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Your tap water might look clean, but that doesn’t mean that it’s free of contaminants. Tap water typically has a wide range of impurities in it, with the EPA setting standards for at least 80 harmful contaminants commonly found in water.
If you’re wondering what contaminants are in your water, a home test kit can help you find out. Because there are many types of home test kits, finding the right one to check your water quality can be confusing, especially if you’re a newbie. In this article, we break down the different types of test kits and how to choose the right one for your home.
How Effective is a Home Water Test Kit?
It’s exactly what it sounds like – a test kit that helps to check the water quality in your home. The main types of water test kits include test strips, chemical titration tests and TDS electronic handheld meters.
A water test kit can check for a range of contaminants, including:
- Nitrates and nitrites
- Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)
- Minerals like calcium and magnesium
- pH level
- Coliform bacteria
However, home water test kits may not pick up some contaminants like cryptosporidium. For comprehensive testing, you can have your water tested by a state certified lab. You can also check to access the water quality report of your municipal.
Types of Home Water Test Kits
There are several types of home water test kits, suitable for a range of water sources and contaminants. Here are the most popular options:
These are the most popular and affordable type of home water test kit. They’re also very easy to use and easily available. The test strip works contains reactants that change color according to the type of contaminant in the water.
To use a test strip, simply fill a container with the water to be tested, then dip the test strip into the water, give it a swirl and allow it to sit in the water for a while. The test strip will change in color. Compare this color with the color chart provided which will indicate the type and the Parts Per Million (PPM) of the contaminant.
Test strips aren’t 100% reliable, but they do provide a good starting point to improve our water quality. They typically test for contaminants like heavy metals, VOCs, inorganic chemicals, bacteria, copper, pH, pesticides and hardness.
Best Water Test Strips
- First Alert WT1 Drinking Water Test Kit
- 15 in 1 Drinking Water Test Kit Strips
- Home Drinking Water Test Kit for Tap and Well Water
- JNW Direct Drinking Water Test Strips 10 in 1
Handheld water quality meters work well with all types of water and are very convenient to use, giving you an immediate test result.
All you have to do is to dunk the meter into a container with the sample water and allow it to read the water quality.
The meter reads the water in a few seconds, indicating the level of a certain phenomenon. These are typically used to measure pH or TDS levels in water. While handheld meters are convenient, note that they don’t show you a wide range of impurities.
Best Handheld Water Quality Meters
Water Quality Photometer
A photometer is a more expensive, complicated device that’s not for everybody. It’s ideal if you want to test a variety factors like chlorine, bromine, hardness minerals, alkalinity, cyanuric acid and total alkalinity.
This is one of the most accurate ways to test water and give you precise results. A photometric test kit is only a good idea if you’re planning on testing water frequently. However, these kits are only expensive at the outset. From there on, the cost per test is less than most other types of test kits.
You don’t need special training to use a digital photometer. Simply follow the step-by-step instructions that come with the kit and you’ll be able to produce accurate results.
Best Photometric Test Kits
- LaMotte 2056 ColorQ Pro 7 Digital Pool Water Test Kit
- PoolLab 1.0 – 11 parameter pool water Photometer with Bluetooth
How to Test Your Water
Before you go out and buy a water test kit, it’s important to consider whether that testing method is even the right one.
Step 1: Consider Your Water source
First of all, consider what contaminants you want to check for. And this depends largely on your water supply.
- City water – the main contaminants that people check for in city water are chlorine and lead. If you have a city water source, look for a test kit that targets these and similar contaminants.
- Well water – this type of water is typically untreated and so can have a wider range of contaminants. For this, you will need a comprehensive water test kit that looks for pathogens and things like pesticides, iron and sediment.
You may also be interested in finding out about the pH level in your water or the TDS. Factor these into your decision.
Step 2: Consider the Testing Procedure
The next option is to choose what type of test you need. Most test kits can only be used, but digital meters can be reused many times over. If you’re on a tight budget or want the easiest option, go with test strips. If you want to invest in a more efficient system, then consider a more comprehensive system.
In general, it’s a good idea to follow up the home test kit with a professional lab test if the tests show contaminants. Additionally, because home test kits only give you an indication of what’s in the water, you’ll probably want more accurate and specific results from a lab.
Step 3: Check Your Results Against the EPA Standards
Once you’ve tested your water, it’s important to know how the results stack up against accepted standards. Some contaminants like lead, arsenic or coliforms should not be present at all in your water, while others like chlorine are accepted to a certain extent. You can check the EPA’s water standards here. Based on this, you can decide your next steps – to opt for a filtration system or to have a comprehensive water test done for you.
How Accurate Are Home Water Test Kits?
This depends on the type of test kit you purchase as well as how accurately you have followed the steps required to test the water.
Taking some basic common-sense precautions can also eliminate some doubt of the test’s accuracy. For example, if using test strips, make sure the strips aren’t expired. Also, make sure that the water sample is in a clean container, to avoid contamination from other sources.
We recommend doing more than one test to ensure that the results are the same both times. This will give you an idea of the test’s accuracy.
Should I Have My Water Tested?
If your water looks, tastes and smells clean and fresh, you might not feel the need to test your water. But like we’ve already discussed, there could easily be many contaminants in the water.
Not Necessary: If your water comes from a public water system, this means that the water supply is regulated and monitored. Most community water systems supply their customers with a yearly water quality report, which outlines the contaminants in your water, the ramifications of these contaminants and the water source. You can always request this report if you don’t receive it.
Necessary: If you’re water comes from a private source, like a well, then the responsibility of checking the water for impurities lies on you. Testing the water regularly will give you a record which can be useful in case of a dispute. Let’s say if someone contaminants or damages your water supply, you’ll have records as evidence of quality. The EPA recommends testing water once a year.
The Bottom Line
Testing your water at home helps you monitor your water quality. While not very specific or highly accurate, these tests give you a range of the contaminant levels in your water, which can help you take the next step to improve your water quality.
If you’re not sure what type of filtration system you need for your home, check our step by step guide on how to choose the right filter.