How to Test Water Quality

Make sure you know exactly what might be hiding in your water with our guide to water testing. We cover the range of options available, and exactly what you need to be testing for.



Getting the perfect water filter system to protect your home depends on knowing exactly which harmful contaminants need removed. There are many different methods of water filtration that each specialize in removing certain contaminants from water. If you know what chemicals lurk in your water then you can get the most effective water filter for dealing with them.

Luckily, testing your water to see what is in it has never been easier. There are various ways that this can be done, and in today’s post we’ll discuss each of them.

Water Quality Testing

Know When to Test Your Drinking Water

Even when your drinking water seems to be crystal clear and odorless, you should not be too relaxed. Contaminants such as lead are colorless and odorless, which makes them particularly problematic.

Make it a habit to have your drinking water tested for contaminants and pollutants on a regular basis. Aside from the routine check, there are also clear signs that should alert you and if you notice any of these indications, stop from drinking and using the water immediately.

  • Water has strong chlorine taste and smell. The presence of chlorine in the water is an indication that it is being treated at a water treatment plant. The treatment is needed to disinfect the water and kill off any bacteria and other harmful microorganisms that may be present in the water. However, chlorine itself can form harmful by-products. You can find out more about chlorine and the problems it can cause here.
  • Water has a metallic taste. The salty or metallic taste can be due to high mineral concentration in the water system. It can be iron, manganese, or any other type of mineral.
  • Water smells like rotten egg. This is something that can really be noticeable and disturbing as the smell of rotten eggs is an indication that there is a decaying organic material underground. The unusual smell comes from the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas which may have been picked up by the water when it passed through. Another possible cause of the rotten egg smell is the presence of bacteria, so either way, you need to have your water checked.
  • Water has color. We all know that water should be crystal clear so if you notice that your drinking water has some color, it is no longer drinkable. Just so you know, if water turns red, brown, or rusty, it is generally a sign of the presence of iron or manganese. If water has a greenish or bluish color, it may be an indication that there is copper in your water. If water is cloudy, white, or foamy, it may be due to turbidity which may be caused by a large number of individual particles invisible to the naked eye.
  • Other reasons to test your drinking water are the following:
    • Your family experiences recurring gastrointestinal problems
    • You or someone in your household is pregnant
    • Your water supply is next to a septic tank or the distance is questionable
    • You have a leaking gas tank near your water supply
    • There is a livestock nearby or you have mixed some pesticides and other chemicals near your water supply
    • You live near a chemical plant, an oil or gas drilling company, a gas station, a mining operation, a landfill, a junkyard, or a heavily salted roadway

What Can Water Testing Undercover?

There are various things that water quality testing can uncover. There’s obviously the primary concern of harmful contaminants in water, but we can also identify the water hardness, and also the water’s pH. Water hardness is caused by minerals like calcium and magnesium that cause limescale buildup that ruins pipes and appliances. Water with a low pH (below 7) is acidic. This is bad for our health and may also corrode pipes and fixtures.

Most tests will highlight a range of harmful water contaminants. If you’re really not sure what you should be testing for then take a look at the table below. These guidelines are taken from the EPA guide to home water testing. They apply more to homes with private well water supplies, but are still useful for everyone.

Condition or Activities NearbyWhat to Test For
Recurring gastro-intestinal illnessColiform bacteria
Lead in plumbing fixturesLead, copper, pH
Radon in the airRadon
Soap doesn't lather or limescaleHardness
Water softener needed to treat hard waterIron, manganese
Stained laundry/plumbing fixturesCopper, iron, manganese
Bad smell/tasteHydrogen sulfide, heavy metals
Water is colored/frothy/cloudyDetergents
Corroding pipesLead, pH, corrosion
Water treatment equipment wears out quicklypH, corrosion
Agriculture nearbyPesticides, nitrates, coliform bacteria
Nearby mining operationspH, heavy metals
Nearby gas drillingSodium, chloride, barium, strontium
Gasoline/fuel smell, or nearby gas station/fuel tanksVolatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Nearby junkyard/landfill/dump/factory/dry cleanersVOCs, Total Dissolved Solids (TDs), heavy metals, chloride, pH, sulfate
Salt taste/Nearby salted roadsTDS, chloride, sodium

How to Test Water Quality

Here are 3 ways you can find out the quality of your drinking water.

1. Get a Water Quality Report

Your local water municipality is required by law to test the water regularly. This information is made public every year in the form of a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The CCR for your local area will tell you where your water comes from, and exactly what is in it. Best of all it’s free.

>>  Click here to find the CCR for your state or county <<

However, there are a couple of things to be aware of with these reports. They give the result of water quality testing that might have been done a few months ago. Things can change over a short period of time, so take that into consideration. Also, they are the results of testing done at a central point (usually the water treatment plant). The water can become contaminated on its journey from the plant to your home. For a truly accurate read-out, the water needs to be tested at your home.

An alternative way of obtaining a water quality report like this would be to contact your local water company directly.

It should be noted that those with well water supplies aren’t supplied with these reports, and are required to maintain their water themselves. If you have a well water supply then tips 2 & 3 are more relevant.

2. Get a Home Water Test Kit

With a home water test kit you can get instant results that measure the water in that moment. This method gives the most up to date, and therefore relevant results. A home water testing kit is relatively inexpensive, and can be quite a powerful tool. A laboratory test will always be the highest standard of water test, but home kits can give a great indication of whether further testing is needed.

You can purchase drinking water quality test kits from superstores, home improvement stores, and even online. Using these kits, you can check if your drinking water has any bacteria, lead, nitrates, pesticides, chlorine, hardness, and pH.

There also some kits which test for less common contaminants such as iron, copper, sulfate, and sulfide. Some of the advantages of using a water testing kit are that they are fast (because you can immediately get the results), inexpensive, and simple to use. The kit usually comes with a package of strips that contain reactants. Exposure of these strips to your drinking water will make them change their colors to indicate the presence of the said contaminants in your water.

However, please take note that these water testing kits may not be as accurate compared to lab tests. They may not be able to test for all harmful contaminants unless you have very high levels present in your drinking water.

Let’s take a look at the best home water test kits that measure contaminants, hardness, and also pH.


First Alert WT1 Drinking Water Test Kit

Tests For:    Lead    Chlorine    Nitrates    Bacteria    Pesticides    Hardness    pH

The First Alert kit offers great value and a pretty comprehensive water test. Unlike most home water test kits, this one gives you a numerical ppm (parts per million) rating for each individual item. This kind of information is much more valuable than an overall water quality score. This makes it one of the most popular water testing kits around.

The kit will give you pretty much instant results. The bacteria test will take slightly longer, and possibly around 48 hours. The water quality tests are performed to EPA standards, and require no lab work to get the results. This also doubles up as a water hardness kit.

Watersafe-WS425W-Well-Water-Test-KitWaterSafe Well Water Test Kit

Tests For:    Lead    Iron    Copper    Chlorine    Nitrates    Bacteria    Pesticides    Hardness    pH

This is a well water quality test kit. This means that it will detect heavy metals like copper, iron, and lead which are more common in well water supplies. It will actually detect 10 different contaminants in total, which is a pretty good return.

This kit gives numerical ppm results that can easily be compared to EPA guidelines for each contaminant. The recommended guidelines are included.

Well water should be tested yearly (at a minimum), so these drinking water test kits could save you a lot of money compared to hiring a local laboratory. However, they won’t be as accurate or as thorough.

HM-Digital-TDS-EZ-Water-Quality-TDS-TesterHM Digital TDS Meter

Tests For:    Total Dissolved Solids

The downside of the water test kits that we previously mentioned is that they can only be used once. With an electronic TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter you are free to measure again and again.

However, there is big difference in what the two types of testing kits measure. By measuring the amount of total dissolved solids you are not identifying exactly which contaminants are in your water. You are simply getting a value that represents the total amount of particles in the water. This means that it doesn’t distinguish between healthy minerals and harmful contaminants. For example, you may have water that is free of pollution, but is rich in minerals like calcium and magnesium. This water would give a high TDS meter reading.

These meters are great in the right circumstance though. If you have a reverse osmosis filter system, these are perfect for measuring how effective your unit is. RO systems remove all particles above a certain size from the water. This means the TDS reading will be very low from a healthy system. If the reading starts to increase then the filters are becoming less effective and it’s time to change them.

RO systems don’t usually have meters on them to warn when it is time to change the filters. Using one of these you can make sure that you always change the filters at the optimum time (when the overall water quality starts to decrease).

Note: this won’t work for RO units that use remineralization filters that add calcium and magnesium minerals back to the water.

 3. Get it Tested by a Laboratory

This is the most expensive method and the results may take a few days or even weeks to arrive. But, you can be assured that the figures are as accurate as possible. Use the link below to find the nearest EPA approved testing laboratory to you.

>> Find a Laboratory to Test Your Water <<

This report should contain important information regarding any contaminants that may be present in your water supply. This report should give you details and alert you if there are any health risks involved.

You should be able to describe your concerns and get professional recommendations based on their knowledge. They also have all the facts about the safety level of water in your area.

Send a water sample to a professional lab for a more in-depth testing. These professionals can check your water for about a hundred different contaminants which include bacteria, toxic metals, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds. It may take a few days before you can get the results, but it will be worth the wait.

Those with well water supplies don’t have the luxury of getting their water tested by the local water municipality. This option is the next best thing.

We hope that this post has been of service, but if you have any questions about anything we have covered then don’t hesitate to get in contact. We promise to reply promptly.

Here at Water Filter Answers we also have numerous guides to different water treatments, heaters, softeners, and pumps.

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