Do you have lead in your drinking water? If so, you may be asking yourself does reverse osmosis remove lead.
Lead is a dangerous toxin that can cause serious health problems. It’s especially harmful to children and pregnant women, but it can also affect adults. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over half a million children are at risk of lead poisoning from drinking water alone.
Reverse Osmosis Filtration is an effective way to remove lead from your home’s drinking water supply. A typical RO system can remove up to 99.9% of the lead from water. The range of lead treatment varies from 85% to as much as 99.99% removal. Reverse osmosis is considered to be the best method for removing lead from drinking water.
If you want to learn more about how well RO filtration is at removing lead from your drinking water, continue reading.
Hazards Associated with Lead in Drinking Water
Lead is a toxic metal that can cause severe health damage including brain disorders, kidney damage, and red blood cell harm. Lead also poses particular risks for unborn babies as well infants and young children such as:
- reduced IQ and impaired mental development
- delays in physical development
- attention deficit disorder
Lead is known to cause a wide range of harm to adults, including:
- disturbed sleep patterns
- increased blood pressure
- infertility in men and women
- miscarriage and premature birth
Because lead accumulates over time it will remain a threat long after contamination has occurred as well as affect generations of unborn babies from mothers.
Lead Treatment Methods
Lead can be removed from drinking water using a variety of treatment methods. Effective methods of lead removal include:
Activated carbon: Some types of activated carbon are capable of adsorbing lead from drinking water. However, it is important to note that not all activated carbons can filter lead from water. Carbon adsorption filters must be properly maintained to ensure lead is consistently removed to safe levels.
Distillation: Lead can be removed from water very effectively using distillation. This process works by heating water to the boiling point and then collecting and condensing the water vapor. The contaminants, like lead, are left behind. This is a very effective method to remove lead, but it is also very expensive.
Reverse osmosis: Reverse osmosis systems are a very effective method of removing lead from water. RO filters are available for treating either the entire house or just the point of use.
Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Lead
Reverse osmosis (RO) is a great way to get clean, safe drinking water. RO filters remove lead and other contaminants from water. RO filtration systems can be installed as a whole-house filter or they can be used as a point-of-use (POU) filter.
What is reverse osmosis
Reverse osmosis filters use pressure to force water through a semipermeable membrane. The tiny pores in the membrane allow water to pass through but prevents larger ones like bacteria and chemicals from passing through. This process separates contaminants like lead from water.
The filtration process produces clean water on one side of the membrane and a concentrated waste, known as brine, on the other side. The brine contains all of the contaminants and must be disposed of. Usually, the brine is discharged down the drain.
Most home RO filters include a pre-filter to remove turbidity and solids from the water before it is passed through the membrane. Many home units also include an activated carbon filter to remove chlorine (which can damage the membrane) and some of the lead.
The typical RO membrane filter has pores sizes as small 0.0001 micron! For comparison, a human hair has a diameter of 70 microns.
Effectiveness of RO for removing lead
A reverse osmosis system is the most effective way to remove lead. It can get up to 99% purity, compared with an average of 95% for other filtration systems like activated carbon.
The workhorse of these lead filters is the reverse osmosis membrane. The membrane has very small holes called pores that allow water to pass through but trap the lead.
Several studies have been conducted to evaluate how well reverse osmosis filters can remove lead from drinking water. The test results ranged from a low of 98% to a high of 99.99%. The average lead removal for RO systems is 99.1%
What else does reverse osmosis remove?
RO systems are a great way to obtain clean, fresh water for your family. Not only can RO water filters remove remove lead from drinking water, but they also remove:
- taste and odor compounds
Reverse osmosis is a very effective treatment method for many drinking water contaminants. It is especially effective at removing lead.
What level of lead is safe to drink
Lead is a very dangerous metal and the U.S EPA has set lead action level to 15 parts per billion (ppb). This means that water utilities are required to take measures that lower the level of this contaminant.
In addition to the lead action level, EPA also established the maximum contaminant goal for lead at 0 because even at low concentrations it can bioaccumulate causing irreversible damage over time.
For this reason, no amount of lead in drinking water is safe. You need to use the most effective treatment technology to protect yourself and your family from the harms of lead.
Reverse osmosis filters provide the highest effective treatment efficiency for lead.
Test Your Drinking Water for Lead
Tap Score has a home test kit for lead in drinking water. The package includes materials, instructions, and glassware needed to properly collect and submit a sample for certified laboratory testing. You’ll receive a report that provides a detailed analysis of lead and copper by EPA method 200.8 (or equivalent). This is an easy and affordable way to test your water for lead if you’re concerned about possible contamination.
Knowing what’s in your water is the first step to keeping your family safe.
Features to Look for in RO Filters
If you decide to purchase a RO water filter system to remove lead from your drinking water, there are several features you should consider. Key features to look for include:
- High capacity: smaller units can take a while to treat water, making you wait
- Easy filter replacement: a well-designed unit provides good access for easy maintenance
- Low-cost filters: some systems have very pricy replacement filters
- Quiet operation: look for a unit that doesn’t make a lot of noise
- Leak detection: many units automatically shut down if a leak is detected
Here are several optional components I think are very desirable in an RO filter.
- pre-filter: removes chlorine to extend the membrane life
- carbon filter: removes chlorine, taste, and other contaminants
- remineralization system: adds back important minerals removed by the RO filter
- post-filter: removes turbidity from water
- water storage tank: allows instant access to water without waiting for it to be treated
Check the RO system efficiency
All RO filters waste some amount of water – this is because the filtration process produces a concentrated brine that must be discharged. Reverse osmosis water filters have a 4:1 ratio, which means they waste 4 gallons of water for every gallon of purified water it produces.
More residential units have a 3:1 ratio (3 gallons of waste per gallon of drinking water). Newer, more efficient units are available with a 2:1 ratio.
If you are concerned about sustainability and reducing waste, you may want to purchase a more efficient system.
Costs of Reverse Osmosis System for Lead Removal
Reverse osmosis filter systems can be relatively expensive, especially compared to simpler systems like activated carbon.
I did an extensive review of RO system prices at several big box retail stores, online vendors, and wholesale suppliers. I also checked with installation professionals I know (1 plumber and 2 technicians who work for water purification companies). I wanted to provide not only the cost to purchase the RO system but also the cost for professional installation – not everyone is a DIY enthusiast.
Whole house water filter costs
The cost of whole house RO system ranges from $378 to as much as $15,000. A typical system costs between $458 and $1,335.
Options that affect the cost include pre-filter, water storage tank, mineral addition, pH adjustment, booster pump, and post-filter.
Professional installation costs between $400 and $2,300, depending on the complexity of the system and your home’s plumbing layout and size.
I prepared a very detailed article about whole house RO filter systems that you might be interested in.
Under-sink POU system costs
The cost of an under-sink RO system ranges from $117 to as much as $550. Most under-sink systems cost between $199 and $285.
Several optional features can increase the cost of an under-sink RO filter. These include carbon filter, pre-filter, post-filter, mineral addition, and storage tank.
Installation costs range from $200 to as much as $750, depending on the unit and your kitchen sink configuration.
Counter-top RO unit costs
Counter-top filters are the simplest units of all because they don’t require installation. You simply plug them in, fill them up, and they start purifying your water.
Read my comprehensive guide on countertop reverse osmosis filters.
Countertop RO technology is a great way to have clean water at your fingertips without the hassle of installing an under-sink unit. A countertop machine either comes ready to go or can connect to any faucet through flexible hoses. These systems include multi-stage filtration that treats water free of lead and other contaminants.
Counter-top RO systems range in price from $89 to over $1,299.
Read my detailed review of the Express Water countertop 4-stage reverse osmosis filter system.
Filter pitcher costs
Filter pitchers provide lead-free drinking water in a very convenient process. You simply add water to the reservoir and it flows through the activated carbon filter. These units use special coconut-based carbon that has a high affinity for lead.
The typical cost for a filter pitcher range from $23 to $170.
Pros and Cons of Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment Systems
Reverse osmosis systems work well for lead removal, but they also have several limitations.
Advantages of using Reverse Osmosis systems for lead removal
Reverse osmosis filters offer several advantages when it comes to removing lead from your drinking water.
- Removes lead and other contaminants from water.
- RO membranes have very small pores, making them effective in removing bacteria, viruses, and chemicals.
- Available as a whole house or point of use filter.
- Easy to maintain – most systems just require periodic filter replacement.
- Improves taste and quality of water.
Drawbacks of Reverse Osmosis filters for lead treatment
RO filters work very well at removing lead, but they also have some important limitations.
- They waste a lot of water (up to 4 gallons for every 1 gallon of purified water).
- RO filters remove beneficial minerals and fluoride.
- They are expensive.
- Require maintenance to function properly.
Can I Install a Reverse Osmosis System Myself
Many RO systems are designed to be installed by consumers and don’t require professional installation. However, you need some general plumbing skills to install one of these systems properly. Otherwise, you may have minor leaks or other problems.
If you’re not comfortable installing the system yourself, you can always call a professional to do it for you. The cost of installation will vary depending on the type and size of the system, but it will likely be in the range of $100-200 for an under-sink unit. A whole house filter can cost $250 to as much as $1,000, depending on the filter and your home’s plumbing configuration.
RO systems are a great way to remove lead from your drinking water, but they must be properly installed to function properly.
Third Party Certification
If you are relying on a RO filter to remove lead from your drinking water, then you want to be certain it works properly. The best way to be confident that water filters remove lead is to look for third party certification and testing.
Make certain that the treatment unit meets Standard 53 for lead. Learn more about NSF certification.
My Take on Reverse Osmosis Filters for Lead Treatment
Reverse osmosis filters are an excellent way to remove lead and other contaminants from your drinking water. They can be installed under the sink or at the point of entry for a house, which means they don’t take up space in your kitchen like some other systems do. And because reverse osmosis filtration is so effective, it requires very little maintenance once it’s been set up properly.