Copper is a chemical element that you’d probably expect to find in a science lab, but not your own water supply. Actually, however, copper occurs naturally in the ground, and this means that it can leach into drinking water sources.
While public water supplies are tested and treated for copper, private well water supplies are not. In this guide, I’ll be looking at how copper gets into well water, how to test for it, and what to do if your water tests positive for copper.
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🧐 How Does Copper Get Into Water?
There are a number of ways that copper can get into a well water supply, including:
- Through rocks and soil – copper can naturally seep into your well through the aquifer. Your local area’s geology will determine how much copper your water contains.
- Through farming, mining, and other factory processes – industrial and farming activity may cause copper to be released into the ground, water or atmosphere, especially without the correct waste practices in place.
- From corroded copper pipes – if your well contains copper components, or you have copper pipes in your home, there’s a high chance that your water may contain copper. This is especially the case with old, corroded copper pipes.
🤔 How Can You Tell if There is Copper in Your Water?
Low levels of copper leave green-blue stains on sinks, faucets, bathtubs, showers, and other fixtures. If you notice these stains, but your water doesn’t taste bitter, it’s likely that you’re dealing with a low level of copper.
Bitter Water Taste
Particularly high levels of copper in drinking water can affect the taste of your water. Copper is a metal, and has a bitter, metallic taste when present in excess. If your water tastes metallic, it may be unsafe to drink, so switch to bottled water and get your well supply tested if you’re dealing with this problem.
Pinhole Leaks In Plumbing
If you notice pinhole leaks in your pipes and plumbing, it’s likely that you’re dealing with corrosive water. Pinhole leaks is caused by pitted corrosion, and are very small, only big enough to allow the occasional drip of water to escape.
🙋 Should I Test My Water for Copper?
Copper is currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of its unpleasant health effects, so if you have reason to believe that your water supply might contain copper, I highly recommend getting your water tested.
Copper poisoning is one of the biggest risks of drinking water that contains high levels of copper. While this risk is rare, it can still happen. If you drink well water, you’re at a bigger risk of copper poisoning, as your water isn’t treated or regulated like city water.
If you consume excess copper in drinking water over a long period of time, the metal will build up in your liver, reducing its ability to detoxify your blood. Additionally, copper buildup can inflame the lungs, resulting in weakening and scarring.
There are numerous symptoms that are associated with copper poisoning, including muscle weakness, anemia, fever, a burning sensation, nausea, vomiting, and more. High levels of copper may even cause cancer, according to some studies.
If you’re pregnant, drinking copper in water is dangerous, as the copper may be passed to your baby.
In short, testing your water for copper is important if you own a well or you have copper pipes – even if you don’t think your water contains copper. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
I recommend testing your well water routinely for copper, preferably when you carry out testing for other contaminants, like bacteria. This will ensure that you’re aware of any changes to your local geology that may result in increased levels of copper in your drinking water.
📌 How to Test for Copper in Drinking Water
Certified Laboratory Testing
To get the best idea of how much copper your drinking water contains, I recommend getting your water tested by a certified laboratory.
Certified laboratory testing gives an in-depth breakdown of your water quality. Most laboratories offer the same testing process:
- The laboratory sends you a test kit in the post.
- You collect water samples in the included vials and post them to the laboratory.
- The laboratory tests your water. This can take several days.
- After about 1 week, the laboratory will email you with a breakdown of your results.
You may also use a certified laboratory to test for related contaminants, such as lead and copper. Many laboratories offer testing packages for well water, which test for common well water contaminants, including copper.
It’s important to make sure you choose a certified laboratory when testing for copper, so that you know your test results are legitimate.
My recommended certified lab is Tap Score by SimpleLab. This smart water test gives you a “water report card” that breaks down what your water contains and helps you to match treatment to contaminants.
Home Water Test Kit
A more affordable but less thorough alternative for testing for copper is to use an at-home water testing kit.
These kits cost less than $20 and give you a general idea of whether your water contains copper, and to what level. Some kits may test for copper alone, while others may test for a number of common contaminants, such as lead, chlorine, and hardness.
To use a home test kit to determine your drinking water copper levels, here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Open the kit and remove the water testing strips, color chart and sample container(s).
- Fill the sample container with tap water and dip a test strip into the water.
- After about a minute, the test strip will change color to indicate the level of copper in your water.
- You can compare the color of the test strip to the color chart to determine roughly how much water your copper contains.
While at-home kits can give you an idea of your drinking water copper levels, they won’t give you an exact breakdown of your water quality like a lab test will.
💡 What Can I Do If My Water Tests Positive for Copper?
Avoiding exposure to copper is essential, so if your water’s copper levels are high, you should act fast to remedy the problem.
Here’s what to do if your water tests positive for copper:
1. Determine The Cause
Knowing what is causing high drinking water copper levels will help you to find the best solution. For instance, if the copper in your drinking water is caused by copper pipes, you may have to change your household plumbing rather than consider a water treatment solution.
2. Filter Your Water
Copper in water can be treated by a number of drinking water filtration systems. The systems that are most popular for greatly reducing the level of copper in water are reverse osmosis, ion exchange, and activated carbon systems.
Reverse osmosis filters are capable of removing more than 99.99% of total dissolved solids from drinking water, including copper. They’re most commonly installed as under-sink applications, though there are also whole-home applications if you want your cold water and hot water to be copper-free.
Ion or cation exchange systems can also be used to greatly reduce copper in drinking water, though they usually target a select number of contaminants, so aren’t as effective at all-around filtration. The same goes for activated carbon filters, though some of these are capable of removing an impressive host of contaminants – just not as many as reverse osmosis.
3. Re-Test Your Water
Once you’ve implemented a solution to tackle higher levels of copper, you need to know that it has successfully reduced the copper in your drinking water. Get another test, preferably by a certified laboratory, to check that your water treatment solution can remove copper as expected.