Does a Water Softener Remove Lead from Water?

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Lead contamination through drinking water has been an unrelenting, extensive, and severe public health crisis for the past decade – think Flint, the state of Nevada, and now Benton Harbor.

While health departments urge people to use bottled water to mitigate the catastrophic conditions, in our opinion it’s wiser to prepare yourself for any catastrophes in your area. The most economical and easiest form of reducing exposure to lead through drinking water is to look for a home purification system.

This short guide explores whether water softeners can remove lead from water, what the other options of treatment are, and how to limit your overall exposure to the notorious heavy metal.

Key Takeaways

  • Water softeners do not remove lead – they are not designed for it.
  • They target hard water minerals like calcium, but don’t do anything to reduce lead content.

Do Water Softeners Remove Lead?

Water softeners are not designed to remove lead from drinking water. Instead, they target an entirely different problem with the water supply: hardness-causing minerals.

Broadly speaking, water softeners are not even filtration devices since they do not remove any contaminants. They are “purifiers” that deal with scale. Simply put, they replace excess calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions to make your water soft.

Undoubtedly, water softeners are exceptional systems that can tremendously improve the quality of your water. Nevertheless, they have no effect on the concentration of lead.

Quite the contrary, softened water may, in some cases, be more corrosive than hard water leaching more potential impurities out of pipes – including lead!

salt-based water softener

How Do They Work?

Water softeners are usually installed at the point where water enters your home – they treat every single drop of water that flows through the plumbing and out of the taps.

A water softener works through ion exchange technology that replaces calcium and magnesium with sodium. There are no filters or cartridges to replace; all you need to do is regularly add salt to the brine tank.

Does Boiling Water Remove Lead?

No, boiling water does not remove lead either. Boiling water might even increase lead concentration as more and more water evaporates.

Does Bottled Water Contain Lead?

Since lead pipes aren’t used in bottled water production plants, the chances of lead contamination in packaged water are minimal, unless the water is sourced from a municipal supply containing lead.

Besides, the FDA has set the maximum limit for lead in bottled water to 5 parts per billion.

Nevertheless, bottled water poses a plethora of other problems to society as a whole. Apart from creating tons and tons of plastic waste, bottled water is unsustainable, expensive, and might even expose you to toxic chemicals like BPA.

Thus, it’s only prudent to ditch bottled water for good and rely on in-house water filtration options that are not only convenient but 300 times cheaper than their bottled alternative.

So, How Can You Remove Lead From Water?

You can easily remove lead from drinking water by using a home water filter designed to eliminate the nasty heavy metal. Depending on the level of contamination in your source water, you can select the ideal filtration system for your family.

Water filter pitchers, under sink water filters, whole house water filters, and other types are mostly capable of reducing/eliminating lead, provided they use the right filtration method:

  1. Activated carbon: Carbon-based water filters feature a big surface area that can adsorb large amounts of lead. But, not every granular carbon or carbon block filter can remove enough lead to make the water suitable for drinking.
  2. Reverse osmosis: Reverse osmosis systems feature multiple pre and post-filter stages along with an RO membrane. Reverse osmosis removes as much as 99.9% of lead from drinking water.
  3. KDF: KDF filter media can also be used to filter lead.
  4. Cation exchange resin: This is your last option, and it’s very effective.

Another way to remove lead from water is through distillation.

Please remember that you must know the concentration of lead and other contaminants in lurking your water to make the best purchase decision. For example, if your water supply does not have any other major contaminants (think pesticides, chromium 6, pathogens, and so forth), a high quality carbon-based filter could do an excellent job at making your water safe to consume.

On the other hand, you will need additional stages of filtration or even a reverse osmosis system if you are dealing with a multitude of water problems.

Lastly, look out for NSF certifications against standard 53 for lead reduction. This certification addresses a water filter’s ability to remove contaminants known to cause negative health effects.

How to Test for Lead in Water

If you want to perform a lead test, always test your water after it has stayed in the plumbing for at least 6 hours. This would mean postponing showers and the use of water-based appliances.

It’s best to take a sample first thing in the morning. This way you can get an accurate result.

Here are a few ways to test for lead in your water source.

Using a Certified Lab

The most reliable way to test for lead in drinking water is to hire a certified lab. Look for an EPA-certified service provider in your area to receive the most accurate results.

A private laboratory will charge you a little over $100. The report will highlight the level of lead and other contaminants that are present in your source water.

Water Testing Report

DIY Water Test Kits

If you are looking for a cheaper and more convenient alternative, water test kits are a great option.

You can buy a lead water test kit for under $50 from most home improvement stores or Amazon.

However, lead test kits will only show you whether or not there is lead in your water. Neither will they tell you the exact amount nor detect any other impurities.

Water Filtration Companies

Many water filters companies offer free water testing. They schedule a visit at your place, test a sample, and then offer you the best solution to your water woes.

It goes without saying; the representatives will try to sell you their company’s own filter systems.

How Does Lead Get into Our Water Supplies?

Lead can dissolve into your water when it flows through pipes containing the metal. This process is known as corrosion. According to a study published in The Journal of Environmental Health, tap water amounts to 14 to 20% of total lead exposure in the country.

When the US government realized the disastrous effects of lead on human health, it banned the use of lead in plumbing materials (in 1986). Unfortunately, lead service lines under the ground were allowed to continue operating.

Moreover, many houses built before the year 1986 still have at least some amount of lead in their plumbing system – solders, headers, or pipes.

Lead in water is an increasing concern for the public health. This is because it gets into your water after it has left the treatment plant. Therefore, you must diligently test for lead in your tap water and deal with it individually. The most permanent solution is to replace all lead-containing plumbing in your house.

Of course, if your town is receiving water from aged lead pipes, you can’t do much about it. In this case, all you can do is install a proper water filtration system targeted to eradicate lead.

Why Lead Is a Health Concern

Whether young or old, no one is safe from the perils of toxic lead. Although the major source of exposure is dust and chips from old lead-based paint, lead-contaminated water is also an escalating threat.

It affects your health in more ways than one. If you have small kids or a pregnant woman at home, it’s likely to be a bigger problem for your household.

By the way, there is no safe level of lead since it has bio-accumulative properties. In simple words, lead can accumulate inside your body – in your bones, organs, and teeth. Over time, it starts to pass into other tissue, causing serious damage.


Children are especially at risk from lead exposure since their growing body absorbs more of it. According to the EPA, lead is the “most serious environmental health hazard” for kids under six years of age in the US.

Young kids with a high level of lead in their blood are far more susceptible to:

  • Slow growth and development
  • Learning issues (lower IQ)
  • Behavior problems

Pregnant Women

Just like tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, lead can also cross the placental barrier and accumulate in fetal tissues. When a pregnant woman is exposed to high levels of the toxicant, it can lead to:

  • Low birth weight of the baby
  • Reduced birth size
  • Problems with brain development

In severe cases, it can also lead to stillbirth and miscarriage.

Reducing Your Chances of Lead Exposure

If installing a water filtration system is not an option for you now, try these methods to reduce your chances of lead exposure during everyday life:

Use Cold Water

Hot water dissolves more contaminants more quickly than cold water. Therefore, you must avoid using hot water directly from the tap if you have lead pipelines or fixtures.

Cold water must be used for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula.

Flush Water Before First Use

While it may not be the most convenient trick, you should flush water for a few minutes, especially in the morning. This is because more lead can dissolve from pipes into water if it stays in contact with them.

Please remember if the flush is not long enough, you could expose yourself to water that has had prolonged contact with lead. So this method is just a precaution in dire times.

You can save the water for doing dishes or watering your plants to make the best use of your resources.

If you have any thoughts about the question, do water softeners remove lead, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

About the Author Gene Fitzgerald

Gene Fitzgerald is one of the founders of BOS and currently head of content creation. She has 8+ years of experience as a water treatment specialist under her belt making her our senior scientist. Outside of BOS, Gene loves reading books on philosophy & social issues, making music, and hiking.
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