According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), drinking water can contribute almost 20% of an individual’s total lead exposure. It’s critical to remove any lead from our household drinking water, and reverse osmosis is often considered the most effective water purification method, but can it remove lead?
Reverse osmosis (RO) can remove lead from water. Lead removal efficiency varies between RO systems, with many able to remove between 61 and 99% of lead contamination. An RO system uses pressure to push the contaminated water through a semi-permeable membrane (and other filters) to remove the chemical contaminants, including lead.
This article explains in detail what lead is, its hazardous effects, how it enters our water supply and how reverse osmosis removes lead from water.
Table of Contents
- What is Lead?
- How reverse osmosis removes lead from water
- The best reverse osmosis systems for lead removal
What is Lead?
Lead is a natural chemical element found in low contents in the earth’s crust.
Because of its high density, lead is used as a shield from various types of radiation, e.g., from X-ray machines and nuclear reactors. It’s also used to manufacture several products, such as car batteries, pigments, and weights.
However, despite its numerous uses, exposure to lead is harmful.
Although there is a ban on the use of lead in the manufacture of consumer products, there is still a risk of exposure to lead-based products. For example, families living in older homes can inhale or ingest dust from peeling lead paint, or drink water from lead-contaminated pipes.
These sorts of exposure pose a serious health risk, drinking contaminated water in particular, is a significant source of lead poisoning.
How reverse osmosis removes lead from water
Reverse osmosis is a cost-effective and straightforward way to protect your household drinking water by filtering out chemical and metal contaminants like lead.
The best RO systems can remove over 99% of lead from tap water. These systems utilise both activated carbon filters as well as a semi-permeable membrane.
The contaminated water is driven through several multi-stage filters and a semipermeable membrane at high pressure. An activated carbon filter is just one of the filters in an RO system that removes lead. It removes it by adsorption, physical pore size, and ionic bonding.
Ionic bonds develop when a non-metal (adsorbent – in this case the carbon) in the RO system and a metal contaminant (lead) exchange electrons.
Contaminants like lead are attracted to the activated carbon pores and attach to the carbon’s vast surface area and is removed from the water.
The water then passes through the semi-permeable membrane for further decontamination.
Lead molecules are too large to pass through the semi-permeable membrane. Any remaining lead molecules “bounce back” off the membrane and are washed away with wastewater, leaving lead-free pure water to pass through.
This multi-stage water purification technology makes RO effective (and popular) in removing a huge number of contaminants. Not only is lead and other heavy metals removed, but also PFAS, arsenic and chlorine.
The EPA also recommends regularly cleaning faucet aerators (~ every 2 weeks) and letting the water run until it is as cold as it can get (i.e. not warm or hot) before using the water to drink.
The best reverse osmosis systems for lead removal
Here is our list of the top RO systems for lead removal.
1. Pentair FreshPoint 5-Stage Under Counter Reverse Osmosis System With Monitor GRO-575M
This 5-Stage Pentair Reverse Osmosis System is certified to remove 98.6% of Lead from water.
It has been independently tested and certified for NSF/ANSI 42, 53 and 58. Increased lead is removed from water under slightly acidic conditions (99.9% removal at pH 6.5) compared to more alkaline conditions (99.6% removal at pH 8.5). Either way, this RO system was shown to be effective at removing lead under various pH conditions.
It also has an air-gapped dedicated faucet that prevent wastewater from re-entering the filtration system giving it an excellent drain ratio of 1:2.5 (1-part pure water to 2.5 parts wastewater).
2. Crystal Quest 1000CP Reverse Osmosis System
Crystal Quest Under Sink RO System uses a 12-stage filtration process that guarantees effective removal of lead and other contaminants.
The system uses an ion exchange resin, not typically available in RO systems, which aids in its effective removal of lead and other heavy metals like copper and aluminum.
A large stainless steel storage tank and pressure pump is included, and you have the option of purchasing add-on filters to remove specific contaminants such as nitrates, arsenic or fluoride. It also comes with a European lead-free long-reach designer faucet (not pictured).
3. Waterdrop G3 Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System
The Waterdrop G3 RO system is well-designed, effective system that removes lead from tap water.
The system uses a 7-stage filtration technology that effectively removes over 91.9% of total dissolved solids and heavy metal contaminants, including lead.
It’s tested and certified against NSF/ANSI standard 372 and made of lead-free material that ensures the purified water can’t be lead-contaminated. This makes it an excellent choice for someone looking for a compact and efficient RO system for their household, RV or office space.
- The system uses a cross filtration process that prevents bacteria and virus build-up.
- Intelligent TDS monitoring – the filter shows the TDS amount removed from the water.
- It saves on space thanks to its small size that fits perfectly on the counter or under the sink.
- Easy and simple to install
- Made from lead-free material
- Water flow is exceptional
- Boasts a wastewater to pure water ratio of 1:1 – which is excellent!
- It can’t be used with well water
4. Frizzlife Reverse Osmosis System
The TAM3 Frizzlife Reverse Osmosis System removes over 1000 different contaminants including Lead.
A 7-stage deep filtration system produces 600 Gallons of water a day. It comes with a separate alkaline remineralization water filter that makes the water slightly alkaline (~pH 7.5) and gives it a great taste.
It also includes a dedicated faucet. It has an excellent drain ratio of 1.5:1 (pure water to wastewater ratio) and takes up less room under the sink than most traditional RO systems.
5. Waterdrop G2P600 Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration System.
The Waterdrop G2P600 Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration System can remove 99.99 percent of pollutants water, including lead.
It uses an innovative composite filter technology that includes a 0.0001-micron reverse osmosis membrane that reduces lead, and many other contaminants such as chloramine, atrazine, fluoride, PFAS, nitrates, and bacteria.
The systems post activated carbon block filter removes any remaining pollutants giving you drinking water an impressive clean and crisp taste.
6. AquaTru – Countertop Water Filtration Purification System
AquaTru – Countertop Water Filtration Purification System removes up to 99.1% of lead. The system meets NSF/ANSI standards to remove over 82 water pollutants.
This countertop reverse osmosis system is independently tested for simplicity of use, maintenance, and setup. It features a sleek, compact design that guarantees adequate pure water for your household.
This RO system delivers you a gallon of pure drinking water in just 15mins and comes with a 100% refund guarantee if you are not completely satisfied.
- This RO water filtration system features four filter stages that remove heavy metals like lead, other toxins, and impurities.
- There is no need for piping or installation.
- Effectively removes lead (99.1%)
- Filters last 6 months to 2 years
- It has an indicator to tell you when to change the filters
- The capacity of the storage tank is restricted
- Twenty-five percent of water is wasted, according to independent certification
7. NU Aqua Efficiency Series 600 GPD RO System
The NU Aqua Efficiency Series 600 GPD tankless direct flow RO system is one of the most efficient water purification systems that removes lead from drinking water.
Unlike ordinary ROs, this system guarantees a whopping 2 gallons of pure taste water relative to a gallon of wasted water – this system significantly saves on water wastage.
It features a tankless design that ensures instant access to pure, tasty water. It also includes a booster pump that creates good pressure even when there is low water supply pressure.
You also enjoy a 5-year warranty with direct support in the US.
- It has an intelligent faucet that identifies when the water is pure (a blue indicator for safe water and a red indicator for low-quality water).
- Very easy to connect/install
- No tank hence no virus and bacteria build-up
- Effectively removes lead
- Membrane lasts up to 36 months and filters between 6-12 months
- Easy to change the filters
- Filter change indicator
- It’s yet to receive National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certification
- The smart faucet plug installation is challenging for some consumers
8. PureDrop RTW5 5-Stage RO Water System
The PureDrop RTW5 5 Stage RO Water System is a mechanical under-sink water filtration system that removes up to 99% of lead from your drinking water.
The system features a compact design to fit under your kitchen sink, saving space. It uses a 5-stage mechanical process that efficiently purifies 50 gallons of water per day without electricity.
The process includes a pre-filter, activated carbon, semi-permeable membrane, post-filters, and polishing filters.
The PureDrop RTW5 also provides enough pure drinking water to serve a family of 4.
- It includes a complimentary 3-pieces pre-filter replacement kit giving you value.
- It uses a mechanical filtration process, making it highly energy efficient.
- All system parts are BPA-free
- A lead-free faucet
- Meets NSF/ANSI standards 58 and 61 for high water quality
- Easy to install and maintain
- Air leak and pressure-resistant
- High-capacity storage tank
- The storage tank encourages bacteria and virus growth
Here are some additional facts about lead removal from tap water you may want to check out.
How does lead get into our water supply?
Lead faucets, pipes, plumbing, and fixtures are the primary sources of lead in our drinking water.
The use of lead solder in pipes and plumbing can also potentially be hazardous and is currently prohibited. However, this prohibition does not apply to existing lead supply pipes. When these pipes degrade, lead quickly enters our tap water.
With many major US cities utilizing lead pipes to supply water to homes and businesses corroding lead pipes and plumbing have become significant sources of lead poisoning in household drinking water.
This is especially common in locations where the water is deficient in minerals or acidic, making the pipes more prone to corrosion.
The extent of lead exposure in tap water is dependent on the following factors:
- How acidic or alkaline the water is
- Which minerals are available in the water and their concentration?
- The amount of lead the water comes into contact within the service lines
- The extent of wear in the service pipes
- Temperature of the water
- Amount of time the water takes in the service pipes and
- Absence/presence of protective coating in the pipes
Since lead is rarely found in surface water if you have a private well, the lead in your tap water is most likely from your pipes and plumbing, including fixtures. The well’s components, like its wall and screen, and your pump, typically don’t add to your water’s lead concentration.
How to tell if your tap water is contaminated with lead
Now that we know the primary sources of lead exposure in tap water let’s touch on how to tell if you and your family are at risk of lead poisoning.
Firstly, it’s important to know that you can’t identify lead contamination through taste or smell.
To tell if your tap water is contaminated, you need to determine potential lead sources in your supply (i.e., pumping and service line).
While you can ask your local water authority if there is a lead service line supplying water to your home this won’t tell you if the pipes are experiencing degradation and contaminating your supply.
Once the water leaves the community water system facility the water is not tested again by the water authority and the only way to be certain is to test your own tap water if you suspect lead contamination.
Because of the range of pipes and faucets in a home, it is best to test the water in your home at several points – a good example would be an outdoor tap, the kitchen tap, and a bathroom tap. If your home has more than 1 storey, it’s important to test the water from at least one tap on each floor.
A simple ‘lead in water test’ can be bought from Amazon.com and done at home. The Watersafe Water test is one of the best available on Amazon and has been validated by the EPA to detect lead concentrations in water as low as 3.8 parts per billion.
The results may vary depending on the sampling method, season and day of sampling, and the water flow so it is important to follow the instructions carefully.
Why you should remove lead from tap water
Lead persists in the environment and is capable of accumulating in our bodies with time and exposure, causing adverse health effects.
The EPA has even set the maximum levels of lead in drinking water to zero because it is a toxic metal harmful to our health even in small doses. Although, the extent of its effect varies depending on:
- the amount ingested
- the water’s overall chemical composition
- the individual exposed (the extent varies from one person to another)
For example, children consuming formula mixed with lead-contaminated water is at a higher risk due to the high volumes consumed compared to their body mass.
The dangers of lead poisoning
Excessive lead poisoning is fatal. Even small doses of lead can lead to adverse health issues.
Here are some of the effects of lead poisoning.
Symptoms of lead poisoning in adults
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Muscle and joint discomfort
- Problems with memory and focus
- Aches and pains in the abdomen
- Mood instabilities
- Low sperm count, as well as aberrant sperm
- Pregnant women’s miscarriage, stillbirth, or early birth
Symptoms of lead poisoning in children
- Delay in development
- Problems with learning
- Appetite loss is common
- Loss of weight
- Pain in the abdomen
- Sluggishness and exhaustion
Using simple RO systems is a great way to avoid lead poisoning from tap water.
Which filtration system removes lead the best?
The most widely used and least costly technique for reducing and eliminating lead from water is reverse osmosis.
Thanks to its multi-stage purification process, reverse osmosis offers an effective and efficient lead removal process. Its semi-permeable membrane gives the system unique capabilities of removing over 99% of lead from tap water.
Does a fridge filter remove lead?
A fridge filter cannot remove lead. Typically, refrigerator filters can improve the odor and taste of water by removing chlorine, but are unable to remove heavy metals, such as lead. Most fridge filters have National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) 42 certification to only remove chlorine.
Boiling water doesn’t remove lead. The lead level in the water grows as it cooks because some of the water evaporates throughout the process.
The Best Reverse Osmosis Systems We’ve Reviewed
Crystal Quest | 3000C Reverse Osmosis System
These are truly reliable RO systems that are made in the U.S. They use a 13-stage reverse osmosis system to remove 99.9% of contaminants, including iron, volatile organic carbon compounds (VOCs), insecticides, pesticides, bacteria, viruses, parasites, protozoa, pyrogens, and industrial solvents. Get the 3000C on CrystalQuest.com.
Pentair | FreshPoint 5-Stage Reverse Osmosis System
These systems are compact and very simple to install. Using a 5-stage filter system, they are effective at removing 99% of contaminants from regular tap water. They can be purchased as a basic model (GRO-575B) or a monitored model (GRO-575M), which alerts you when it’s time to change the membrane. Both will produce 1-part pure water to 2.5-parts wastewater – which is excellent! Check them out here at Pentair.com.