Six Ways to Detect Lead in Your Drinking Water

Lead can be found in water supplies all over the country. Infants, fetuses, and children are the most vulnerable when it comes to lead exposure. Read our effective methods on how to test for lead in your water.

Darrell Smith
06.2019
Six Ways to Test for Lead in Water
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Have you ever thought about the amount of lead in your drinking water? If not, then it's probably time to start.

Lead is a toxic metal, and even low lead exposure levels can be harmful to human health. Infants and fetusues especially, but also children and seniors, are the most at-risk when exposed to lead.

How Lead Enters Your Water Supply

The most common way lead enters your water supply is through lead-based plumbing materials, including pipes, faucets, fittings, and solder. These can corrode over time and leach particles into your water.

It's estimated that more than 10 million homes across the country receive their water through lead pipes.

Corrosion occurs if your water content has a low mineral content or a high acidic content, or if the water sits in the pipes for several hours.

As of 2011, the US Congress mandated that all pipes and other plumbing materials must be free of lead, which means that most newer homes are built with safer pipes. However, if your home was built before then, there's a chance you have lead-based pipes.

Why You Should Test Your Water for Lead

For some, testing water quality is a no-brainer. Others may never have considered it.

But it’s important that all homeowners test their water for lead. This is especially important if you or your children tend to drink water from the tap or if this is the water you give your pets.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that no amount of lead is safe. Even if your water contains only a small amount of lead, it can accumulate in your body over time and result in illness and poisoning.

How to Test for Lead in Water: It’s Easier Than You Think

We at WaterZen strongly recommend that you test your home's water supply for lead. While there are expensive lead-testing services, most are affordable, if not free.

1. Basic Consumer Home Tests

There are many basic consumer home water tests such as First Alert available. These not only test for lead but also for pesticides, bacteria, chlorine, nitrates, pH, and hardness.

Most are affordable, around $25, and you can find these tests online or even at local hardware stores.

Each test is different, but for the most part, you need to fill individual vials with water and then test the vials for specific components. Separation may be required for accurate results, which can appear in as little as 10 minutes or as long as a couple of days.

2. Premium Consumer Home Tests

When it comes to home water-testing, you get what you pay for. While basic tests will tell you much of what's in your water, paying a little extra will give you a more comprehensive view of your water quality and the water quality in your area.

For example, Tap Score is a service that takes samples of your water and tests them in their lab for lead and other dangerous substances such as hexachlorobutadiene, copper, and isopropylbenzene.

In addition, they also rank the water quality in your area by emailing you with your personal water results and how your water ranks with New York and other states and cities around the country.

These services are a little more expensive and take longer to send your results, but they come with more piece of mind.

3. Department of Environmental Protection

Your state's Department of Environmental Protection or your local enviornmental center/agency are reliable sources for testing your tap-water quality.

If you have no luck finding a DEP or local environmental agency, there’s a DEP-certified lab in nearly every state. You can find the nearest lab on the EPA website.

While nearly every DEP lab operates the same, it’s still best to contact them before sending a sample to see what they require.

Some labs ask you to purchase a special vial, while some allow you to use a home container or even an empty water bottle.

To get an accurate reading, many labs will ask you to collect your sample first thing in the morning after your water has been sitting stagnant in your pipes for at least six hours.

Some labs may ask for a second sample to test the pre- and post-flush amount of lead.

4. Local Water Supplier

This option doesn’t apply to all areas, but some local water suppliers offer water testing and some will even do it for free. You should be able to find this information on your local government’s website.

If your water supplier does offer this, it’s the best possible scenario. You don’t have to worry about gathering samples and mailing them off because a technician will come to your home to collect the sample.

Obviously, they're experts about your local water supply and will know what to look for and how to best test your water quality.

5. Water Filtration Company

A local water filtration company is a good option if your local water supplier doesn’t offer water testing. Many water filtration companies, including Ecowater, Kinetico, and Rainsoft, will test your water for free.

First, search for these companies in your local area. If you have difficulty finding one, visit a hardware store such as Home Depot or Lowe's and ask them to help you.

When you find one, schedule an appointment. Like the water supplier, they will come to your home and test your water for you.

Keep in mind that since they represent a filtration company, they'll likely try and sell you their products. While this may be helpful if you’re planning on buying a filtration product, they may exaggerate your water-quality results to persuade you to buy their products. Be careful.

6. Check If Your Pipes Are Made of Lead

If you'd rather do the “better safe than sorry” method, you can check if your own pipes are made of lead. And you don't have to be a plumber.

Access any of the pipes in your home and scratch the surface of the pipe with a key or a coin. Did the material scratch off and leave a white line? If so, it’s a lead pipe. If there’s no scratch, then your pipes are likely made of galvanized steel.

Keep in mind, galvanized steel pipes may not be much safer than lead pipes. However, there’s still debate on this topic.

If you find that your home pipes aren’t made of lead, but you aren’t sure about the connecting materials, contact your local water supplier or government.

What to Do When the Lead in Your Water Is Too High

Any amount of lead in your water can be harmful. But the EPA has set a threshold of 15 parts per billion and stated that anything above this level is toxic.

If your water content exceeds this number, stick to either filtered or bottled water for all drinking and cooking purposes.

If your water content is under this level, you should still filter your water because it can contain other harmful contaminants.

Looking for More Info on Lead?

Our article on lead-test kits is packed full of more detailed info on lead. And if you're shopping for a water filter, here are our favorites for 2019.

WaterZen

WaterZen exists to improve your family's health by making information about the water you drink more accessible, straightforward, and easy-to-understand. We do this by providing clear, simple water-quality information for your area based on data from your local water provider, unbiased comparisons, health standards, and expert opinions.

The way we see it, what you're informed about the quality of your water and then empowered to protect your family (and your community), you've achieved "water zen".