Dam Wall

Navigating Common Water Contaminants in South Africa

Water quality is a pressing concern for many South Africans. Whether you’ve recently moved to a new neighbourhood, noticed changes in your tap water’s taste or clarity, or rely on borehole water, understanding potential contaminants is essential. Despite South Africa’s efforts to provide clean drinking water, challenges persist. Let’s delve into the most common water contaminants and their implications in the South African context.

Water Testing

Types of Water Contaminants

South Africa’s municipal water systems are governed by the Department of Water and Sanitation. However, due to various challenges, contaminants can still find their way into our water supply. The type and presence of these contaminants can vary based on several factors, including regional challenges and water source.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

TDS, while not typically harmful, can affect your water’s quality. It encompasses various minerals, salts, metals, and organic compounds. Common ones include:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Sulfates
  • Sodium
  • Chlorides

High TDS levels can lead to unpleasant tastes and even damage your plumbing and appliances. Reference: Water Research Commission, South Africa

While TDS itself is not typically harmful, the presence of specific dissolved substances like heavy metals can lead to health issues. Consuming water with high levels of lead, mercury, or arsenic may result in:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Long-term neurological problems


Chlorine is commonly used in South African water treatment plants to eliminate harmful bacteria. While safe in regulated amounts, excessive chlorine can impart a bleach-like odour and taste.

Chlorine is essential for water purification, but excessive levels can cause:

  • Eye and skin irritation
  • Respiratory discomfort
  • A strong bleach-like taste and smell


Iron contamination is evident when rust stains appear on dishes, laundry, or plumbing fixtures. While water may seem clear initially, exposure to air can turn it cloudy or even reddish-brown.

Iron in water is generally not harmful to health but can impart a metallic taste and cause staining. However, high levels of iron bacteria can lead to:

  • Digestive issues
  • Fatigue
  • Weakened immune system

Other Water Concerns

pH Levels: Water with a low pH can corrode metal plumbing. On the other hand, high pH water can leave a bitter taste and reduce appliance efficiency.

Low pH (acidic water) can dissolve metals from plumbing, leading to copper or lead contamination. High pH (alkaline water) can cause:

  • Bitter taste
  • Skin irritation
  • Plumbing and appliance damage

Hard Water: Indicated by high calcium and magnesium levels, hard water can corrode pipes, reduce appliance lifespan, and even affect skin and hair health.

Hard water itself is not harmful to health but can affect skin and hair quality, leading to:

  • Dry skin
  • Brittle hair
  • Ineffective cleaning products

Addressing Water Contamination in South Africa

Recognizing these contaminants is the first step in ensuring safe and clean water. At SA Clean Water, we offer comprehensive water testing and analysis to provide insights into your water’s quality. Based on these results, we can recommend appropriate solutions tailored to your needs, including our advanced water softener systems and whole house filtration systems. If you have any concerns or need personalized assistance, please contact us.

Dam Wall 1

In addition to our services, the South African government has revived plans to establish a national water infrastructure agency to refurbish and expand the country’s critical water infrastructure. The new National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency will be built around the existing Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) and will attract new investment by packaging major water infrastructure projects. The agency aims to raise private sector funds efficiently and cost-effectively, and it will be responsible for funding, developing, operating, and maintaining national water resources infrastructure in a sustainable and reliable manner.

Furthermore, the government is considering reconfiguring and streamlining the country’s approximately 140 water service boards. New partnerships with the private sector, especially in the mining and agriculture sectors, are being established. Other funding sources include the department’s own trading account, the Municipal Infrastructure Grant, and a proposal by the Development Bank of South Africa to establish a public-private partnership office to fund sanitation, pollution control, or water supply projects.

These efforts reflect the government’s commitment to addressing the challenges of water scarcity, leaks, non-payment, and other factors that contribute to the loss of at least 40% of South Africa’s water annually.

Leave a Reply