How to Test for Lead in Water

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Lead is one of the most common and dangerous drinking water contaminants.

The EPA estimated that 9.2 million lead pipes serviced American homes in 2021 – a concerning statistic given that no level of lead is considered safe due to its well-documented health effects.

In this guide, we asked our team of water treatment experts for their top recommended methods for testing for lead in water, and we’ve shared their answers here.

How To Test for Lead in Water

🧪 Use a Home Water Test Kit

If you just want to know whether or not lead is present in your water, your cheapest option is to use an at-home DIY water testing kit. DIY water testing kits are cheap to buy and widely available online.

Follow these instructions to test for lead in your water using a home water test kit: 

  1. Remove everything you need from the test packaging, including the test strip(s), color chart/wheel, and other testing equipment 
  2. Fill a clean glass or mug with water directly from your tap
  3. Dip a testing strip into a water sample from your kitchen faucet and leave it for several seconds, as advised in the test kit instructions
  4. Remove the strip and observe the squares. If the square for lead detection has changed color, compare it to the color chart to get an estimated range for your water’s lead concentration 

Our top testing tip: We recommend doing two tests – one using a sample of water taken first thing in the morning, and another taken after running water through the faucet for five minutes. If you have lead in your plumbing, the initial test will likely detect higher concentrations of lead because of leaching that has occurred from the plumbing materials overnight. 

DIY water testing kits are a good option if you’re looking to get a basic understanding of whether or not your home’s water contains lead, and they’re certainly convenient, taking just minutes to carry out. 

But if you want to know exactly what concentrations of lead are present in your water, DIY kits aren’t the most comprehensive. If your results indicate low levels of lead, you should follow this up with lead testing from a certified lab.

at home well water test kit

🔬 Get Your Water Professionally Tested 

A number of state-certified laboratories across the US offer private, professional testing of both public water and well water supplies that may contain lead.

Lab testing delivers the most comprehensive results, so it’s the best solution if you want to get an exact reading of your water’s lead levels.

The lab will test your water for you, so you only have to worry about taking a sample of your water to send off for testing.

Here are the instructions for taking a water sample for a lab test:

  1. Order your chosen test and wait for the sample-taking kit to be delivered to your home
  2. Follow the instructions in the kit to collect samples in the included containers
  3. Ship the samples back to the lab
  4. Wait for your results to be returned (usually via email link)

What’s the TAT for a laboratory water test for lead? It depends on whether you’re getting your water tested only for lead, or whether you buy a grouped contaminants test that also detects other similar contaminants.

We use SimpleLab Tap Score whenever we need to conduct a professional lead water test, and their specialized copper and lead test kit delivers results within 3-5 days of the lab receiving the samples. So, we’d estimate that most folks can expect to wait up to 7 days before they receive their results.

The benefits of getting a sample of your water laboratory-tested are obvious. You can get your drinking water tested for contaminants aside from lead – especially useful if you take your water from a private well and you want to make sure it’s safe for drinking.

Lab testing is more expensive, costing around $45+ depending on the test you opt for, but we think it’s worth it as a one-time payment – many people see it as an investment in their health. Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can use the information on your lab report to take immediate action.

👉 Check out our expert’s top recommendations for the best lead water test kit in 2024.

Tap score water test

🚰 Ask Your Water Supplier to Test Your Water

Some local municipal water utilities provide free or subsidized test services for customers who use their public water supply.

Your water supplier should produce an annual Consumer Confidence Report, but these reports don’t account for lead in your service line or your home’s piping, pipe fittings, or even plumbing materials (such as lead solder).*

If you have evidence to suggest your tap water lead concentrations may be unsafe, possibly due to a lead service line leading to your home, you may be able to contact your local authority or state and obtain free testing by your supplier.

Google your local authority followed by “lead test kits” and see what options are available to you. The CDC has also shared a resource that lists the state and local programs currently in place for lead in drinking water – you can click on your state for more information.

*The Environmental Protection Agency has produced a guide to help you identify lead service lines, which you can use to determine whether or not you have lead pipes in your home.

Related: EPA Lead and Copper Rule Improvements: Everything You Need to Know

📝 Interpreting Your Results

Once your test results are back, you’ll know whether or not your water supply is a source of lead exposure in your home.

Due to its toxicity at any concentration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of 0 for lead in drinking water. That means you should take action to remove lead from your water even if only trace levels are detected by your test.

If your water tests positive for lead contamination, we recommend following this process to address the issue:

  1. Determine the source. Lead isn’t one of the natural contaminants found in water, so lead in your water will have either leached from your own plumbing’s lead piping and fixtures or a lead service line leading to your home.
  2. Replace your plumbing. If your home’s piping is solely to blame for your results, consider the cost of replacing your water system. Keep in mind, however, that this can be a very expensive job.
  3. Contact your municipal water supplier. If you believe the lead is coming from a service line, get in touch with your water utility. They may already be aware of the issue (the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law set the goal of removing 100% of lead service lines within 10 years in the US), and you can ask when the pipe will be replaced.
  4. Install a water treatment system. There are many effective EPA-approved means of lead removal, including reverse osmosis systems, activated carbon filtration systems, and whole-home filtration systems. You’ll find information on all the best methods of removing lead from water in this full additional guide.
  5. Get your well inspected. If the lead is coming from your well, you may need to arrange for a well inspection or maintenance/repair work. The CDC says that wells over 20 years old may contain lead components.

For more information on removing lead from your water, we’ve shared a full additional guide that includes all the latest tips and info on how to remove lead from drinking water if this is a problem you’re facing.

springwell water filter and salt based water softener system combo water treatment system scaled

Looking for Additional Information on Lead in Water?

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers some useful resources about the acceptable level of lead in public water. Visit the EPA website for more general information.
  • The CDC also offers guidance on lead in tap water – here’s a useful resource.
  • For accurate information about lead in your municipal drinking water, contact your local authority or state.

📑 Final Word

Lead is one of the most dangerous drinking water contaminants, made even more so by the fact that it’s invisible and has no smell or taste. That means you could be exposed to lead without even knowing it.

We hope this guide answered all the questions you had on how to test for lead in water. Our comments are open for questions and discussion, so feel free to keep this important conversation going.

If you’ve never tested for lead in your water before, we strongly recommend buying a DIY water test. You’ll have the peace of mind of knowing whether or not your water contains this toxic metal. You can then get your water tested by a laboratory if lead is detected in a DIY 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.

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