What's in Your Water?
We use our faucets many times a day—to get a drink, fill up a pot for cooking, take a bath, or for any number of other reasons. But how often have you stopped to think about what’s really in the water? If your water supply is connected to a municipal water system, the water has been tested and treated for safety, but a lot can happen between the water treatment plant and your faucet—things like broken water mains or corroded water supply lines, both of which can introduce contaminants into your home’s water. If you use well water, your water supply may be at an even greater risk of contamination from chemicals and pollutants. Ahead, we'll look at some of the contaminants found in household water and learn how to remove them.
Testing Is Essential
You can’t tell if your home’s water is safe just by tasting or looking at it, so don’t guess. Instead, have your water tested through a local County Extension Office, or purchase an online test kit—for instance, the Watercheck Test Kit—from SpringWell Water Filter Systems, a company with more than 20 years' experience in water quality. Testing will let you know what's in your water and whether any contaminants are present at toxic levels. But it will also help you figure out how to treat your water, because different impurities require different types of treatment. Read on for a list of the most common culprits and the best approaches for controlling them.
A known carcinogen, arsenic is more likely to be found in private water supplies than in municipal systems. Its presence is often triggered by mining operations or the widespread application of agricultural pesticides. According to the World Health Organization, long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water can lead to skin lesions and an increased risk of developing various types of cancers. The toxin may also increase the risk of developing lung disease, heart problems, and kidney failure.
The best way to remove all traces of arsenic in drinking water is to process your supply through a reverse osmosis (RO) unit, such as the SpringWell Reverse Osmosis Drinking System (available from SpringWell). If your water test indicates the presence of arsenic in the water supply, install an RO unit under the sink of every faucet that’s used for drinking water.
2. Hydrogen Sulfide
Water tainted with hydrogen sulfide is hard to miss—you’ll catch a whiff of rotten eggs as soon as you turn on a faucet. The disagreeable smell comes from a chemical reaction that occurs when sulfur is present in the water.
If the odor appears only when you use hot water, a damaged anode rod in your water heater may be reacting with the water’s sulfur content and creating hydrogen sulfide. In this case, call a plumber to replace the damaged rod, and the smell should cease.
If you smell rotten eggs when you turn on the cold water, however, it’s a bigger deal. This, too, is much more likely to occur with private wells than with municipal water. The hydrogen sulfide may be coming from water that has picked up sulfur bacteria from soil or rocks. Not only is the smell intolerable, but this contaminated water also puts iron, steel, and copper pipes at risk of corrosion and leads to the growth of iron bacteria, a slimy deposit that can reduce water flow. The best way to deal with hydrogen sulfide is with a comprehensive treatment system, such as the SpringWell Whole-House Water Filter System. The system's proprietary four-stage filtration design removes hydrogen sulfide from your water, leaving it clean and odor-free.
3. Iron and Manganese
Reddish-brown stains on sinks, tubs, or even glassware could be the result of iron and manganese in your home’s water. These two minerals often occur together and, like other minerals, can be absorbed into groundwater as it passes through rock and soil formations. While these specific minerals are not dangerous to human health, they are a hazard to your home’s plumbing. Iron and manganese can form deposits inside pipes and reduce water flow, sometimes to the point where the pipes must be replaced. These minerals can also leave a metallic taste in your drinking water. To rid your home’s water of iron and manganese, consider installing an ion-exchange water softener, such as the Salt-Based Water Softener System (available from SpringWell). Note that a non-ion exchange (salt-free) softener will not remove iron.
When tiny bits of sand, minerals, rocks, or organic matter (for instance, plants) are present, your home’s water may appear cloudy, milky, or otherwise discolored. To make sure that the problem is sediment and not just bubbles—which can also make water look cloudy—pour a glass of water and let it sit on the countertop for 10 minutes. If the water clears up, the cloudiness you saw was just caused by harmless bubbles. If, however, the water is still cloudy after 10 minutes, there is probably sediment in your water lines.
In a municipal water system, sediment in the lines is often caused by a disturbance in the water supply system. So, your first step should be to call your community’s water authority to find out if any work is being done on water mains, or if they’re aware of a burst pipe. The water authority may recommend boiling your water before drinking to make sure it’s safe. If the sediment is coming from a private well, your best bet is to install a whole-house water filtration system as well as a sediment pre-filter on the incoming water line to prevent clogs. Try a product like the Pre-Filter Canister + 5 Micron Filter (available from SpringWell) to trap sediment before the water reaches the whole-house filtration system. Using a pre-filter can protect your plumbing from damage and help your whole-house filter do its job better.
Municipal water systems are regularly tested for the presence of harmful bacteria and microorganisms. If any are found, the water authority may recommend that customers boil their water before drinking or cooking until the municipal system can get the bacteria under control.
It’s not quite so simple with well water. Specific tests are required for detecting different types of bacteria. If you’re on a private well, have your water tested at least once a year for E. coli and other fecal coliform bacteria, which can make you sick if ingested. These common bacteria can enter a well from a leaking septic system or runoff from livestock yards. Even if the test comes back negative, other less common types of harmful bacteria may put well water at risk, so it's best to establish a line of defense against bacterial contamination in general. Many types of water filters won’t remove bacteria, but an ultraviolet water treatment system (such as Luminor's Blackcomb UV Water Purification System from SpringWell) will kill bacteria, pathogens, and other harmful microorganisms by disrupting their DNA with ultraviolet rays.
If your home was built before 1986, when lead water supply pipes were banned, it’s highly likely that the pipes carrying water to your faucets contain lead. It's costly to update plumbing, so many older homes and apartment buildings still use lead water supply pipes. And even if your home's plumbing was upgraded, it's possible that the service lines that carry water from the municipal supply to your home may still contain lead.
When lead leaches into the water supply, it can cause a number of health problems for those who drink the water. Infants, young children, and the unborn have a particularly high risk of developing learning disabilities and nervous system disorders. If you’re concerned about lead in your drinking water, consider installing a filtration system designed specifically to remove 99.95 percent of lead particulates, such as the Whole-House Lead & Cyst Removal System (available from SpringWell). This system also filters out other common contaminants and microbial cysts, which can cause illness if ingested.
7. Hard Water
While hard water isn’t a risk to your health, it can wreak havoc on plumbing fixtures. As well, it leaves deposits in faucets and water supply lines that reduce water flow and can even shorten the lives of your plumbing and appliances. If your home has hard water, it comes by it naturally. As underground water flows through different rock and soil formations, it absorbs calcium and magnesium compounds, carrying them into aquifers. The hardness or softness of water is rated by the amount of calcium carbonate it contains, measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L).
• Soft water: Less than 60 mg/L
• Moderately hard water: Between 61 and 120 mg/L
• Hard water: Between 121 and 180 mg/L
• Very hard water: Over 180 mg/L
Water that tests moderately hard or harder is a good candidate for a salt-free water softener, such as the FutureSoft® Salt-Free Water softener (available from SpringWell). While salt-based water softeners have been around for decades, SpringWell’s new salt-free system uses a process known as “template assisted crystallization" (TAC) that converts calcium and other minerals into harmless microscopic crystals that do not adhere to fixtures and appliances. Once those minerals have been removed, the water that flows from your faucets will be softer.
Mercury is a known human toxin, and drinking water that contains it can lead to kidney damage and nervous system disorders. Mercury is more likely to be found in private well water than in municipal water supplies, as it may have leached into the groundwater from discarded products (such as paint) or industrial runoff. Boiling well water that contains mercury can actually make the problem worse because it can release mercury into the air where it can be inhaled. When a home’s water tests positive for mercury, the best way to safely treat it is to install a reverse osmosis system under every sink that is used for drinking water.
Another pollutant that can make its way into well water is inorganic nitrate, a recognized toxin that’s widely used in agricultural fertilizers. Symptoms of nitrate poisoning include heart palpitations and difficulty breathing. If your well tests positive for dangerous levels of nitrate, you need to install a reverse osmosis system beneath any sink that is used for drinking water. Boiling will not remove nitrate.
Get the help you need for the home you want—sign up for the Bob Vila newsletter today!