Removing Nitrates From Water (“How-to” Guide) – WaterFiltersAdvisor

 Last updated  - November 19th, 2021

In rural areas, Nitrate is one of the most common chemical contaminants of groundwater. While nitrate is harmful to infants, it may not affect older children and adults as much.

This contaminated water may also have harmful content like pesticides or bacteria Nitrates in Water.

How to Remove Nitrates from Water?

It is an organic mixture that appears due to various conditions in the environment. Their occurrence could either be natural or synthetic. Nitrate is made from a compound consisting of the following elements.

  • 1 atom of nitrogen (N)
  • 3 atoms of oxygen (O)

This compound is present on the periodic table by the chemical symbol NO3.

 

How Do Nitrates Get Into Our Water?

sources of nutrients in drinking water

There are 3 ways that lead to the exposure of groundwater to nitrate.

Fertilizers

Nitrogen is amply present in fertilizers. When they get used to the maintenance of plants, a large number of nitrogen releases. The leftover nitrogen that is not used by the plants ends up in two ways.

  1. It either becomes vaporous
  2. Gets carried by surface excrement to groundwater.

By the time nitrogen reaches groundwater, it turns into nitrate. This process keeps nitrogen away from the crops. The concentration level of nitrates increases in groundwater. This makes it unacceptable to consume.

Manure Storage/Spreading Options

Nitrogen in manure is released from barnyards, storage places & fields.

Septic Systems

These systems potentially increase nitrate concentration levels in groundwater. They only discard 50% of nitrates into wastewater. This leaves the other 50% to reach and infuse into the water in the ground by itself.

Why Does My Tap Water Contain Nitrates?

Nitrate occurs in groundwater or surface water naturally. If the level of nitrate in your tap water is high, then that could be due to the following reasons.

  • Unprofessional good construction.
  • Unfit well location.
  • Overusing chemical fertilizers.
  • Illegitimate disposal of animal/human waste.

Wells are more prone to nitrate & bacterial contamination post a flood. This only happens if the wells get submerged by floods for longer periods of time.

How Do You Test for Water Nitrates?

In New York State, public water supplies are always tested for nitrates. The testing takes place in two ways based upon where the water originates from.

  • If the source is surface water, then they are annually tested.
  • If the source is groundwater, then it’s done once every 3 years.

When nitrate levels are not close to the defined public safety standards the frequency of tests increases. This is to acquire possible sources of nitrate which are then investigated thoroughly.

Nitrate Test in Water Procedure

You may get a public water supply tested from your municipal water department. You can also reach out to your country/regional office of the NYS Department of Health.

In the case of private water supply users, no routine tests take place for nitrate. However, you should be able to get that water nitrates test done easily. You can get the tests done from an NYS-Certified private laboratory for an inexpensive cost. You can check with your county’s Cooperative Extension office or your Regional Department of Health. Moreover, you may even check Yellow Pages under “Laboratories-testing” to find a reliable and certified laboratory.

Once you locate a laboratory, reach out to them and confirm ways of sending them a sample. Also, be sure to ask them what form you should send it to them in. Mostly, these laboratories ask for the sample in chilled or frozen form, fixed with sulphuric acid. Sulphuric acid prevents bacteria from making any changes to the sample’s original chemical formation.

nitrate test kit for drinking water

Discovering Nitrates in Your Drinking Water

The best solution would be to switch to an alternative water supply for drinking water. Other methods to fix this issue are as follows. Try to eliminate or reduce the contaminant level. Although reducing nitrate concentration is not a swift process. It may not even work if you use well water.

Sources of Nitrate

It is difficult to list down all sources of nitrates. There are multiple ways through which nitrate may appear in our daily use. A few examples of these sources are as follow:

clean tap water
  • Runoff/Seepage from fertilized agricultural lands.
  • Industrial/Municipal wastewater.
  • Refuse dumps.
  • Animal feedlots.
  • Septic tanks.
  • Private sewage disposal systems.
  • Urban drainage.
  • Decaying plant debris.
  • Geologic formations.
  • Groundwater flow direction.

Does Boiling Water Eliminate Nitrates?

Sadly, there is no simple way to make drinking water nitrate-free at home. Nitrate does not evaporate like chlorine. If you boil, freeze, or let water stand, the nitrate level will not reduce. In fact, if you boil water for over 10 minutes, it would concentrate nitrate in that water even more. Also, if water gets boiled in an aluminum pan, it may convert nitrate into nitrite which is twice as harmful.

Prevention of Nitrates From Getting Into Your Water

You need to buy bottled water as the safest alternative if there are nitrate levels in your water supply. However, there is a considerable variation in nitrate levels even in bottled water. In some states, it is mandatory to have bottled water tested annually for nitrates. The results of those tests need to be below the state standard. If they are under the threshold, the companies may not report them to the Department of Health. Whereas, they would provide exact test results to consumers willingly.

clean drinking water

Generally, distilled mineral water has lower nitrate levels than springs mineral-water. Another low-nitrate source of water comes from municipal water supplies. In cities, water comes from large lakes or reservoirs. Since these lakes and reservoirs have large quantities of water, any source of nitrate could be diluted in them.

To haul water from springs, lakes, or streams on your own is quite risky. The levels of nitrate and the presence of bacteria would be unknown in this case. Private wells have similar risks but they can get tested for contaminants easily.

Collecting rainwater is also risky. Rooftop cisterns usually contain lead solder. It easily dissolves in rainwater. This rainwater could possibly contain asbestos & other contaminants from roofing material as well.

Therefore, alternative water supplies are as potent as their storage, source & collection method. Be sure to find out about the exact levels of nitrate & bacteria present in a supply before you make a choice. Another problem could be bacterial contamination. It may lead to the reduction of nitrate to nitrite. The presence of bacteria may also cause illness.

Nitrate Removal Methods From Your Drinking Water

So, how to remove nitrates from water?

You can remove nitrates from water through the following methods:

  • Ion exchange resin,
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Distillation.

These contaminants are difficult to remove from drinking water. They can be removed by three sources, namely:

  • Sediment fibers
  • Carbon filters
  • An infiltration system that has a hollow fiber membrane.


A normal ion-exchange water softener will neither reduce nor remove nitrates. If you install an anion resin tank at the water passage, it would be most effective. You may install an under-sink reverse osmosis system to purify drinking water. A water distiller is also helpful for the removal of nitrate from small batches of water at a time.

Reverse Osmosis

nitrate removal method by reverse osmosis

This process forces water by pressure through a semipermeable membrane. It is covered with microscopic pores. The pores act like a sieve that separates water from contaminants. This membrane has fine microns that remove nitrates. The purified water then passes through and gathers in a storage tank. Reverse osmosis removes around 83% – 92% of nitrates from water.

Water gets wasted in the reverse osmosis process. Older models of RO systems wasted as much as 10% of water. Nowadays, reverse osmosis water filters are greatly efficient. You may need good pressure of water flow to propel water through the membrane. If your water pressure is low, you must install an RO booster pump for better efficiency and results.

Ion Exchange

nitrate removal from drinking water by ion exchange

Passing water through ion exchange is one of the most effective ways to discard this contaminant It is present in water softeners mostly. These softeners use a saline solution to revive resin beads with sodium ions. When hard water flows through this filter, calcium and magnesium ions switch with sodium ions before it leaves the tank.

This system may not last very long. But it would still remove impurities from your drinking water effectively. You might need to change the filter. You may also add more softener to the system after the first batch has worn out.

Water Distillers

water distillers to remove nitrates

Water distillers discard all water impurities through a natural filtration process. This process is the hydrologic cycle. Like oceans, lakes & reservoirs, water evaporates from the surface. In the evaporation process, the impurities in water droplets disperse. This happens when water turns to vapor. The list of contaminants that are removed in this case are:

  • Salts
  • Bacteria,
  • Sediment &
  • Nitrates

Since vapor condenses in the sky returning to Earth in the form of rain or snow. This process is precipitation. Rain/Snow water is soft, mildly acidic & contaminant-free.

Water distillers use the same process. You have to place water in a chamber with a heating rod or plate. This rod or plate would boil the water until it converts to steam. The steam then enters a cooling coil. There, the water would chill and return to its liquid state.

This water then gets collected in a glass or plastic jug. When liquid changes to gas by this method, all impurities get left behind in the boiling chamber. Those contaminants are removed by the carbon post-filter in the distiller. Nitrates do not survive the distillation process.

These are very powerful distillers. Their purification process is very slow and quite costly. Water gets distilled by every drop which is time-consuming. It takes about 4-6 hours to distill a gallon of water. These distillers also take a lot of energy to purify water as well. Despite the drawbacks, this process ensures that your water consumption is nitrate-free.

Removal Methods of Nitrates & Nitrites From Groundwater

nitrates and nitrites removal method from groundwater

Removing nitrate from groundwater through biological methods is vastly studied and applied.

The cost-effective way to do this is by Autotrophic Denitrification of groundwater. It is a slow process. Autotrophic denitrification produces less quantity of biomass. It reduces the cost of post-treatment by using CO2 and HCO3 as its carbon source for the synthesis of new cells.


Water Distillation – The Most Effective Method to Deal With Nitrate Issues

Water purification systems are available for nitrate removal. They require constant maintenance and are expensive. It requires regular maintenance and the replacement of parts. If your vicinity contains nitrate in its water source, then you must switch to bottled water. It is a better alternative to safe drinking water.

How to remove nitrates from your water is an essential question. Nitrate can be consumed through vegetables and meat as well.

In general, boiling water is the safest. It is also an inexpensive way of treating drinking water from various impurities. Most people adopted this method worldwide. However, as mentioned earlier, boiling leads to the evaporation of water into vapors. As a result, high saturation of nitrate gets left behind. You might need to consider boiling treatment in this case. Also, avoid using aluminum pots for this purpose.

The safest and natural method of obtaining nitrate-free water is to harvest it from rain. But if you prefer rainwater, you need to select a material that is safe from bacterial accumulation.


How to Remove Nitrates From Water – FAQs

Can I Get a Low Nitrate Level in the Water?

Yes, bottled or distilled water is a source of low nitrate water. Municipal water sources are also an effective way to get low nitrate water.

How to Remove Nitrates From Water (DIY)?

Several people claim that they have built a nitrate filter by themselves. But we do not believe there to be a trusted source available. As a suggestion, the treatment of nitrate water should be professionally handled.

Is Nitrogen-Infused Water Harmful for External Use?

Using water nitrates externally has no effects. It cannot penetrate through your skin. You can use it to bathe, swim and shower. Avoid swallowing this water during your bath.

Does Water Containing Nitrate Have Any Kind of Odor, Taste, or Color?

Unfortunately, nitrate cannot be naturally detected in water through senses. Only a test from a laboratory can detect the presence of nitrate in water.


Conclusion  

There is no threat of using water that contains 10 ppm of Nitrate. It is still necessary to reduce the contamination to the lowest level possible.

EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1970, formed regulations and implemented them. EPA takes strict actions against potential environmental hazards affecting the human population. To date, distillation is the only filtration process that completely removes nitrate from water. Whether it is naturally done or virtually. It is the most effective method to deal with nitrate issues.