Have you ever wondered how safe your drinking water is?
Water is essential for life and access to clean drinking water is something we should all have. Unfortunately, that is not the case. If you are concerned, or just curious, about how to determine the quality of your drinking water, continue reading to learn which water testing kits are right for you.
Why should I be concerned about the quality of my water?
Although the U.S. has some of the best drinking water in the world, people shouldn’t take their water safety for granted due to aging infrastructures and other possible environmental issues. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency, sets the standard for U.S. public drinking water. However, regulation of the law is less than ideal and it does not apply to private wells.
Aging water pipes may contain copper and lead or other contaminates. Homes built prior to 1990 may have lead connectors on plumbing connecting to the water main. Ground source water may contain nitrates and nitrites (fertilizer run-off), pesticides, animal agriculture, and more.
You may not be able to see these contaminants, but you can easily test for them with home water testing kits. Don’t wonder whether or not your water is contaminated – find out with a home water testing kit.
Do water testing kits detect water quality issues?
Most at-home test kits use quick-read chemical strips to provide pass/fail indications of major hazards including lead, some chemicals, some pesticides, and bacteria. They generally don’t explain how much of a certain substance may be in the water. However, these strips provide a good start and can be augmented by further laboratory tests when indicated. If you just want to get a quick read without waiting to send something to a lab, quick-read water testing strips are a good start.
The kits do a good job of measuring dissolved solids; however, they have a harder time if small chunks of solder, pipe or rust break off in the water.
How often should you test your water?
Since the quality of your water can change over time, the EPA recommends that people test municipal water annually. People with well water should consider testing more often because ground water is at higher risk for bacteria contamination.
What can you do if you find problems?
If you find problems with your drinking water, you have several options that don’t require ripping out old pipes. Fixing problems can be as simple as buying NSF-approved water filters that are certified to stop lead and other contaminants. Just make certain the filter you choose is designed to block the contaminants in your water source. Other, more expensive, steps may include getting a water delivery service. See “How to choose the best drinking water filters” for additional information.
Water-testing kits for home use
There are many water testing kits available to help you determine the quality of your water. The most thorough kits require samples to be mailed to a laboratory for a full report on dozens of contaminants. More basic testing can be done with an at-home kit that doesn’t require you to mail in samples and wait for results. Some water testing kits evaluate only lead, bacteria or a limited set of common contaminants. These are usually less expensive than kits that include more extensive testing.
As consumers seek assurance concerning the quality of their drinking water, testing kits can provide a reasonably inexpensive and quick option for preliminary detection.
Water Test Strips:
- The PurTest Home Drinking Water Test Kit is a fast and easy test that can detect 11 different contaminants including lead, bacteria, pesticides, chlorine, copper, iron, iron, hardness, alkalinity, pH, nitrates, and nitrites. This test strip kit includes one strip each for testing bacteria, lead and pesticides and two testing strips each for iron, alkalinity, pH, hardness, chlorine, copper, nitrate and nitrite. The additional test strip included for these contaminants can be useful for testing multiple water sources, or for follow-up testing. There are no mailing requirements or wait times to get results. Results from this kit are provided within a range; the test doesn’t provide specific values.The Good Housekeeping Institute worked with the Water Quality Lab at the University of Nebraska to measure the accuracy of commonly available water kits. They rated this kit at the top in their tests verifying that it accurately detected the contaminants it said it would test. (About $40 buy at Home Depot or Walmart.)
- The First Alert WT1 Drinking Water Test Kit tests your water for EPA standards of bacteria, lead, pesticides, hardness, nitrates, pH, and chlorine and requires no additional laboratory testing. A kit includes one bacteria test vial, one lead/pesticide test packet, one nitrate/nitrite test packet, one pH/hardness/chlorine test packet, and a user’s manual. You can pick up this water testing kit for about $10-$15. While this is a more limited number of tested contaminants than many other at-home or mail-in kits, it covers the basic information that many homeowners are concerned about.
- The Test Assured Drinking Water Test Kit is a 10-in-1 kit that tests for lead, bacteria, pesticides, iron, copper, alkalinity, pH, hardness, chlorine, nitrates and nitrites. It does not need to be sent to a lab to learn the results. Each test is calibrated to EPA standards for each element and is made in the USA. If you are not satisfied, the company has a 100 percent money back guarantee! You can pick up this handy kit for about $30.
- If your water comes from a private well, test it with Watersafe WS425W Well Water Test Kit. This water tests 10 different contaminants including iron, copper, lead, bacteria, pesticides, nitrates, nitrites, chlorine, pH and hardness. The kit has easy-to-read strips that provide ranges for each tested contaminant and is not as specific as laboratory testing which can be used for follow up testing if more detailed testing is warranted. You can pick up this kit for about $25.
- Live in the city? Test your drinking water with the Watersafe WS425B Drinking Water Test Kit. This kit was specially developed for testing city water, delivering professional lab results in your home. Like other Watersafe products, this kit tests for EPA recommended levels of contaminants like copper, iron, lead, chlorine, nitrates and nitrites, bacteria, fertilizer, pesticides, hardness, and pH. Amazon reviewers love how easy this kit is to use and you can purchase it for about $20.
- The Watts Premier 173006 All-In-One Water Test Kit includes two tests each for chlorine, chloride, pH, total alkalinity, hardness, nitrate, nitrite, iron, sulfate, hydrogen sulfide, and copper. It also includes one test each for lead, pesticides, and bacteria. Each test is color-coded for ease of use and delivers results within minutes. Amazon reviewers are happy with the results, but recommend thoroughly reading the instructions before beginning. You can pick up this kit for about $40.
- The Baldwin Meadows 9-in-1 Drinking Water Test Kit provides multiple test kits that will allow you to monitor your water quality on an on-going basis. The kit includes 100 test strips, and it provides results for nine contaminants on 1 strip including: total alkalinity, pH, hardness, iron, lead, copper, nitrite, nitrate, and chlorine.The kit does not include bacteria testing, which should be tested for separately, if needed. (Amazon about $20) A 14-in-1 Drinking Water Test Kit is also available. In addition to the preceding, it tests for water hardness, cyanuric acid, fluoride, carbonate, and bromine. (Amazon approximately $25)
Water Test Meters – TDS
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meters measure the electrical conductivity of water or, in other words, the total amount of mobile charged ions found in water. If an element is dissolved in water and can conduct electricity, it is called an electrolyte (salt is an electrolyte). Different types of water will contain different amounts of dissolved substances. For example, natural mineral water and tap water can each typically have a TDS value of 100-200 mg/l. However, in areas with high concentrations of minerals, the natural tap water could be considerably higher. To further complicate this, high concentrations of specific constituents such as calcium may have an impact, but TDS does not specify the different parameters that constitute the final number.
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWR) guidelines are nonenforceable, a maximium limit of 500 mg/L has been published. In a study by the World Health Organizaiton (WHO), a panel of tasters came to the following conclusion about the preferable level of TDS in water (mg/l):
- Excellent: Less than 300 mg/L
- Good: 300 – 600 mg/L
- Fair: 600 – 900 mg/L
- Poor: 900 – 1,200 mg/L
- Unacceptable: above 1,200 mg/L
A TDS meter is not sensitive enough to measure toxic levels of lead, chromium-6, or arsenic in a sample. This is because the reading displayed on an inexpensive TDS meter is in parts per million, while things like lead, chromium-6, and arsenic are toxic at part per billion concentrations (1000 times lower). Since TDS is an aggregate measure of charged compounds in water, uncharged things like motor oil, gasoline, many pharmaceuticals, and pesticides do not contribute to a TDS measurement.
Although TDS meters are cheap (about $15) and easy to use, they may need to be used in conjunction with other technologies such as test strips for more accurate home testing results.
Complete Water Analysis Test Kit +TDS Meter
A Complete Analysis Test Kit with a TDS Meter includes one set of 10 test strips and one TDS hand-held meter. It tests for lead, iron, copper, bacteria, pesticides, nitrates, nitrites, chlorine, pH and hardness. Approximate price $45. Note: ordering a strip test kit and separate TDS meter could be less expensive.
Comprehensive Lab Kit
If you want more comprehensive information on the quality of your water, a laboratory mail-in test kit will provide more specific testing data. Many states have a public health laboratory that will test drinking and well water. Additionally, the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, requires all municipal and other public water supplies to be tested regularly for bacteria, nonorganic chemicals, naturally occuring radioactivity, and naturally occurring compounds. If, however, you want an independent lab to test your water, there are kits available including:
The Essential Indicators Water Test from Drinking Water Specialists provides fairly quick turnaround and expansive testing capabilities. Follow the kit’s simple directions to collect a water sample, then mail it to the laboratory and receive comprehensive results for over 170 different indicators of water quality. The company will send results and treatment suggestions via email within about six business days. You’ll need to test for bacteria at home, though, due to the fact that temperature and other conditions cannot be regulated in transit to the laboratory. Unlike many other bacteria tests, the Essential Indicators kit tests for eight different forms of bacteria — adding to the amount of useful information you’ll gather from this kit.
Users found the directions to be easy to follow and the results proved to be thorough and insightful. Many people expressed that the value of this kit represented a tremendous savings over using similar local water testing facilities. (Buy on Amazon, $129)
Finally, if you don’t know which test kit is right for you – just Dowse it!
- How to buy an at-home water testing kit; Chicago Tribune, Debbie Carlson March 18, 2018
- 10 Home Kits That Test the Safety of Your Tap Water
- The 7 Best Water testing Kits to Buy in 2018