Wondering how to know whether your water contains lead? Or does your water have a certain color, and you want to know whether lead might be responsible? We’ve shared everything you need to know about the color of lead in water in this guide.
📌 Key Takeaways
- Lead is colorless, odorless, and tasteless in water.
- Lead gets into water supplies by leaching from lead pipes, solder, and fixtures.
- The best method of identifying lead contamination is to test your drinking water with a lead testing kit.
- Some of the health effects of lead are high blood pressure, kidney damage, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and premature births in pregnant women.
- You can remove lead from tap water by installing a lead filter. Other ways to reduce your lead exposure in water are to replace your lead pipes, flush your pipes, only use cold water, or only drink bottled water.
- If your water has a distinct color, it might contain tannins, iron, manganese, sediment, aluminum, or trapped air, or it might be acidic.
Table of Contents
🧪 What Color Is Lead in Water?
Unfortunately, lead is colorless and is completely invisible in water.
You won’t be able to tell for certain, from looking at your water, that it contains lead.
💡 Lead is also tasteless and odorless. That’s what makes it so dangerous in water – there’s no way to know whether it’s present in trace amounts, or extremely high amounts.
You might be able to detect lead in water, but ONLY if your water is acidic and corrosive.
Acidic water corrodes materials from your pipes, picking up copper and zinc, which give water a blue-green tinge. These metals may also stain surfaces, such as your sink, with the same color.
If your water is acidic, you can assume that it’s also picking up other heavy metals alongside copper and zinc – such as lead.
But this isn’t a definite guarantee that your water contains lead, since you might have acidic water but no lead service lines leading to your home. In which case, your water might be lead-free.
Equally, your water might not be acidic, but it might still pick up lead from a lead service line. While acidity makes water more corrosive, water doesn’t HAVE to be acidic to corrode metal pipes.
What does this mean? There’s no definite way to visibly see whether or not your drinking water contains lead.
📥 How Does Lead Get Into Water?
Lead is present in all parts of the environment, including the air, soils, and water. This lead comes from human activities, such as using leaded gasoline and burning fossil fuels, as well as industrial processes and the use of lead-based paints.
However, most lead in drinking water comes from lead service lines. Many old pipes were made from lead, before we understood the true dangers of this toxic metal. While lead pipes can no longer be used today, existing pipes have been allowed to remain.
Even if your household plumbing or service lines aren’t made from lead, they may use lead solder, or you may have lead fixtures that increase your exposure to this metal.
🔎 How to Find Out If Your Water Contains Lead
The best way to find out if your drinking water contains lead is to conduct a lead water test.
A few laboratories offer dedicated lead test kits that provide targeting testing for just lead.
Alternatively, if you want to test for other contaminants alongside lead, you can use a kit that tests for a range of common impurities at once.
📌 We recommend getting your water tested professionally by a laboratory, rather than using an at-home DIY test kit. Why? Because laboratory testing is much more thorough and will give you a more accurate reading of your water’s lead levels than any DIY test can.
There are tens of lead tests available today. Make sure you get your water tested with one of the best lead testing kits available today. When testing for such a dangerous contaminant, you want your results to be accurate and reliable above anything else.
You may be able to get a free test for lead from your local water authority, so contact your water provider before you spend your money elsewhere.
🩺 Health Effects of Lead
Lead is a toxic contaminant that’s considered dangerous even in very low levels. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a Lead and Copper Rule that says public drinking water systems must take steps to control corrosion if lead levels are found to be higher than 15 PPB (parts per billion) in more than 10% of customer taps sampled.
Some of the health effects of lead, according to research from the EPA, are:
- In children – Learning disabilities, IQ deficits, behavioral problems
- In adults – Kidney damage, high blood pressure
- In pregnant women – Low birth weights, premature births, fetal developmental problems
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the health risk of lead varies from person to person, as well as the water conditions and the amount of lead consumed.
📌 There is no safe level of lead in water. Due to lead’s risks to human health, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for this contaminant is 0.
However, since lead can’t penetrate human skin, bathing in lead-contaminated water won’t increase your exposure to lead.
🚫 How to Remove Lead From Water
The best way to remove lead from water is with a filter with lead removal capabilities.
If you just want to remove drinking water lead, install a point-of-use system, such as an under-sink filtration system, a water pitcher filter, or a countertop filter.
A variety of types of filters can reduce or remove lead, including some activated carbon filters, KDF filters, and reverse osmosis systems.
Look for a filter that has an official NSF 53 certification for lead reduction, or a filter that has been third-party tested to this NSF Standard, and has test results available online. That way, you know for sure that a system does as it’s advertised to do, and you’re getting good value for your money.
📖 Other Ways to Reduce Lead Exposure in Water
Aside from filtering lead out of your water, other ways to reduce your exposure to lead in water are:
Replace Lead Pipes
If your plumbing fixtures and fittings, pipes, and any other plumbing materials contain lead, the best way to protect your family is to replace them with lead-free plumbing.
Replacing lead pipes is expensive, but worth it for the peace of mind that your own plumbing system isn’t contributing to your tap water lead exposure.
Flush Your Pipes
Of course, there’s nothing you can do about a lead service line supplying drinking water to your home. In this case, a quick solution is to flush your pipes for five minutes before drinking your water.
Letting your water run for several minutes should drain away the water that has been sitting in your pipes (potentially absorbing lead) before use. This should reduce the lead in your water, but it’s not a guaranteed solution.
Flushing your pipes isn’t an ideal long-term solution since it’s wasteful and will increase your water bill.
Only Use Cold Water
Hot water is more likely to absorb lead than cold water. So, use only cold water, and get into the habit of boiling water, rather than taking hot water directly from the tap.
Only Drink Bottled Water
Finally, if you’re really concerned about lead in your water supply, you can switch to bottled water while you look at other solutions to eliminate lead. This is especially important for making baby formula.
Unfortunately, if your drinking water supply comes from a lead service line, there’s not much you can do to tackle a lead issue aside from filtering your water. Drinking bottled water is a good short-term solution while you consider alternative methods of treatment.
🧫 Contaminants That Change Water’s Color
Perhaps your water has a certain color. Now that you know lead is colorless, what else might be the cause of the colored tinge in your water?
Contaminants that are known to change water’s color are:
- Tannins – tea-like yellow color
- Iron – orange, red, or brown color
- Manganese – brown or black color
- Sediment – yellow or brown color
- Trapped air – milky white or cloudy
- Copper, zinc, and other heavy metals in acidic water – bluish green color
- Aluminum – grayish tint
If in doubt, test your water. A laboratory test will tell you exactly what your water contains and the potential health effect of the contaminant(s) in question. You can then decide on the best method of treatment.