How to Test for Heavy Metals in Water

🀝 Our content is written by humans, not AI robots. Learn More

Most public drinking water supplies contain traces of heavy metals like arsenic, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium, and arsenic.

Certain metals, like lead, are toxic even at low levels – lead can accumulate in the body over time, so even tiny amounts of this metal are considered unsafe.

But before you think about removing heavy metals from your water, you probably want to know how to test for them in the first place. We asked our team of water treatment experts which testing methods they use for heavy metals in water, and here’s what they had to say.

How to Test for Heavy Metals

πŸ”Ž Which Heavy Metals Should You Test For?

If you want a comprehensive overview of your drinking water’s heavy metals concentration, we recommend testing for the following:

  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Aluminum
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Nickel
  • Manganese
Lead contaminated water

πŸ”¬ The Most Comprehensive Method: Send A Water Sample To a Laboratory

Laboratory testing is the most thorough and accurate way to detect heavy metals in your water supply.

Follow these instructions to take a sample of your water for a heavy metals laboratory test:

  1. Order a test from your preferred certified laboratory (we like TapScore).
  2. Collect samples of water from your faucet following the instructions in the test.
  3. Post your sample(s) in the included containers to the laboratory.
  4. Wait for your results to be delivered (usually via email).

Laboratory testing is the more expensive option for heavy metal testing, but we strongly recommend this method if you have any reason to be concerned about toxic metals in your water supply (for example, if you believe your home has lead pipes, putting you at risk of lead poisoning).

Most laboratories offer a couple of different heavy metal test options:

  • Dedicated testing – These detect a single heavy metal or a handful of heavy metals that commonly occur together.
  • Multi-contaminant testing – These detect heavy metals and other contaminants, including non-metals. If you’ve never tested before, you might be curious to learn about the most common impurities in your water supply.

Good to Know: Different heavy metal test packages have different turnaround times, but most deliver results within 5-7 days of receiving your water sample.

tap score water testing

πŸ§ͺ The Quickest & Cheapest Method: Use A DIY Heavy Metal Test Kit

DIY water tests are a quick, convenient, and affordable way to test for heavy metals in your water at home.

You can do all the testing yourself, without having to mail a sample to the lab and wait for your results. Most DIY heavy metal test kits provide instant results.

DIY water testing gives an indication of water quality by highlighting the contaminants present, including heavy metals like lead, copper, and mercury. These tests usually detect hardness and pH, too.

A single test strip is made up of several different testing squares. When submerged in water, each square changes color, depending on the concentration of the contaminants detected. Usually, the darker the shade, the higher the concentration of contaminants present.

To use a DIY test kit to test your water for heavy metals, follow these steps:

  1. Buy your preferred DIY heavy metal test.
  2. Unbox the kit and remove the instructions, the color chart, the sample tube (if included), and the test strips.
  3. Wash your hands, then fill the test sample tube or a clean glass with water.
  4. Dip a test strip in the water and leave it submerged for several minutes according to the instructions.
  5. Compare the colors of the strip to the color chart to determine your water’s heavy metal contamination.

Good to Know: At-home water test kits detect the range of contaminants present in parts per million (PPM). This range typically varies depending on the contaminant in question – for example, copper might have a detection range of between 0 and 10 PPM, while lead’s detection range could be 0-500 PPM.

Read our review of the most accurate home water testing kits available today πŸ‘ˆ

hach free chlorine test strips water test results

πŸ” Alternative Option To Testing: Water Quality Reports

If you don’t want to spend money on a heavy metals test just yet, a good place to start is to look at your annual Water Quality Report, or Consumer Confidence Report (CCR).

Community water systems in the US are legally required to provide annual CCRs to their customers, ensuring full transparency about their water quality.

Consumer Confidence Reports highlight all the contaminants present in your drinking water supply, and at what concentrations they’re detected.

πŸ“Œ Water Quality Reports are only accurate at the time of testing and don’t account for heavy metal contamination post-treatment, such as metal leaching from plumbing systems and water service lines.

2021 Denver water quality report

πŸ“ Interpreting Your Results

When you get your test results back, you’ll be able to see which heavy metals are present in your water, and the concentrations of these metals.

From there, we recommend looking at the EPA’s Primary Drinking Water Regulations and comparing the concentration of each heavy metal detected in your water with the EPA’s corresponding Maximum Contaminant Level.

Even if your water contains only trace levels of heavy metals, you might still decide to take action. Chronic exposure to certain metals has known health risks, including high blood pressure, muscle weakness, kidney failure, and stomach irritation.

If you want to protect your family from heavy metals in water, follow this two-step process:

  1. Determine the source of contamination. For instance, lead in your water might be coming from lead pipes or even lead-containing solder in your plumbing materials, while other metals might enter your water supply as a result of natural deposits in the environment. If you can prevent heavy metals from entering your water supply, such as by replacing your plumbing, consider doing this.
  2. Install a water treatment system. Numerous water filtration systems can effectively remove heavy metals from drinking water, including reverse osmosis systems, KDF filters, and activated ceramic filters. Read our guide on how to remove heavy metals from water for a detailed list of these filters.

πŸ“‘ Final Word

We hope you found the information you were looking for on how to test for heavy metals in your water supply.

When you’re choosing a heavy metal test, consider your budget, your testing urgency, and how accurate you want the results to be.

In our opinion, the best way to test for heavy metals in water is with a certified laboratory test. Alternatively, if your budget is small or you’re not too concerned about your water quality, use a DIY heavy metal test.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

Scroll to Top