With the news covering places like Flint Michigan and the high levels of lead in their water, you may be left wondering if your water might also be contaminated.
If you have kids or plan to one day, then it is all the more urgent to find out ASAP if your water is safe to drink.
Lead accumulates in the body and can cause a lot of problems.
Luckily, it is easy to check your water for lead and sleep easy knowing you either don’t have any or that you have solved the problem if you do find high levels in your water.
In this article I will go over several ways for you to test for lead in your water at home. There is no one size fits all approach so I have gone over several ways to do it. Plus you’ll find some other useful information as food for thought.
What Happens if You Drink Water With Lead?
Anybody of any age will encounter problems with lead in drinking water, but kids are especially vulnerable.
Here are some of the effects on children that are exposed to lead in their water at home:
- Behavior and learning problems
- Lower IQ and hyperactivity
- Slowed growth
- Hearing problems
Now, kids can be potentially exposed to lead from other sources, but the Center for Disease Control estimates that up to 60% of infant’s exposure to lead comes from their drinking water at home.
Pregnant women can also be at high risk of problems caused by lead. It is especially important to check for lead before getting pregnant to avoid complications.
What are the complications from drinking lead contaminated water while pregnant?
Failure of the fetus to grow properly is high atop the list with premature birth also common.
Making matters worse, lead can be passed to an infant from a mother’s breast milk. All of the problems listed above that children can suffer from are all also highly elevated in fetuses and infants who are also similarly exposed.
As for adults?
You can expect to suffer from:
- Cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension
- Decreased kidney function
- Reproductive problems (in both men and women)
With many contaminants that could possibly be found in your tap water, there is usually an acceptable maximum that can be consumed without any adverse effects.
This is not the case with lead in your tap water.
The EPA has put the acceptable level to 0. There are no acceptable lead levels in drinking water.
That being said, it does allow for municipal water supplies to contain 15 parts per billion. It would be nearly impossible to have 0 parts in any public water supply.
How Do You Know if there is Lead in your Water?
Water that has lead contamination has no taste or smell. The only way to be sure that you have lead in your water is to test it.
There are some factors, however that make it more likely that you may have lead in your water.
If any of the following factors pertain to you, then you should do a lead test. I’ll talk more about how to test your home for lead water a bit further down.
If your house was built before 1963 there is a chance it has lead pipes. Lead can leach from these pipes into your drinking water and means you likely have some.
To find out if your pipes are lead, take a look under your sink or at the stop tap. If the pipe is dull grey in color and then when you scratch it, the underlying metal is shiny then that is a sign.
It will be obvious if it isn’t lead if you have copper or PVC pipes.
If you can’t get to the pipes then have a plumber come take a look, or just do a test to make sure which will likely be cheaper anyway.
If you have copper pipes, then chances are good that the solder connecting them is made with lead. This shouldn’t necessarily cause any problems, but if your water has been sitting in the pipes for a while, then some may leach into the water.
Old Service Lines
In older cities that haven’t upgraded their water main lines, there is a very high risk that the pipes are made of lead and coming into your home already contaminated.
This is the case in places like Flint, Michigan.
Not to sound alarmist, but Reuters found over 3,000 areas in the US with high lead poisoning cases. This alone seems to be a good enough reason to test your drinking water.
If you have well water and live near an old factory or even a farm, you may have some contaminants leach into your groundwater, including lead.
How Do I Test My Home For Lead Water?
Luckily, there are several options for testing your home for lead water. I will go into each individually and in detail.
Instant Home Test Kit
For the cheapest and fasted way to test your water for lead, there are a lot of instant test kits out there.
The only thing you need to look out for is that a reading of less than the EPA minimum of 15 parts per billion comes back as a negative.
Anything over should be counted as a positive hit for lead and that is when you need to take things to the next step.
The way to test is to let the water rest in your pipes overnight and then do the test in the morning. Remember, that some households have copper pipes with lead solder that will accumulate in the water as it sits. If the water is running then it doesn’t have much of a chance for the lead to leach in. Letting it sit will give you an accurate reading.
Follow the instructions on the kit as to how exactly to use the test.
I’ll get more into what to do when your water tests positive for lead in a bit.
First, I will recommend this lead water test kit from Health Metrics.
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You’ll have your results in just 15 minutes by doing this at home. And it tests for other heavy metals besides just lead.
The accuracy is what has me sold on this lead drinking water test as it shows the actual level of your lead contamination. It not only will give you a positive for being over 15 parts per billion, but it will also show how much lead you actually have in your water.
This is the most convenient way to test your water since it is instant. Order it on Amazon and in 2 days you have your results. And since the Health Metric kit is accurate it is almost as good as the kits that are sent to a lab. Without the wait though.
Even if it is under the 15 parts per billion it still shows how much is in your water.
I highly recommend doing this home instant water test for lead before doing anything else. They do have other types of tests for multiple pathogens like bacteria and other heavy metals so click the button above to see more of what they offer.
If you have a well, then you may be less likely to have lead in your water since that seems to be mainly from city treatment centers, so I do recommend testing for things like coliform bacteria in addition to lead. If you have a well then I highly recommend reading this article I wrote on how to test for coliform bacteria.
Get Tested By Your Water Supplier
Most water suppliers will do a test of your drinking water. In fact, if your water supplier is a municipal one then they are required to test your water for lead for free. They are responsible for providing uncontaminated water that is safe and clean.
There are two problems, however. Not all water suppliers are municipal so they don’t all offer this as a service. And those non municipal providers are not always free. And as we have seen, not all municipalities take this responsibility seriously. If they had then Flint would never have made the news for their continuing water problems.
The other downside is that there is quite a wait involved.
What it entails is you trying to find a phone number or email of the office responsible for testing, or to call them to find out if they even do it.
Then you’ll need to make an appointment to have them come to administer the test.
Then the sample has to be sent off to a lab and then you wait for the results. This can usually be weeks.
The positive part of it is that you will have as accurate a reading of the levels of lead and other contaminants as possible.
Call A Water Filtration Company
This is a very controversial tip and one that I hesitate to even recommend.
Let me explain.
There are many water filtration companies that will either come to your house and take a sample which they will send to a lab for testing, or you can pick one up at your local Home Depot or Lowes store. Then you collect the sample after following the directions and send it off.
Sounds good so far, right? A free test to check your water and you only have to wait around a week for the results?
Well, it may sound nice but keep in mind one thing. These water filtration companies are there to sell you a water filter. No matter what the results, they will find a way to put a high pressure sales pitch together to get you to buy a water filter system.
Which is not a bad thing as these are a very good purchase in my mind. But most people are turned off by high pressure sales. Not only that, but it is much better to find out what the problem is, what type of contaminants you have and then buy your own water filter for those specific problems.
This way you will know you are not getting taken advantage of by a salesman trying to hit a quota.
This is not to say they are a scam, so you may opt for this way to do it. If you do or if you ever have done a test this way I would love to hear about it!
Find an EPA Certified Lab to Test
The EPA has departments in every state that will help you find a certified lab that will provide a test for you.
Many state EPA departments do not do individual tests for homes so you will need to pay a lab to do this for you.
The benefit of this is that you can get incredibly accurate results.
How much it will cost and how long it takes will depend on the company that you end up finding.
You can go to this EPA page here to use a drop down menu for your state and follow the directions on how to find a certified lab.
Also how it is collected will depend on the lab. Some will require that they mail you a kit, or that you go to the lab to pick one up. Others will let you use your own container to collect the sample. Contacting the lab will get you all the specifics.
If you don’t mind the expense and the wait then I would recommend going this route over calling a water filtration company.
And I definitely recommend it over just going with whatever your water supplier tells you is in your water supply without checking your house drinking water.
What Do You Do if you Find Lead in Your Water?
If you find lead in your water over 15 parts per billion then you need to take action immediately.
Get yourself a lead water filter right away. If you can’t get one right away then make sure you have some bottled water to drink for now.
Don’t be tempted to boil the water before drinking it. This only works for contaminants like bacteria. And you’ll only evaporate the water, further concentrating the lead that is present.
There are a lot of different kinds of water filters for lead and other contaminants, so find the one that best fits your needs.
There are ones that go in a water pitcher, others that fit to the faucet, some that cover the whole house and others under a sink.
If you are opting to go to Amazon for your instant lead test kit, I recommend also ordering a lead filter at the same time. Even if you don’t end up testing positive for lead, a water filter that extracts lead will also filter away other contaminants and leave you with water that is safer to drink and also tastes better as a result.
I recommend a reverse osmosis filter that not only filters for lead, but Chlorine, Fluoride, Nitrates, Calcium, Arsenic, Bacteria and more.
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Without getting into too deep a review, the iSpring RO system linked to above is a great way to improve your water quality and give yourself a huge insurance policy with regards to the safety of your drinking water.
This is why I would not wait until I got a positive result back I would recommend buying one no matter what the lead drinking water test says.
If the results indicate that the lead contamination is coming from your plumbing, then I would use a filter as a stop gap until you can have those lead pipes replaced.
Obviously this will be very expensive so you may be using a filter for the foreseeable future to eliminate the threat from the lead while you weigh your options as far as redoing your old plumbing.
If you found that the lead was really only present when the water had been sitting in your lines for a while, and this will be very clear from doing a test, then make sure you are always letting your water run for a minute or so to flush the lead that has leached into your water.
I hope this article on how to test for lead in water has given you some ideas on how to deal with the possibility of contamination. Doing a home lead water test, you can find out instantly if you have an issue and can quickly put an end to it.
There is no reason to panic if you find high levels of lead after doing any of the tests I mentioned in the article.
Just make sure you are prepared for the results. As I also mentioned, it is highly advisable to get yourself a heavy metal filter to really hedge your bets. Especially since you may have lead free water for now but it might not always stay that way.
Nick Lopresti is the founder of YourH2Home and a home improvement expert. He has years of experience writing about various home improvement topics, mostly as it pertains to water systems.