What’s in Your Water: Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) in Drinking Water

A woman drinking a fresh cup of water

One thing we can probably all agree on is that we prefer drinking clean water, not only for health reasons, but also for taste (and smell). Although what constitutes clean water seems simple, it can be murky. There are minerals, contaminants, and sediments that contribute to water’s color, odor, and flavor. But how do you know what’s in your drinking water and whether it’s good for you?

A common way to test is by using a TDS meter. These small devices are used by novices and water experts alike to assess just how many particles are in your drinking water. It’s important to know that the test can be misleading or misinterpreted by those unfamiliar with how it works. Read on to hear from the Quench Water Experts about TDS and how we ensure your drinking water is safe, clean and great-tasting every pour.

What Are Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)?

Total dissolved solids (TDS) represents the combined total of all organic and inorganic substances found in drinking water. The total dissolved solids present in water is one of the leading causes of particles and sediments in drinking water, which give water its color, odor, and flavor, and can be a general indicator of water quality.

Organic substances found in drinking water may include:

  • Algae
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Hair
  • Pesticides
  • Herbicides
  • Fertilizers
  • Disinfectants
  • Pharmaceuticals

Inorganic substances found in drinking water may include:

  • Arsenic
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Chlorine
  • Sodium
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Fluoride

TDS is most often measured in parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per liter of water (mg/L). The normal TDS level ranges from 50 ppm to 1,000 ppm. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is responsible for drinking water regulations in the United States, has identified TDS as a secondary standard, meaning that it is a voluntary guideline. While the United States set legal standards for many harmful substances, TDS, along with other contaminants that cause aesthetic, cosmetic, and technical effects, has only a guideline.

Looking at Government Guidelines for TDS in Water 

In the U.S., regulatory standards dictate Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for substances posing health risks, which are legally enforceable. The EPA sets legal limits on over 90 contaminants in drinking water as of today. Conversely, substances deemed aesthetic, such as total dissolved solids, have Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels (SMCLs), intended as guidelines rather than mandates due to their lower health risks compared to primary contaminants. With this in mind, the recommended threshold for TDS in the U.S. is set at 500 parts per million.

Most people think of TDS as being an aesthetic factor. In a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), a panel of tasters came to the following conclusions about the preferable level of TDS in water.

TDS Meter

Increased concentrations of dissolved solids can also have technical effects. Dissolved solids can produce hard water, which leaves deposits and films on fixtures and can corrode the insides of hot water pipes and boilers.

Where Does Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Come From?

The TDS in drinking water can come from many sources, both natural and as a result of human activity. Natural sources are responsible for the minerals, sediments, and microorganisms found in drinking water, whereas chemicals and heavy metals are a result of human activity.

Natural sources may include:

  • Rivers
  • Springs
  • Lakes
  • Soil
  • Plants

Human activity may include:

  • Sewage
  • Urban and agricultural run-off
  • Industrial wastewater
  • Water treatment plants
  • Hardware or piping used to distribute water

What Are the Risks of TDS? 

Consistently consuming water with high levels of TDS can lead to a few health risks, including:

  • Hypertension: Research from the National Library of Medicine reveals that high TDS levels, particularly due to increased sodium content, may contribute to elevated blood pressure. This increases the risk of hypertension and related cardiovascular issues.
  • Kidney strain: Consuming water with elevated TDS concentrations can put a strain on the kidneys, potentially leading to kidney stones or impaired kidney function.
  • Mineral imbalance: Excessive intake of minerals from high-TDS water, such as magnesium and calcium, may disrupt the body’s mineral balance.
  • Digestive distress: High-TDS water can cause digestive discomfort, including bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. This is especially true for individuals with sensitive digestive systems.
  • Dehydration: In some cases, water with high TDS levels may not effectively hydrate the body due to its mineral content. This may lead to dehydration if consumed in large quantities.
  • Electrolyte imbalance: Imbalanced levels of electrolytes in high-TDS water could disrupt nerve and muscle function, potentially leading to weakness, fatigue, or irregular heartbeat.

Water containing a significant amount of total dissolved solids can also result in additional issues beyond health concerns, such as:

  • Increased scale build-up: High-TDS water is prone to leaving mineral deposits, or scale, in pipes and appliances. This reduces their efficiency and lifespan.
  • Possible environmental contamination: Disposing of high-TDS wastewater into the environment can disrupt aquatic ecosystems, affecting plant and animal life.
  • Corrosion of plumbing: Elevated TDS levels can accelerate corrosion in plumbing systems, leading to leaks and contamination of your water supply.
  • Reduced effectiveness of water treatment: High-TDS water can hinder the effectiveness of water treatment processes. This potentially compromises water quality and safety.

How Do You Test for Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)?

To test for total dissolved solids, you can use a TDS meter. A TDS meter is a small hand-held device used to indicate the total dissolved solids in drinking water. In general, the total dissolved solids represent the number of ions in the water. Since ions increase the conductivity of water, a TDS meter measures the conductivity of the drinking water and estimates the TDS from that reading.

Why Is It Important To Measure Total Dissolved Solids in Water? 

Measuring TDS in water is important for several reasons. Firstly, it serves as a key indicator of water quality, helping to assess its suitability for different purposes — from drinking to industrial use. High TDS levels can indicate contamination or the presence of harmful substances, alerting you to potential health risks associated with consumption. 

Moreover, keeping an eye on TDS levels enables you to gauge the effectiveness of your community’s water treatment systems. This is crucial for pinpointing when added filtration or purification methods are necessary. Ultimately, measuring and proactively controlling TDS levels are critical to ensuring access to safe and clean water for both consumption and environmental sustainability.

What Does a Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Meter Reading Mean?

The TDS meter gives a quantitative measure of the number of dissolved ions in the drinking water but does not tell you the nature of the ion. Thus, a TDS meter cannot tell you specifically what minerals, contaminates, and sediments are in your drinking water; it can only tell you how much via parts per million (ppm). Because of this, a TDS meter cannot tell you whether your drinking water is healthy to drink.

Additionally, heavy metals including lead and arsenic are so low in concentration that they may not even show up on your TDS meter, but that doesn’t mean your water is safe to drink. The typical sample of tap water in the U.S. contains approximately 350 parts per million (ppm) of TDS, which does not on its own indicate a health concern. However, lead concentration is found 1000 times lower at the parts per billion (ppb) level and is too small to be detected without sophisticated instrumentation.

Moreover, some healthy minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium can cause your TDS meter to spike. In fact, if you test our quenchWATER+, you will get a relatively high TDS reading. This reading will occur with any water filter with a remineralizer, like quenchWATER+. Therefore, the total dissolved solids test should only be used as an indicator, not sole factor, to determine the general quality of the drinking water.

What Are the Best Ways To Remove TDS From Drinking Water? 

Here are some of the top filtration methods you can use to minimize the total dissolved solids in your water supply:

  • Reverse osmosis (RO) filtration: RO systems use a semipermeable membrane to remove TDS and other contaminants from water by forcing them through the membrane to leave them behind.
  • Distillation: This method involves boiling water to create steam, which is then condensed back into liquid form. As a result, TDS and other impurities are left in the boiling chamber.
  • Deionization: With deionization, TDS is removed by passing water through ion exchange resins that attract and bind to dissolved ions.
  • Activated carbon filtration: This type of filtration adsorbs certain dissolved solids and organic compounds to reduce TDS levels and improve water’s taste and odor.
  • Boiling: Distinct from distillation, boiling water can also effectively reduce TDS levels by evaporating some of the water and leaving behind dissolved solids in the residue.
  • Ion exchange: Ion exchange systems replace dissolved ions in water with other ions to minimize TDS concentrations.

How Do I Know If My Water Is Safe to Drink?

A TDS meter is a good place to start to get a general understanding of your water quality, but you should complement it with other technologies.

Your local water company tests the water every day for contaminants and is obliged to make available a water quality report at least once a year. This provides a scientific analysis of the water quality including the specific measurements of individual chemicals, heavy metals, and pharmaceuticals. Visit the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website to get your local water quality report.

If the idea of monitoring your local drinking water safety is not your top priority, don’t worry – your Quench Water Experts are here to help! We have local water experts in every market we serve that can recommend the best water filtration for your individual business.

Get quenchWATER+ for the Cleanest, Best-Tasting Water!

quenchWATER+ is our Quench-branded mineral-infused and electrolyte-enhanced water. It is purified on demand through our proprietary 5-filter setup. Our filtration process produces the cleanest water through our RO filtration system. The RO system removes 99.9% of all contaminants and sediments in the drinking water, bringing the TDS level down to just about zero. That’s great for the cleanliness of the water but not the taste, as studies have found that a very low concentration of TDS gives water a flat taste.

So, we have added the Mineral+ filter to the filtration process. The pure water passes over compressed minerals in our Mineral+ filter to add back a blend of calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and other healthy minerals to create amazing tasting alkaline water. Not only do the added minerals make the water taste better, but studies suggest that drinking alkaline water allows the body to absorb water more readily and hydrate faster.

Quench currently offers quenchWATER+ in our Quench Q-Series machines. Our Q-Series machines provide an uninterrupted quenchWATER+ refreshment throughout the day and offer advanced sanitization technology, including LED ultraviolet light and antimicrobial surface protection, to maintain water quality. The Q-Series also offers a tall ergonomic “no-bend” dispensing freestanding design, which allows the quenchWATER+ system to be installed directly inside the base of the machine, creating a completely closed system.

Don’t waste another minute worrying about whether you’re drinking clean, healthy water… get quenchWATER+ for filtered, mineral-infused, and electrolyte-enhanced alkaline water!