WATER QUALITYRemoving Nitrates in Drinking Water

July 8, 2022

Nitrates are natural compounds. Humans consume some nitrate as a nutrient and it’s necessary. At high levels, though, it is a contaminant. Nitrates are a very common contaminate in water, especially well water, and it has to be controlled and decreased or eliminated in a water supply.

Nitrates occur normally in the earth. They are usually found in elevated amounts in rural or agricultural areas. They have no taste or smell, but consuming water with high nitrate levels can cause health problems in people and livestock.

Reverse osmosis, an ion exchange system or a water distillation system are choices for reducing nitrates to a safe level.

What Nitrates Do

Drinking water with high levels of nitrates is harmful, most importantly, to babies and seniors.

A high nitrate level in water will lower red blood cells’ capability to move oxygen in the body. This is very serious for infants, young children and seniors. It is most likely of doing harm in babies and infants. It can create a condition called methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome.” This syndrome’s symptoms include blue or brown coloration around a young child’s mouth, nose and nail beds. Symptoms also include flu-like illness, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. If you have a baby or small child with these symptoms, contact a health professional as soon as possible.

Adults typically have enzymes and additional body weight to handle elevated levels of nitrates. Seniors may be susceptible to harmful symptoms and illnesses from consuming high-nitrate water. There are some reports of adults who already have health issues such as intestinal problems, abnormal heart function, frequent headache, low stomach acid, enzymatic issues and frequent nausea being more affected by nitrates.

Removing Nitrates from Water

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis removes contaminants from water by forcing water through a system of filters and membranes. The osmosis and filtering greatly decreases nitrates and almost all other contaminants. The clean water goes into a storage tank. Reverse osmosis removes more than 98% of water pollutants. It can filter out from 83-92% of nitrates.

Reverse osmosis is more frequently being used for home use and restaurant use. It’s great for drinking and food prep. If you’re specifically looking to treat water for you and your family to drink and consume, reverse osmosis is a great system.

As an example, if well water has 30 mg/L of nitrates, an RO system will take the nitrate level to 2.5-3.5 mg/L. This is now in the EP

nitrates in drinking water

A-approved safe range for nitrates. If water has an extremely high level of nitrates, as in 100 mg/L, an RO system will decrease nitrates to 10-15 mg/L. The higher the nitrate level, the less likely it is an RO system can make water safe to consume. This is why doing an in-depth water examination is essential before selecting a water filtration system.

It’s worth noting reverse osmosis wastes water. While older RO systems wasted about 90% of water, newer tech and design have improved the performance of RO systems.

Ion Exchange

Among the most reliable methods to remove nitrates is to run water through an ion exchange system. Ion exchange is most typically found in conventional water softeners, however the same method can be used to remove contaminants apart from hard water minerals. Water softeners use a brine solution to create resin beads with salt ions. When the hard water moves via the resin bed, the calcium and magnesium ions exchange for sodium ions and the water leaves the tank softened.

Nitrate removal in an ion exchange system functions with the very same principle. As opposed to salt, these water filtering systems utilize chloride ions.

These ion exchange nitrate filters have a set gallon capacity lifespan. They will process this set volume of water and at the end of this capacity, all the chloride ions are used and gone. The media will need to be either restored or the cartridge replaced.

Water Distillers

Another way to get rid of nitrates from water is with a water distillation system. Distilling removes practically all contaminants from water by mimicking our planet’s natural water purification cycle: the hydrologic cycle.

Water distillers recreate this process. Water is placed into a chamber and heated into steam. This heavy steam rises into a coil. It cools back into liquid. The water collects in a tank. In this process, some contaminants stay in the heating chamber. Some contaminants are removed by a carbon filter in the system. No nitrates can make it through the purification procedure.

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As effective as distilling water is, it is slow and potentially expensive. Water is distilled literally drop by drop. The majority of household-size water distillers take about 4-6 hours to distill one gallon of water. This might not be a practical answer. A water distillation system also uses a lot of energy per the quantity of water produced.

There are industrial-sized water distillers. These can hold up to 12 gallons of distilled water at a time and produce it at a rate of up to three gallons an hour. These can be plumbed to attach to a tap or refrigerator, so you can access distilled water at a faucet.

A water distilling system is typically more expensive than reverse osmosis. Water distillation, on the other hand, doesn’t waste water.

For residential uses, if you know you have high nitrate levels, your decision may come down to reverse osmosis and water distillation.


South End Water Filtration specializes in HALO Water Filter products including the HALO H2 Zero Whole Home Water Filter. We’re just a click away to help and answer any questions. South End Plumbing and South End Water Filtration will give you a free estimate. Call us at 704-486-1988 or contact us online to schedule a visit.