How Does Copper Get into Water?

Like all naturally occurring elements, environmental processes such as groundwater movement and its related erosion can pick up copper found in rocks, soil, water, & air and transport it into drinking water supplies such as reservoirs and aquifers.

Man-made sources also contribute to higher copper levels than normal being found in drinking water supplies. 

This includes excess copper being introduced into the environment through farming, manufacturing, mining, and as a component of municipal or industrial wastewater.

These are not usually the biggest sources when large concentrations of copper are found in your water. It’s often the result of copper leaching out of your copper plumbing pipe as it becomes corroded.

If your home was built anywhere from the early 70s to the present time, there is a good chance that you have at least some copper pipes inside it. 

Copper has long been a favorite for hot and cold-water plumbing use because it’s easy to mold into different shapes and it holds up well under temperature extremes.

So, the source of your copper water contamination may not be coming from as far away as you think.  

How Can You Tell if There is Copper in Your Water?

Although the presence of copper in your tap water probably will not be readily apparent, its presence does often leave behind some telltale signs. These include:

Bluish-Green Stains on Copper Pipes and Fixtures

Copper buildup on pipes that is bluish green in color is the most obvious sign of the presence of copper in your water. You may notice this copper buildup around your copper pipes & fixtures and the faucets & fixtures in your kitchen and bathrooms.

Your Water Has a Metallic Taste

While it’s true that the presence of lead and other metals can give your drinking water a metallic taste, so too can the presence of copper in it.

A metallic taste that is also slightly bitter would be a stronger indicator that the taste is a result of copper being in your drinking water.  

Testing

This is the very best and most accurate way to determine if you have copper in your incoming household water and if it’s at a level that you need to be concerned about.

I will describe exactly how to test for copper in water later on in this article.

Should I Test My Water for Copper?

When deciding if you should test your water for copper, let’s put it this way, everyone is leery about getting lead poisoning from drinking water because it gets so much publicity for its negative health effects. 

At the same time, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone worried too much about copper poisoning. 

That’s a bit ironic because, like lead, copper can also harm your health if too much is taken into your body over time.  Copper is also a skin irritant and it has a more negative environmental impact than lead too.

While it’s true that copper is also a necessary body supplement, we only need very small amounts of it and that amount is easily obtained from the foods that we eat. That’s why it’s rarely found in mineral supplements.

The biggest health worry associated with copper poisoning is liver damage and kidney disease which in severe cases can lead to death. When ingested in smaller quantities, copper poisoning can cause headaches, stomach pain, lightheadedness, vomiting, and diarrhea.

These are all good reasons to prevent excessive copper intake.

As a swimming pool water treatment professional for over 26-years, I have seen firsthand how powerful copper can be when it’s present in water in higher amounts.

It was the main ingredient in many of the most impactful algae treatments that I used. That’s until its use as an ingredient in algaecide was widely curtailed because of its negative environmental impact and its tendency to turn blonde hair green.

There is another reason you should be concerned about the level of copper that’s present in your drinking water. That’s because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is. They currently have regulations in place that limit the amount of copper in drinking water to 1.3 parts per million (1.3 mg/L).

That’s not very high copper levels in water, yet it’s still concerning to the Environmental Protection Agency and is enough to lead to copper poisoning.

Even more alarming is that the EPA requires immediate corrective action when copper is found in a water supply above 1.3 parts per million and they are thinking to regulate copper and lead in tap water down closer to, if not at zero.

Some other good reasons to make sure copper levels in your water are not high besides its potential negative health impacts is that it can be used to detect other water issues. Its presence often indicates that your water may also have a pH imbalance to the acidic side.

That’s a major cause of this substance being leached out of your copper pipes. 

That’s something that you will want to get corrected quickly for many reasons. I won’t go into the negative impact of improper water pH in too much detail now.

If you are interested to know more about this, then check out our article on the impact pH has on water here.

How to Test for Copper in Your Water

Two practical ways can be used to see if you need to take drinking water copper removal steps.  They are as follows:

Test Strips

This is by far the easiest way to do a copper test on your tap water. With a test strip, you simply dip them in a water sample and then match up the corresponding color they turn with a chart on the test strip container or that comes with it.

Be aware that using a test strip is not as accurate as lab testing for copper. That’s why if these test kits indicate you have excessive drinking water copper levels, you may want to follow up with certified laboratory testing.

This 15 in 1 Drinking Water Test Kit is a home water test kit that will help you to determine the presence of copper and 14 other concerning water contaminants in your water.

Home Water Sampling with Follow Up Lab Analysis

test-kits

This is the type of copper test kit I would recommend that you use to test your water for excessive drinking water copper levels and a large variety of other potentially harmful water impurities. 

You simply order a kit online and when it arrives, you take out the water sampling containers and fill them as instructed.

Once that’s done, you will seal the containers, put them in the supplied prepaid envelope, and then send them to a professional lab for analysis. The company will email you the results for the presence of copper and many other commonly found tap water impurities.

My personal favorite as far as a test kit for copper and lead only is the Tap Score Lead and Copper Water Test.  

Several of the best test kits for water found here have the ability to detect copper in your water.

What Can I Do If My Water Tests Positive for Copper?

There are several different ways that you can choose to filter copper out of your water. The most popular options for water copper removal include:

Reverse Osmosis (RO)

aquasana-ro

This would absolutely be my number one choice for water copper removal. The membranes that are found in a good RO filtration system have extremely small pores.

This smaller pore size, often as little as 1-micron, gives these advanced water filtration systems the ability to filter out a large number of water impurities.

Among those are up to 98% of the copper that is present in the water that passes through them. They are usually installed as point-of-use (POU) devices near the kitchen sink; either on the countertop or under the sink.

This location means they will even remove copper in drinking water that leaches out of your copper plumbing pipes, something that a whole-house water filtration system will not do.

Ion Exchange Filters

Many whole-home water filtration devices will include a filtration stage that uses ion exchange. These are very impactful when it comes to removing copper from water. They will also remove many hard water-causing substances such as magnesium and calcium.

As was mentioned, they are point-of-entry (POE) water filtration systems, so they will not remove any copper that results from the leaching of your internal plumbing pipes.

The biggest benefit of using these for removing copper in drinking water is that they will remove it from your entire incoming water supply before it’s distributed throughout your home house.

Activated Carbon Filtration  

You have to be careful when choosing carbon-based filtration systems to help you remove copper from your drinking water supply. That’s because not all of them can do it.

So, be sure to check before you purchase any water filtration system for this purpose. The benefit of using carbon-based filters to remove copper in drinking water is they are usually the least expensive of these three choices. 

They are also used as major components in both POE and POU filtration systems.

My Final Thoughts on Copper Testing

Would I go out of my way just to test my tap water for the presence of copper? 

Probably not unless I was experiencing some of the high copper concentration signs previously mentioned.

That’s because dangerous copper levels are not found in water as often as some other worrisome impurities.     

With that being said, I would absolutely test my water whenever I move into a new home or if my house is supplied with well water. In that case, the presence of copper in my water sample is something that I would want to be aware of.

So be sure to note its presence when you are doing initial or periodic water testing and if copper is found to be in your water, then you will certainly want to take steps to remove it.

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AUTHOR
Craig Smith
Craig got his start in water working in the swimming pool and spa industry. Water treatment would grow into his main career but he ended up working in the pool industry for over 26 years where much of his time was spent balancing the water in customer's swimming pools and installing water filtration equipment. Craig offers an abundance of water treatment knowledge after helping homeowners get pure water for 26 years.

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