Do Water Softeners Remove Nitrates?

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A water softener is the best type of treatment system you can buy for addressing the effects of hard water. But can the ion exchange process also reduce nitrate levels in tap water?

In this guide, we’ve answered the question: “Do water softeners offer nitrate removal?”

πŸ“Œ Key Takeaways:

  • A water softener can remove nitrate and nitrite, but only if a dedicated nitrate removal ion exchange resin is used.
  • Not enough research is available online on the effectiveness of a water softener’s ability to remove nitrate.
  • If removing nitrate from your water supply is your top priority, we recommend installing a reverse osmosis system.

πŸ€” Does A Water Softener Remove Nitrates?

Yes, a water softening system can remove nitrate from drinking water but from the information we’ve found online, this system would only work with a dedicated nitrate removal ion exchange resin.

What does that mean? You probably wouldn’t reduce many nitrates with a traditional softening ion exchange resin, which exchanges calcium and magnesium hardness ions with sodium ions.

However, if you use a nitrate removal resin, you can reduce your nitrate levels with the same ion exchange technology. Chloride ions are used in the resin, and are exchanged with nitrate ions as water flows through the cartridge. The intended outcome is reduced nitrate concentrations in your water supply.

You can find POE (point of entry) ion exchange filters for nitrate removal, so if you’re keen to eliminate this contaminant from your entire home’s water supply, choose a whole-house system.

Springwell salt-based water softener system

πŸ”Ž How Much Nitrate Does A Water Softener Remove?

Unfortunately, there is no set amount – or even rough estimate – for the percentage of nitrate that a water softening system can remove.

There’s just not enough research or data on this topic, since most people don’t think to reduce nitrates in drinking water with a softener.

What we do know is that softeners can effectively reduce 95%-100% of water hardness minerals, as long as the hardness setting is correct.

βœ… How Much Nitrate Does An Ion Exchange Filter Remove?

Remember that ion exchange filtration systems might use the same technology as water softeners, but they’re designed specifically for removing contaminants like tap water nitrates.

More than 90% of nitrates in drinking water can be removed by a capable ion exchange water system.

So, even if your water’s nitrate content is above the EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level, you should be able to reduce it to trace levels with an ion exchange unit.

We recommend getting your water tested to get an exact figure for nitrate contamination. You can then reach out to the manufacturer of an ion exchange system if you want to know if it removes nitrate, and how much.

Water testing with tap score

🧐 What Is Nitrate?

Nitrates are inorganic compounds that you can find almost anywhere in the environment, including water, soils, and the atmosphere.

There are a few different sources of nitrate, including:

  • Decomposing plants
  • Animal waste
  • Waste from septic tanks
  • Fertilizer

Nitrates get into water through runoff from rainwater and snow, soil erosion, and flooding. Water supplies near farms and other agricultural properties are most likely to be contaminated by nitrates.

Nitrates from agriculture fertilizers

⚠️ Why Is Nitrate Dangerous?

Nitrate is dangerous in water because it has several known serious health effects.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L), or parts per million (PPM), for nitrate in drinking water. Water quality and safety may be compromised if nitrates are present in larger concentrations than this.

Some of the potential health effects of nitrate include:

  • Methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome), a condition that causes hemoglobin to convert to methemoglobin in the red blood cells, affecting their ability to carry oxygen around the body.
  • Weakness, fatigue, and dizziness (often linked to methemoglobinemia).
  • Birth defects (according to this study on the effects of nitrate on human health).
  • Nausea, headaches, and abdominal cramps.

Nitrate is also likely carcinogenic according to research conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the potential health effects of drinking nitrates above the Maximum Contaminant Levels in water, and research continues to emerge.

If you discover nitrate in your water, switch to a bottled water source until you can install a suitable water treatment system in your home.

πŸ‘¨β€πŸ”¬ Should You Use A Water Softener To Remove Nitrates?

If removing nitrates from your water is your primary purpose, we don’t recommend using a household water softener for the job.

Why? Because traditional water softeners aren’t specifically built for removing nitrates.

As far as our research tells us, you need a special nitrate removal resin in an ion exchange unit to effectively remove this contaminant.

A normal salt-based softener might remove low levels of nitrate, but it’s unlikely to eliminate this impurity from your drinking water.

But, if you just have low levels of nitrate and your main goal is to soften your water, a water softener’s nitrate reduction abilities may be an added bonus to its softening abilities. It all depends on how much nitrate your water contains and how much of it you want to remove.

πŸ”‚ Alternatives To Water Softeners For Nitrate Removal

There are a couple of alternatives to water softeners that we recommend for nitrate removal:

Ion Exchange Filters

We’ve already mentioned ion exchange technology, so we’ll keep this short and sweet.

A dedicated ion exchange filter can remove nitrate from your drinking water much more effectively than a softener.

You can find ion exchange systems for whole home use, as well as systems installed for drinking water treatment (such as under-sink and countertop units).

A good ion exchange filter can remove more than 90% of tap water nitrates.

Installing an under-sink filter

Reverse Osmosis Systems

Another highly effective method of nitrate removal is a reverse osmosis system.

RO systems use a reverse osmosis membrane, which eliminates almost 100% of total dissolved solids (TDS), including nitrate and nitrite.

Depending on the design of the unit, it should be capable of removing 85%-95% of nitrates from drinking water.

A reverse osmosis water filter system is most commonly installed underneath your kitchen sink, providing purified drinking and cooking water.

However, you can buy a whole-home RO unit (for a few thousand more dollars) if you’re keen to eliminate nitrates from your whole home water supply.

RKIN U1 countertop RO dispensing cool water

πŸ“‘ Final Word

Don’t rely on a water softening system if you want to eliminate nitrates in your tap water supply.

Some folks say that water softeners filter water, but this is incorrect terminology. They actually soften water, meaning that they use ion exchange to remove hardness minerals.

This same ion exchange technology can be used in a water filter system, but with a dedicated resin that can reduce nitrate. Make sure to buy a treatment system that’s specifically designed for nitrate removal if tackling this contaminant is your main goal.


Will a normal water softener remove nitrate?

No, a normal water softening system won’t remove nitrate. It might reduce this contaminant somewhat, but the only way to effectively treat nitrate contamination is with a dedicated ion exchange filter or a reverse osmosis water filter.

What is the best way to remove nitrates from water?

The best way to remove nitrates from water is with reverse osmosis, which removes up to 95% of this contaminant. Alternatively, consider an ion exchange unit, which (when the right resin is used) should remove up to 90% of nitrate.

Does boiling water remove nitrates?

No, boiling water doesn’t remove nitrates. In fact, boiling water may only reduce your water quality further by causing some of the water to evaporate, resulting in a high concentration of nitrate per gallon of water.

  • Laura Shallcross
    Senior Editor

    Laura is a passionate residential water treatment journalist who holds an undergraduate degree in Print Journalism and a master’s degree in Creative Writing. Over a span of 5 years she's written on a range of topics including water softening, well water treatment, and purification processes.

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