Types of Contaminants in Your Drinking Water (and What to Do About It)

Drinking water is part of our daily routine to stay fit and healthy. But what many of us don’t know is that even clean and fresh-looking water can have a range of contaminants. Let’s take a look at the most common types of contaminants in your water and what you can do about it.

Main Categories of Water Contaminants

Most drinking water typically has some contaminants in it, but not every contaminant is classified as bad and a health risk. In fact, drinking water can be expected to have some contaminants, including accepted levels of chemicals and healthy minerals.

According to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), contaminants in water can be categorized into four categories:

Types of contaminants in water infographic
  • Physical – This refers to contaminants that affect how the water looks and impacts it physical properties. Some examples are sediment, particles or organic impurities like insects, leaves, algae and soil. This is especially common in surface water sources, like rivers and lakes. Physical contaminants are easy to filter out using methods like coagulation, sedimentation or filtration. 
  • Chemical – Chemical contaminants can be natural or can be added to the water by humans, intentionally or by accident. Some common examples include include fluoride, chlorine, iodine, salts and pesticides. If you consider the Hinkley and Flint water crises, the main issues in both cases were related to chemical contaminants, namely hexavalent chromium and lead respectively.
  • Biological – These are living organisms in the water like bacteria, viruses, microbes and parasites. Biological contaminants can be found in all water sources and must be killed if the water is to be made safe. All sources of water can have microbes, which is why municipal water is typically disinfected using chlorine to kill this type of contaminant. Drinking water with micro-organisms can cause waterborne illnesses, which is a major issue in many under-developed countries with limited access to clean drinking water.
  • Radiological – This refers to contaminants that emit ionizing radiation. This type of contaminants is also called radionuclides, and includes radon, plutonium and uranium and can occur due to human activity like the coal industry, fertilizer usage and metal mining, to name a few. Radiological contaminants can be dangerous but unfortunately quite common in drinking water.

Types of Contaminants in Water

There’s a wide range of contaminant types that fall into the four categories of contaminants described above. Let’s take a look at the most common types found in our water:

  • Heavy metals like nickel, arsenic, lead and mercury
  • Pathogens like viruses, microbes and bacteria
  • Chemicals like chlorine and iodine
  • Minerals like calcium and magnesium
  • Pesticides, herbicides and pharmaceuticals
  • Sediment which is common in groundwater which percolates through sedimentary rocks.
  • Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) are chemicals that vaporize into air or dissolve in water such as benzene or toluene.

Is My Water Contaminated?

Water in glass in a cafe

If you’ve watched Erin Brokovich, you’ll likely know that there have been cases, albeit rare, when municipal water has been several contaminated to the point of causing disease and death. A more recent example is that off the Flint water crisis in the U.S. The crisis occurred in 2014 when the town of Flint, Michigan changed its tap water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Lake Huron, and the Detroit River, to the Flint River.

The problem was that the Flint officials didn’t apply corrosion inhibitors to the water which resulted in lead from the pipes leaking in the water, making it undrinkable. As of April 2020, the crisis still hasn’t been resolved. This shows that there are places, even in developed countries, where tap water isn’t always good enough for drinking.

Don’t be alarmed though. This isn’t the norm and such cases are extremely rare and far between. Municipal water typically goes through several steps in the purifying process to make the water fit to drink and the government takes (or should take) great care in ensuring that its clean and safe to drink.

However, if you want to know what types of contaminants are in your water, here’s what you should do about it:

  • Test your water, either with a home water testing kit or by requesting a water quality report from your municipal. To be on the safe side, you can do both to see how they corroborate each other.
  • Based on the types of contaminants in your water, choose a filtration system designed to remove such contaminants. For example, if chlorine is your trouble, you might want to get a reverse osmosis system, but if you’re looking for demineralized water, consider a water distiller.

How to Choose the Best Purification System

You can always take action to ensure that your water is clean, so you have peace of mind when drinking and using it. There are many ways to purify water, and the system you choose will largely depend on your requirements.

When choosing the best system for you, consider the quality and source of your water, your budget and whether you want purified water just for drinking, cooking, showering or for the whole house. These will help you to narrow down your options.

Here’s a look at the best water purifying systems for different requirements:

Best whole house water purifier
Perfect if you want clean water from every outlet in your home. Fast flow, long filter life, easy installation and effective purification.
Best under sink water filter

Ideal if you want a point-of-use filter for clean drinking and cooking water. Affordable, unobtrusive and effective.

Best Shower Water Filter

Best option if you want an affordable, effective and easy solution for cleaner, softer water that’s easy on your skin, hair and shower area.

Best water purifying jug
12 new from $22.40
11 used from $15.17
as of December 5, 2023 6:47 pm
Last updated on December 5, 2023 6:47 pm

Choose this if you simply want an affordable, portable, quick and easy solution for contaminant-free drinking water.

Best UV water purifying pen
Last updated on December 5, 2023 6:47 pm

Ideal for campers, hikers and outdoor lovers in general, UV water purifying pens kill all pathogens in your water, making it safe to drink.

Best water purification tablets
Last updated on December 5, 2023 6:47 pm

Another solution for quick and easy drinking water, especially when outdoors, water purification tablets kills bacteria and viruses in your water in an emergency.

The Bottom Line

While impurities in water is common and accepted to a certain extent, ensuring your water is clean and free of pollutants is important for a healthy life.

You can’t do much about municipal water quality, which is the responsibility of the government, but what you can do is to ensure that the water that goes into your body or comes out of your taps is as contaminant free as possible.

For this, purchase the best filtration system to suit your needs, budget and lifestyle once you have tested the water to check for the specific contaminants that you need to target.

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