Digital water test

What Minerals Are Typically Found in Water?

Water’s mineral content may offer some significant health benefits. Depending on what minerals are inside the water, though, you might experience negative health effects. The source of the water is the greatest indicator of what minerals it contains. 

If you want to know what minerals are in your drinking water, try a hard water test. Read through this guide to find out what minerals are most likely to be in your drinking water depending on its source, what minerals you should beware of, and how you can test your drinking water to see what minerals it has.

Common Healthy Minerals in Drinking Water

Before we get into which types of drinking water contain which minerals, let’s take a look at some common minerals in drinking water and give a brief explanation of their effects. 

Dark red sleek capsules pills on wooden background. Iron concept.

Iron helps to preserve many vital functions in the body but these benefits usually go unnoticed until someone becomes deficient in it.

Iron

Many people are already familiar with anemia, which results from an iron deficiency. Your body uses iron for oxygen transportation, DNA synthesis, regulating protein functions, oxidizing nutrients, and neurotransmitter metabolism. One of the prime reasons people develop iron deficiencies is because their dietary intake of iron is low.

Lack of iron can lead to poor temperature regulation, increased nerve sensitivity, decreased work capacity, gastrointestinal abnormalities, reduced liver function, and a higher risk of premature birth or neonatal, childhood, and adult anemia. 

Zinc

Over 300 enzymes use zinc as a catalyst, which means these enzymes use zinc to speed up biochemical reactions. A crucial element for growth, sensory function, DNA synthesis, and immunity, zinc is as important as iron according to many researchers. Zinc deficiency may cause impaired resistance to infections, delayed wound healing, impaired taste, skin lesions, behavioral effects, and even alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss.

Copper

You might be more familiar with copper as a hard metal used in coins and jewelry, but it’s also an important mineral for bodily processes. Copper impacts bone strength, red and white blood cell growth, brain development, and the immune system. Iron transport is also impacted by copper, so if you don’t have enough copper it could manifest as an iron deficiency.

Other negative health impacts of reduced copper levels include osteoporosis, anemia, and neutropenia, which is a marked absence of a certain type of white blood cell called neutrophils which fight off infections.

Iodine

Most of your body’s iodine supply is stored in the thyroid gland, where it is used to create a particular kind of hormone that is critical for cell growth, cellular metabolism, and the overall metabolic rate. The lack of iodine in some areas of the world leads to hypothyroidism, a serious condition that can cause goiters, impaired growth, stunted mental ability, and reproductive failure. Iodine deficiency is such a serious problem that table salt has been fortified with iodine – iodized – to prevent it.

Calcium

Dairy products most of the credit as far as calcium-rich nutrition goes, but calcium is also present in many water sources. The vast majority of the calcium in the human body is stored in the bones, which it helps to strengthen. In addition to strong bones, calcium also regulates enzymes, hormonal responses, blood clotting, nerve transmission, muscle contraction and relaxation, heart rhythm, and glandular secretion. Lack of calcium negatively impacts bone health and makes fractures and osteoporosis more likely.

Phosphorus

Another important component of bone structure, phosphorus exists in a 1:2 ratio to calcium in the human skeleton. It’s also important for energy production and storage, cell membrane construction, hormone regulation, and enzyme activation/deactivation. Lack of phosphorus can cause muscle weakness, loss of bone mass, malaise, or increased pain. Although it is an important mineral for the human body, phosphorus doesn’t have a deficiency frequency as high as some of the others on this list. 

Magnesium

Protein and DNA synthesis are dependent on magnesium, which is stored primarily in the bones, soft tissue, and muscles. Magnesium also activates many important enzymes and helps with calcium flux and intracellular calcium action. Magnesium is required for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is a fuel source for many cellular processes and allows your body to contract its muscles, synthesize chemicals, and nerve impulse responses to stimuli, such as happens between the neurons in your brain.

Fluoride

Water fluoridation has been in common practice in much of North America and Europe for decades. Although there are detractors, supporters of adding fluoride to the water supply cite its positive impact on tooth decay. Fluoride is thought to improve the quality of tooth enamel, which is why you’ll also see it as an ingredient in most toothpaste. 

Sodium, Potassium, and Chloride

These three minerals are electrolytes, which means they generate an electric current when mixed with water. This current helps regulate nerve and muscle function, hydrate the body, balance blood pressure, and rebuild damaged tissue. Sodium, potassium, and chloride are the three main electrolytes and as such are essential for regulating your body’s homeostasis, or the overall stability of your body’s various systems. 

water splash

Common Unhealthy Water Contaminants

The minerals we just mentioned generally have positive effects on humans’ overall health. On the other hand, if you find trace elements of the following contaminants in your drinking water, you could be in trouble. According to the latest Contaminant Candidate List put out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a variety of viruses, microbes, bacteria, and protozoans can cause water toxicity.

Some of them have name recognition, like E. coli, salmonella, hepatitis, or shigella. Others, such as campylobacter jejuni, are less well-known but still cause mild gastrointestinal illness after consumption. The majority of these contaminants are more commonly found in groundwater and surface water sources, which are much more likely to have impurities.

However, the water quality and purity of municipal water sources can also have harmful inorganic minerals leach in from water treatment equipment. Natural and surface water sources can also have too much iron, manganese, or other minerals already mentioned in this guide. Maintaining a healthy balance is easiest with a pure water source with only trace elements of these minerals to ensure your daily intake is only as high as it needs to be.

Common Minerals In Tap Water

The mineral content of tap water varies by location. European tap water, for example, generally has higher levels of minerals than North American tap water. Calcium, magnesium, and sodium are present in the highest concentrations in North American tap water, although almost all tap water there also contains at least trace elements of fluoride as well. 

In addition to calcium, magnesium, and sodium, copper has also been found to be present in tap water in high enough quantities for humans to get more than 1% of their recommended daily value if they consume at least one liter of tap water per day. Potassium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc were also found in tap water. 

While some minerals are added to tap water artificially, some municipal water sources contain them naturally. Testing your tap water is important if information about mineral bioavailability isn’t available from the city or state. 

Common Minerals in Spring Water & Bottled Water

In places where industrial and agricultural processes haven’t polluted groundwater or surface water sources, spring water is generally higher in mineral content than tap water. The precise amount of minerals in spring water varies by location, but some minerals are likely to be present just about everywhere. 

Potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium are the most common minerals in spring water. The prevalence of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease can be reduced when mineral-rich spring water is combined with other lifestyle and medical changes. 

Springwater is also more alkaline than tap water. Products called alkaline water have often been through additional electrolysis to make it even more alkaline. The pH of artificially alkaline mineral water is usually ionized with chemicals, which might have fewer or adverse effects compared to naturally alkaline spring water. Some brands may also use sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, to increase the pH of their bottled water.

Natural water sources also frequently contain carbon dioxide and sulfate. Sulfates are a combination of sulfur and oxygen and occur naturally in rivers, lakes, ice caps, glaciers, seawater, and groundwater that contact soil and rocks. Carbon dioxide is soluble in water and so the same sources of groundwater contain it, as do petroleum and natural gas deposits.

Hard Water vs. Soft Water – Removing Minerals from Water

Since most tap water has a fairly high mineral content, some people use water softeners to remove calcium, potassium, or copper. The advantage of soft water is that it’s softer on the skin and helps generate more suds in the shower. However, because sodium is usually not completely removed from soft water, it can sometimes taste too salty for consumption. 

If you use a water softener you should probably also find a magnesium or calcium supplement since your mineral intake can’t be fulfilled with soft drinking water. People at risk for heart disease or high blood pressure should also avoid drinking softened water or use a salt-free softener since softening filtration otherwise typically operates by replacing the mineral content with sodium and that higher sodium content may exacerbate heart problems. 

Water hardness also tends to be rougher on clothes during laundry and causes dry skin after prolonged use. Hard water is a great source of minerals, so there are advantages to each type of water. Disinfection is always a good idea, but long-term consumption of clean mineral water over time also has plenty of health benefits.

Recommended Intake for Common Water Minerals

When you look at the labels on mineral supplements, you’re most likely to see a daily value (DV) based on a 2,000 calorie diet. However, a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) may be more helpful to calculate what your daily intake of these important minerals should be. Another number, the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL), describes how much of the mineral you can safely consume without any adverse effects. Aim for the RDA, but if you approach the UL it shouldn’t create any big issues.

Mineral

RDA (mg)

UL (mg)

Manganese

1.8

11

Sodium

1500

2300

Magnesium

310

400

Zinc

11

40

Copper

900 (mcg)

10000 (mcg)

Sodium

1500

2300

Iron

8

45

Potassium

4700

Calcium

1000

2500

As you can see, most of these RDAs have plenty of room for error. The important thing is to make sure you’re getting enough. Taking too much of most of these minerals is only likely if you overindulge in supplements, not from your water supply.

Water Safety: Federal Regulations

Organizations like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have strict guidelines in place for all kinds of water systems. Whether it’s tap water from a municipal source or bottled water, the FDA regulates it. For bottled water, the FDA divides the sources into wells, artesian wells, mineral water, and spring water.

In some cases, bottled water may be tap water. But the FDA ensures it is treated when needed through distillation, reverse osmosis, ozonation, or filtration. Other organizations exist to measure water quality with public health in mind. More local regulations likely also exist depending on where you live. 

Does Filtering Water Remove Minerals?

If you’re trying to meet your mineral RDAs can you still filter your water?  Many filters that are strong enough to remove fluoride and chlorine from the water treatment plant alongside the toxins and microbes likely also take out the healthy minerals as well. That’s not to say all water filters are automatically water softeners.

Many filters work via reverse osmosis or charcoal and will leave some of the mineral content intact. Activated carbon and ceramic filters treat water without removing minerals in many cases. Some filters even contain an alkaline filter to add healthy minerals back into the water after the harmful microorganisms and contaminants are removed.

Chemically disinfecting water isn’t as effective at retaining mineral content as activated carbon filters or water filters that reintroduce minerals after filtration. UV light filters are sometimes a good solution for disinfecting water via inactivating microorganisms without removing mineral content.

hard water deposits in a kettle

Hard water is often indicated by a lack of foam formation when soap is agitated in water, and by the formation of limescale in kettles.

How to Test Water for Minerals

Tests for water hardness (mineral content) range from very specific to simple positive-negative results. For example, some only require that you fill a small container with water from the source and a drop of soap. Shake the container and the number of suds will tell you whether it’s hard water or soft water. 

If you want to know exactly what your drinking water contains, you can find water test strips or water hardness tablets that will give you a much better idea of the water hardness and the concentration of specific minerals in the water. Individual test strips change color to reveal the levels of a particular mineral while a hard water tablet may test for the presence of all minerals in the drinking water.

Both are very simple to use. For test strips, all you generally need to do is place them in a cup of water and see how they react. Similarly, water hardness tablets need only be dropped in the water you want to test.

Do We Need Minerals in Drinking Water?

As we’ve already discussed, natural mineral waters can have very positive effects on overall health and cover gaps in dietary intake. Some proponents of soft water like to point out that you can’t get your full RDA of minerals with drinking water alone unless you drink gallons and gallons of water each day. 

That may be true, but a small amount of healthy minerals like calcium and iron are still better than nothing. You do need to get the majority of your minerals through diet and supplements, but investing in a water filtration system that will remove harmful bacteria and heavy metals without removing the healthy minerals is the best idea. 

While testing your water for minerals isn’t a long or complicated process, it’s not something everyone will want to bother with. If your main concern is iodine, fluoride, and chlorine in tap water, then the right water filtration system is the best solution. You can always get your minerals from supplements or food. 

Conclusion:

Drinking water with high mineral content is a great way to bolster your diet with important inorganic compounds like sodium, calcium, and iron. Even if you can’t get 100% of your mineral RDA from drinking water alone, mineral-rich water still has plenty of health benefits when you drink it over the long term. 

Treating, disinfecting, or filtering water is likely to remove healthy minerals as well as healthy ones, so make sure you have a system that will reintroduce the minerals you need. If you aren’t sure what minerals might be in your drinking water, you can use a simple soap test, hard water tablets, or strip tests to find out about the presence and concentration of certain minerals.

Depending on where you live, your tap water may be rich enough in minerals that you don’t have to worry about treating the water. But you should still consider a high-quality filtration system to remove iodine, fluoride, and chlorine that may be added at the water treatment plant.

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Joshua Perkins

Joshua spent ten years as a water systems technician in California before settling down with his wife and two young children in Nashville in 2018. Through all of his experience, he learned the benefits and shortfalls of so many different types of water filtration systems, from pitchers to whole-house installations. He started Water Filter Authority in 2019 to empower other families to make the right decision for their long-term health and wellness.