Should You Be Worried About the Nitrates in Your Water? | (2023)

Should You Be Worried About the Nitrates in Your Water? | (1)

Here's what you need to know about nitrates in drinking water and how to reduce your exposure

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As if you don't have enough to worry about already, should you be concerned that your drinking water has nitrates in it?


You may have seen claims for nitrate-free water and wondered if this is something even worth your worry tolerance. In short, don't panic, your drinking water is probably safe.

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Unless you are drinking certain types of water that are unsafe (more on that later) — which is never recommended — there is no cause for concern. Here's what you need to know about what nitrates are, how they can get into your drinking water and what to do about it.


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What Are Nitrates vs. Nitrites?

Nitrates and nitrites are both found in the soil, water and plants. Having a clear understanding of nitrates and nitrites is key in making decisions about your nutritional health.

First, let's tackle nitrates. Nitrates are mainly consumed via the diet. In fact, vegetables are the highest source of nitrates in the diet, making up about 80 to 90 percent of all nitrates we eat, according to an extensive October 2018 review in Aging and Disease. The rest comes from drinking water and animal-based foods.

Nitrates are converted to nitrites in the body and the process forms nitric oxide — this is a good thing. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which opens up blood vessels and helps your blood flow better. That's great news for those trying to improve their blood pressure. So the natural conversion of nitrate to nitrite in the body is a healthy process.

Need a way to easily track your daily water intake? Download the MyPlate app to do the job, so you can stay focused and achieve your goals!


Much of the conversation and controversy around nitrites is its use as a preservative for cured and processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs and deli meats, and this is usually in the form of sodium nitrite.

While one of the end products of nitrate to nitrite is nitric oxide, another end product could be a substance called a nitrosamine, which could be harmful. Unfortunately, you have no idea if your body will produce nitrosamines, which can make it difficult to take control of your health.



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According to the October 2018 review, there might be a link between inflammation and unhealthy bacteria in the gut and the formation of nitrosamines. This means that eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods, such as vegetables, fruits, olive oil and nuts and seeds is beneficial to keeping inflammation under control.

According to a December 2015 review in Nutrients, dietary nitrates are linked to a decreased risk for stomach cancer, mainly because of the source of most nitrates in the diet are from vegetables.


What's the Deal With Nitrates in Water?

The answer to the question of whether or not there are nitrates in your drinking water is yes. But the amount in public water systems (like tap water from your sink) or even in bottled water is measured and tightly regulated.

While some bottled water companies use nitrate-free as a marketing tool, other bottled water companies, in fact, have very low levels of nitrate in their water and usually non-detectable levels of nitrite. If you have a favorite bottled water, look for their annual analysis report online.


According to the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, mineral-reduced or distilled water generally has lower levels of nitrate than spring or regular mineral water.

So, where does the nitrate come from? Some of it is in the soil naturally, but levels have risen in the last 100 years mainly due to the use of inorganic fertilizer.

The Environmental Protection Agency set the maximum allowable amount of nitrate and nitrite allowed in drinking water in the United States to 10 mg/L and 1 mg/L, respectively.

The reason why nitrates in drinking water was even addressed was to protect infants against a condition called methemoglobinemia — sometimes called blue baby syndrome — according to a July 2018 report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.


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In infants, who have less acidic stomachs than adults, the ingested nitrate, when broken down to nitrite, can bind to hemoglobin and reduce the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. "Bottle-fed babies under six months old are at the highest risk of getting methemoglobinemia," Hayley Cimring, U.K. based registered dietitian, tells


So, Are the Nitrates in Water Bad for My Health?

The research on low amounts of nitrates in drinking water is inconclusive.

High levels of nitrate in drinking water may produce adverse pregnancy outcomes, per a July 2018 review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. So if you think your drinking water may have high levels of nitrate, speak with your doctor or switch to bottled water.

The National Cancer Institute indicates that there may be an increased risk of colon, kidney or stomach cancer with high intakes of nitrate from drinking water and meat consumption, compared to those who had low intakes of both.

Don't let this scare you, though. Most of the studies have been done on animals with the studies in humans showing inconsistent results generally with all health outcomes associated with high nitrates.

The Cornell University Cooperative Extension indicates the only studies indicating cancer were with abnormally high levels of nitrate around 100 to 200 mg/L — and the national limit is well below that.

Should You Be Worried About the Nitrates in Your Water? | (2)

Tap water in the U.S. is perfectly safe to drink.

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What Can I Do?

If you drink from public water systems: Do your homework and check your local water website to check the current water quality report.

If you drink primarily from well water: Do your due diligence and get a testing kit to test not only for nitrates, but other contaminants.


If you live in an agricultural area: You are at higher risk for high nitrates in drinking water, especially with shallow wells near nitrate sources, per the July 2018 review.

According to the review in Aging and Disease, the process of forming nitrosamines can be altered by eating antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants are found mainly in fruits and vegetables in the form of polyphenols, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene.

The experts at Cornell indicate that 60 to 90 percent of the nitrite we consume comes from processed meat, so if you're looking to reduce your overall nitrite intake, cutting back on those types of food is a good start.

"Check labels carefully and avoid products that list sodium or potassium nitrates and nitrites," Cimring adds. "In addition to lunchmeat, some canned foods may contain these added chemicals."


If this is keeping you up at night, speak with a health care professional about your risk for adverse health outcomes with the drinking water in your area, and discuss potential diet changes you can make to decrease the nitrates you take in.

"And last but not least," says Cimring, "find out if your water is tainted with nitrates. If the chemicals are present, treat your water with a home water distiller, a reverse osmosis filter or an ion exchange filter to remove any fertilizer nitrates."

Nitrate Water Filters to Shop



(Video) Human Health Effects of Nitrate in Drinking Water, Sarah Yang, Wisconsin Division of Public Health


Is it bad to have nitrates in your water? ›

High levels of nitrate in drinking water may increase the risk of colon cancer. Nitrate may enhance the cancer potential of other compounds or may turn into cancer-causing chemicals like the body.

What level of nitrates in water is safe? ›

Safe level

Drinking water with concentrations of nitrate (measured as nitrate-nitrogen) below 10 milligrams of nitrate per liter of water (mg/L) is considered safe for everyone in your family. 10 mg/L is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard for nitrate in drinking water for public water supplies.

Why is there a warning about nitrates in water? ›

Nitrate is an acute contaminant, meaning that one exposure can affect a person's health. Too much nitrate in your body makes it harder for red blood cells to carry oxygen, causing an illness called acute methemoglobinemia. The primary source of exposure to nitrate is food, though water can sometime be a concern.

Is it safe to shower in water with nitrates? ›

What about bathing and showering? Nitrate does not easily enter the body through the skin. Bathing, swimming and showering with water that has levels of nitrate over 10 mg/L is safe as long as you avoid swallowing the water.

Do water filters remove nitrates? ›

Nitrates are chemical compounds that behave similarly to minerals and cannot be removed by activated charcoal filters. They can only be removed by water filtration methods for nitrate contamination in drinking water, which include: distillation, reverse osmosis, ion exchange, and blending.

What to do if tap water has nitrates? ›

If your water contains nitrate levels close to the EPA limit of 10 ppm, switch immediately to a different source of drinking water and install a water filtration system designed to remove nitrate. Even if your nitrate level is lower, you may want to install a water filter.

Is tap water high in nitrates? ›

Nitrate can occur naturally in surface and groundwater at a level that does not generally cause health problems. Water treatment plants therefore monitor the nitrate content in the source water and treat it if required. Therefore the risk of high levels of nitrates in public tap water is low.

What happens if nitrate levels are too high in water? ›

Consuming high levels of nitrates can cause nitrate poisoning, which symptoms include blue coloration of the skin, difficultly breathing, and fatigue.

Does all tap water have nitrates? ›

The bottom line. High nitrate levels in tap water pose a health risk but are rare in public-water supply. Bacteria in the body convert nitrates to nitrites which can pose a cancer risk. Nitrate removal can be expensive so we recommend testing your water first.

How do you remove nitrates from water naturally? ›

Nitrates can be removed from water by reverse osmosis, distillation, or through ion exchange resin. Nitrates are difficult contaminants to eliminate from water. Nitrates will not be removed by sediment filters, carbon filters, or by the hollow fiber membrane of an ultrafiltration system.

Do water softeners remove nitrates? ›

A water softener is typically used to treat hard water, but it can also remove nitrate and nitrite with the proper media. Water softeners use an ion exchange process, during which minerals are replaced with sodium. These compounds are then removed from the softener filtering resin through a backwashing process.

Does bottled water have nitrates? ›

The allowable concentration for nitrate-nitrogen in bottled water is 10, or 45 mg/L total nitrate (FDA 1998). FDA regulations require that bottled waters that exceed allowable concentrations of nitrate must have information on the label saying 'Contains Excessive Nitrate'.

Will a Brita filter remove nitrates? ›

Activated carbon filters, such as those in a “Brita” water pitcher, DO NOT remove nitrates.

Is it safe to wash dishes in water high in nitrates? ›

Yes. Only a very small amount of water clings to smooth surfaces, like dishes, so exposure to nitrates would not pose a health risk.

What filter is best for removing nitrates? ›

Reverse Osmosis is our number one recommendation for treating nitrates in your drinking water. Reverse Osmosis will effectively remove up to 95% of nitrates in your water depending on your original water temperature, quality and system pressure.

Can Dirty filters cause high nitrates? ›

Dirty Filters

Laxness in cleaning filters often underlies high aquarium nitrate levels. Remember that the media in the aquarium filter merely trap wastes, food particles, and detritus. Until you clean or replace the media, the dirt is simply out of sight, but it's still adding to the nitrate load of the water.

How can I lower my nitrates without water change? ›

A bio-media, which uses bacteria to filter the water and remove nitrates, is a suitable option. Bacteria are aerobic and anaerobic. The anaerobic ones could reduce nitrate. So you can establish anaerobic flora in the filter media to lower the nitrate levels.

What are the side effects of nitrates? ›

The most common side effects of nitrates include headaches, dizziness or light-headedness, flushing or a warm feeling in the face. Not everyone experiences these. If side effects are a problem for you, discuss it with your doctor before you stop taking your nitrates.

Does UV light remove nitrates? ›

Treatment: Nitrates cannot be removed from water by such treatments as UV lights, chlorinators, carbon filters, water softeners, iron filters, neutralizers.

Is distilled water free of nitrates? ›

Distillation can remove nearly all impurities from water. Compounds removed include sodium, hardness compounds such as calcium and magnesium, other dissolved solids (including iron and manganese), fluoride, and nitrate.

Does purified drinking water have nitrates in it? ›

Tap water contains more nitrates than natural mineral water in most bottles.
Nitrate levels in well-known mineral waters. Bottled water contains less nitrate than tap water.
Brand mineral watermg nitrate per litre
7 more rows
Nov 27, 2020

How often should I do water changes with high nitrates? ›

You can easily prevent nitrate buildup through regular water changes. If nitrate levels are high (above 60 ppm), perform a series of small water changes (no more than 25% per day) until it is lowered to acceptable levels (< 50 ppm).

How long does it take for nitrate levels to go down after water change? ›

This process normally takes anywhere from 2-6 weeks. At temperatures below 70F, it takes even longer to cycle a tank.

How do you fix nitrate levels? ›

The quickest and easiest way to get nitrates down in your setup is to change the water. As long as your tap water has a lower nitrate level than your tank water, by replacing it, your nitrate level will go down. Test the nitrate level in both your freshwater tank and your tap, to ensure that this is the case.

Do refrigerator filters remove nitrates? ›

With advancements in water treatment technologies, removing nitrates from drinking water is a relatively simple process. However, it is important to use the proper nitrate removal method. For example; Nitrates cannot be removed with filters such as Britas, PUR, fridge filters or any other carbon based technology.

How do you make nitrate free water? ›

Nitrate can be removed from water using an variety of processes, including: ion exchange, distillation, and reverse osmosis. It's important to note that heating or boiling nitrate contaminated water will have little effect and can actually even increase the concentration.

Will nitrates go away on its own? ›

The nitrates should break down some at the end of the cycle but they will always be there in some quantity. Personally I strongly recommend getting rid of the API kit and going with Red Sea, Salifert, etc.

Does nitrate affect pH? ›

Higher nitrate concentrations can lower the pH, making the water more acidic.

What water has the lowest nitrate? ›

AQUA Carpatica is nature's most perfect mineral water, naturally Nitrate-free and the lowest Sodium level of any bottled natural mineral water on earth; the first of its kind in the UK. Not man-made, purified, or enhanced, AQUA Carpatica is all-natural and sourced from the earth.

What is the safest water to drink bottled? ›

The study concluded that four (yes, only four) bottled water brands have a pH and fluoride level completely safe for your teeth: Fiji, “Just Water,” Deer Park Natural Spring Water, and Evamor.

What bottled water has no nitrates? ›

Natural minerals carbonate AQUA Carpatica's sparkling water – the only nitrate-free, naturally sparkling water on Earth – and while the spring water is also exceptionally low in nitrates, both waters are sodium-free.

How high is too high for nitrates? ›

Natural processes can cause low levels of nitrate in drinking water—usually less than 3 mg/L. The health concern is with levels of nitrate over 10 mg/L.

How can I test my water for nitrates at home? ›

Nitrate Testing Procedure
  1. Fill the sample bottle with sample water. ...
  2. Rinse and fill one test tube to the 2.5 mL line with water from the sample bottle.
  3. Dilute to the 5 mL line with the Mixed Acid Reagent. ...
  4. Use the 0.1 g spoon to add one level measure (avoid any 50-60 times in one minute).

Can nitrates in water make you sick? ›

Illness: High levels of nitrate or nitrite can decrease the ability of your blood to carry oxygen to your tissues. Infants younger than 6 months may be particularly at risk. Related symptoms can include decreases in blood pressure, increased heart rate, headaches, stomach cramps, and vomiting.

What is a safe nitrite and nitrate level in drinking water? ›

The Maximum Contaminant Level, or MCL, for nitrate is 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) and nitrite is 1.0 milligrams per liter (mg/L).

What's worse nitrite or nitrate? ›

Nitrate is less toxic than nitrite and is used as a food source by live plants. The process of converting ammonia to nitrate is diagramed in the nitrogen cycle.

Does bottled water contain nitrates? ›

The allowable concentration for nitrate-nitrogen in bottled water is 10, or 45 mg/L total nitrate (FDA 1998). FDA regulations require that bottled waters that exceed allowable concentrations of nitrate must have information on the label saying 'Contains Excessive Nitrate'.

Does Brita filter remove nitrates? ›

Activated carbon filters, such as those in a “Brita” water pitcher, DO NOT remove nitrates.

What is difference between nitrite and nitrate? ›

Nitrites are known to hold one nitrogen atom along with two oxygen atoms, whereas nitrates are known to hold one nitrogen atom, bonded to three different oxygen atoms. A nitrite can become a nitrate by the process of oxidation and similarly, a nitrate can become a nitrite by the process of reduction.

How unhealthy are nitrates? ›

Not all forms of nitrates are bad. In general, the naturally occurring nitrates in many types of produce are safe to consume. But, added nitrates, like the ones often found in processed meats, are linked to health issues including cancer.

When should nitrates be avoided? ›

Finally, nitrates are contraindicated in individuals with hypotension, hypovolemia, severe anemia, and cardiomyopathy. Nitrates should be used carefully during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as well as in clients with increased intracranial pressure or cerebral hemorrhage, renal or hepatic disease, and syncope.

Is nitrate toxic to humans? ›

Acute acquired methemoglobinemia is the most important adverse health effect caused by excessive nitrate/nitrite exposure. The known toxic effects from nitrate exposure result from the conversion of nitrate to nitrite.


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