How to Detect Lead in Water

Four Parts:Determining Your Risk LevelHaving Your Water TestedTesting Your Water YourselfProtecting Yourself

If you live in a home with old plumbing, it’s important to make sure you don’t have lead in your water. It is impossible to smell, taste, or see lead in water, however.[1] The only way to know if lead is present is to test it.[2]

Part 1
Determining Your Risk Level

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    Call your municipal water supplier. Your municipal water supplier is required to monitor the water supply for lead and other contaminants. Contact information should be listed on your water bill. Other local government agencies will be able to direct you to an appropriate contact if you cannot find this information.
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    Ask for a copy of their Consumer Confidence Report. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that all community water systems must prepare and distribute an annual water quality report for their customers by July 1 of each year.[3] This information will tell you what levels of lead and other contaminants have been detected in the water.
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    Find a copy of the Consumer Confidence Report online. The EPA’s website has a searchable countrywide map and links to online reports. Be aware that not all reports are available online, however.
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    Determine your lead levels. Lead levels should be below the EPA's action level of 15 parts per billion.[4] Anything higher than this means you are at risk of having elevated levels of lead in your drinking water.
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    Take action. The pipes in your home are not the pipes that are tested in the Consumer Confidence Report. Decide whether you want to administer tests on your own pipes to determine the specific lead levels in your home. Anyone can have their individual pipes tested, even if the Consumer Confidence Report shows that lead levels in your water supply fall below 15 parts per billion.

Part 2
Having Your Water Tested

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    Have your local water supplier test your water. Some suppliers will come to your house and perform this test for free. It’s a good idea to try this option before testing the water yourself.
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    Ask for a test of the water from your own faucets. The EPA is required to provide a Consumer Confidence Report but it’s important to test the water from your own faucets to determine if your specific lead levels vary.
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    Have a state-certified lab test your water. You can ask a professional from a state-certified lab to test your water if your local water supplier is unable to perform a test for you. To find a state-certified lab:
    • Call the EPA Safe Drinking Water hotline. The number is 1-800-426-4791 and offers both English and Spanish service.
    • Go to the EPA's Web site. The Environmental Protection Agency web site offers information on finding a state-certified lab to test your water.[5]
    • Look online or in your local phone book. Search for Water Testing Laboratories. Make sure to find a company that does not offer free water tests in exchange for selling you a water treatment system.
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    Use a nationwide testing service. There are many private companies that offer water-testing services. These companies can test for a variety of contaminants, including lead. Be aware that the cost of hiring a private company can vary.

Part 3
Testing Your Water Yourself

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    Receive a free water testing kit from your municipality. A number of municipalities offer their residents a free or low-cost water testing kit. These almost always require you to send a water sample from your home to a laboratory for analysis. Contact your local government to find out if your community has a free water-testing program for homeowners or renters.
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    Buy a reputable lead testing kit. These can be purchased from many home improvement stores or online. Be aware of companies that advertise lead water tests that don’t require you to send the samples to a laboratory. The results from these tests are usually inconclusive.
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    Plan a time for testing your water. Testing your water will require you to flush your plumbing system. The entire process takes 6-18 hours and is best done early in the morning or late in the evening.
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    Read the instructions on your kit. It is important to follow the instructions precisely to ensure you collect the correct sample and do not contaminate it. Kit instructions may vary.
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    Choose a faucet. This is where you will collect your water sample and can be any faucet in your home. Many people choose a faucet that they drink from, because drinking water with high concentrations of lead can cause negative health effects.
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    Flush your plumbing system. Run the water from the cold water tap of your faucet for 1-2 minutes until the water is cold.
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    Stop using water. Do not use any water in your home for the next 6-18 hours. This includes outdoor water. It is important to follow this step to allow any lead particles to collect in your pipes.
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    Collect a sample. Some water testing kits include a large plastic water bottle. If you do not have one, use a clean jar with a sealable lid. Fill the bottle or jar with water from your faucet.
    • Put the water bottle under the same faucet that you used to flush your plumbing system.
    • Slowly turn on the cold water.
    • Fill the bottle with cold water.
    • Turn off the water.
    • Put the lid on the water bottle. Make sure it is screwed on tightly.
    • Shake the bottle to mix the water sample thoroughly.
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    Pour the water into the sample bottle. You should have received a small sample bottle in your water testing kit. Fill this small sample bottle with water and screw on its lid. There is no need to shake it.
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    Return the sample bottle. Use the packaging supplies you received with your kit or buy packaging supplies at your local post office.
    • Place the bottle in a bubble-lined bag.
    • Fill out your household information. Many kits include an information card for you to fill out. Make sure to include the time and date of your sample and where you collected the sample.
    • Place the bubble-lined bag and information card in an appropriately-sized envelope.
    • Mail the envelope. Make sure to mail the sample within 7 days of collecting it. Send the samples to a state-certified laboratory or the water supplier where you received your kit.
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    Wait for results. Results might take up to six weeks. Make sure to protect yourself from potential lead exposure while you wait.[6] It is a good idea to be cautious when using your water until you have definitive results about the levels of lead.

Part 4
Protecting Yourself

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    Flush your pipes. Run your faucet for at least 30 seconds before using it to ensure any lead has been flushed from your pipes. This process should be followed for water used in cooking, drinking, and bathing.
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    Use cold water. Do not use hot water from your tap for cooking or drinking. Hot water increases the chance of lead being in your water.
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    Do not boil your water. Boiling water does not diminish the levels of lead or protect you from lead exposure. Remember, the presence of lead in water cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted.
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    Use a filter. Make sure you buy a filter that reduces lead. Be sure to maintain the filter and replace filter parts in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Always use cold water when filling up your filter.
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    Clean your faucet aerator. Most faucets have a small piece at the end of it called a faucet aerator. Remove and clean this piece every few months to ensure no lead particles have become trapped in it.
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    Buy low-lead pipes. All pipes made after January 1, 2014 are required to contain no more than 0.25% lead.[7] It is a good idea to replace lead pipes if you can afford it.


  • The Environmental Protection Agency requires all public water suppliers to notify their customers if they detect a problem with the drinking water supply.[8]


  • Long-term exposure to lead can cause serious health issues. Adults are at risk of developing kidney problems and high blood pressure while children and babies are at risk of experiencing physical and mental development delays.[9]

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Categories: Science