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Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) – Good or Bad?


Total dissolved solids, or TDS, refers to inorganic and organic material present in water in a suspended molecular, ionized, or micro-granular form. These tiny particles can make water look cloudy or muddy, affect water taste, and in some cases, cause disease.

Where Do Total Dissolved Solids Come From?

Total dissolved solids can enter water supplies from a number of sources, including:

Total Dissolved Solids

  • Agricultural runoff
  • Carbonate deposits
  • Industrial wastewater
  • Mineral springs
  • Plumbing pipes and hardware
  • Road de-icing salts
  • Salt deposits
  • Sea water intrusions
  • Sewage
  • Stormwater
  • Urban runoff
  • Water treatment chemicals

Are Total Dissolved Solids Bad for Your?Whether or not total dissolved solids are good or bad for your depends on the type and amount of materials suspended in the water. A wide range of minerals, metals, salts, and organic compounds can make up TDS, including copper, cadmium, nitrate,  calcium, arsenic magnesium, potassium, chlorides, sulfates, lead, bacteria, viruses, plankton, and other microorganisms. Some of these substances are harmless, others provide minerals the body needs, and some are harmful, such as arsenic, cadmium, nitrate, and lead. Different water supplies will have different substances present as TDS.

How are Total Dissolved Solids Measured?

Total dissolved solids are measured by milligrams per liter:

  • Freshwater < 1500 mg/L TDS
  • Brackish water 1500 to 5000 mg/L TDS
  • Saline water > 5000 mg/L TDS

The EPA considers TDS levels of 500 milligrams per liter safe. TDS levels higher than 1000 mg/L are not fit for human consumption.

Testing TDS Levels

A TDS test measures the amount of dissolved ions suspended in water, and is used as a general indicator of water quality. The test cannot determine what substances are present in total dissolved solids, only the amount of TDS present. High TDS levels may suggest the need for additional testing to determine whether toxic chemicals or metals are present.

Effects of Total Dissolved Solids

Elevated levels of TDS, while not necessarily bad for your, can give water a bitter, salty, or brackish taste. Calcium and magnesium, two minerals commonly found in TDS, can cause water hardness, scale formation, and staining.

Water lacking in TDS is more corrosive, and can leach harmful metals such as lead or copper from plumbing pipes and hardware. People who drink water with low levels of total dissolved solids often complain the water has a flat, pleasant taste. Drinking water with moderate amounts of TDS may be the best water of all. In taste tests, water with moderate TDS ranks higher than water with low or elevated TDS levels.

Treating Good and Bad TDS

How you treat TDS depends on the nature of the minerals, metals, chemicals, and microorganisms that make up total dissolved solids in your water supply. This requires more advanced testing than a simple TDS test. Pelican Water offers certified laboratory water tests to determine which contaminants and minerals are present in your water.

If laboratory tests indicate lead, arsenic, cadmium, or other toxic substances are present as total dissolved solids, your best treatment option is a six-stage  reverse osmosis system. This compact little system fits comfortably in a kitchen cabinet and provides cleaner, safer drinking and cooking water for your family. Reverse osmosis reduces TDS to the point where water can taste flat, so the system adds essential calcium and magnesium back into your water for better-tasting water that delivers the essential minerals your family needs.

If your water contains high levels of harmless, “good” total dissolved solids, you’ll want a water system that filters out impurities and counters hard water problems while leaving beneficial calcium and magnesium in your drinking water. A Pelican water softener and filtration combo provides cleaner, tastier water for your entire house while removing sediment, silt, chlorine, pollutants and other impurities.

Pelican Combo System Salt-Free Water Softener Whole-House Water Filter