How to test water quality? Chemical tests for limited budgets
Thanks to modern chemistry, we can detect thousands of chemicals in water, even at extremely low concentrations. The ever-growing list of tests that are available can feel overwhelming, and the vast majority of methods require state-of-the art lab facilities. Fortunately, we don’t need to test for everything! A much smaller and more practical set of tests can provide a good sense of chemical water quality for monitoring purposes. The good news is that there are low-tech versions of these tests for situations when budgets are limited.
Test strips – These are small, single-use strips that change color to indicate the concentration of a specific chemical. Depending on the particular test, the user “activates” the paper or plastic strip by dipping it into the water sample and swishing it around, or by holding the strip in a stream of water. After waiting for a short time, the user compares the test strip color with a color chart to read the concentration of the chemical. These kits are extremely simple, but they are less accurate than other methods, especially if users don’t follow the instructions.
Color disk kits – Color disk test kits are available for a wide range of chemical tests. In a typical set-up, the user adds a powder packet or a few drops of a liquid reagent to a water sample in a reusable plastic tube. The user then places the sample tube in a small plastic viewing box. This viewing box contains a plastic disk with a color gradient printed on it. The user rotates the color disk to find the part that best matches the color of the sample, and then reads the concentration of the chemical from the disk. Color disk kits typically have multiple steps and often include prescribed wait times, so they’re a little more complicated and costly, but generally more accurate.
Hand-held digital instruments – Lightweight and portable digital meters, colorimeters, and photometers are available for water testing. They provide the most accurate results of these three testing methods, but they are also more expensive and delicate than the previous options. These instruments require batteries and calibration. While digital instruments are helpful to field technicians and are an essential part of any continuous or remote monitoring network, they are unlikely to be suitable for “citizen science” or crowdsourced water quality testing.
hemical water quality parameters
Having identified various test formats, the next question is: What do we test for? UNICEF recommends prioritizing fluoride, arsenic, and nitrate for chemical monitoring. In areas where the earth is naturally rich in minerals that contain fluorine and arsenic, levels in well water can be high enough that chronic exposure is dangerous to human health
Which Water Test Kit?
We offer a range of multi-packs, the kits vary in content, please see the table below for details. These simple, affordable one-of-a-kind kits test are ideal to screen water samples for many different elements. These can include up to 12 of the most common and potentially hazardous contaminants found in drinking water e.g Bacteria, Lead, Pesticides, Nitrates, Nitrites, Chlorine, pH and Hardness. Fast & accurate results are available on the spot.
The type of water testing kit, which is required, depends on what water should be tested and if there is any suspected contamination (also see Unusual colours, smells and taste of your water). All of the kits below are suitable for fresh & potable water, this includes water from taps, springs, aquariums, lakes, ponds, streams, wells, boreholes, puddles and leaks as well as water stored in tanks
Water Test Kits for a single contaminant
Enables users to identify levels or precence of a single contaminant in drinking water with instant results
Digital Water Test Kits for single & multiple tests
These easy-to-use photometers do not need calibrating and have a manufacturers warranty of 2 years
Further Free Resources:
Got a question about water testing? Try our complete list of Free Water Testing Resources.
Best Water Test Kit
There are lots of different brands to choose from. How do they compare with each other? Do homeowners’ water testing results match up with those from a professional lab? Which is the best home water test kit?
I had the same questions. So I decided to get my hands on some and try some water testing myself. Keep reading to find out how I conducted my experiment, and what I found out.
How I Tested the Water Test Kits
The water at my house comes from a 185 foot deep drilled well. It’s cold and clear and tastes fantastic. But taste alone doesn’t tell you the true state of your water quality.
When my husband and I bought the house a few years ago, we were told that our well water quality was fine. But we never had any water testing done ourselves. It was always in the back of my mind that I really should get it checked, just to be sure.
So, I finally stopped thinking about it and ordered six different water test kits from Amazon. I decided to go with kits that are well known and that are affordable for most people.
How to Test Your Tap Water
How safe is your tap water? Finding out can take some time, effort, and money, but it’s worth doing.
Most people on municipal water who pay their own bill should receive an annual water quality report called a CCR, or Consumer Confidence Report. If you don’t receive yours, call your local water supplier. And if you rent, contact your landlord.
If you’re on well water, you won’t get a CCR, so you should get your water tested. That’s also a good idea if your home was built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986: Even if your CCR says that the municipality’s water is free of lead, it can leach into your water from the pipes in or leading to your house.
Many kits are available for do-it-yourself tap testing, but it’s not always clear what they test for or how accurate they are. The EPA recommends using a certified lab. Find one on the EPA’s website. Testing typically costs $20 to $150; your community might provide test kits free of charge
For multiple or high levels of contaminants, reverse osmosis filters are often best. They can remove lead, arsenic, bacteria, and other contaminants. But they take up a lot of space (typically under your sink), require additional plumbing, and often go through several gallons of water for every gallon of filtered water. They’re pricey, too, some costing $1,000 or more. You might also have to pay a professional to periodically service the system.
The Best Water Quality Test Kit for Your Home
If you’re worried about your home’s water quality—as many Americans justifiably are, in the wake of water scares in Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey—a home water quality test can ease your fears. After 50 hours of reporting, and after testing 11 different home water quality test kits, we’ve found that the SimpleWater Tap Score Advanced City Water Test is the best water quality test kit for your home. It measures a wide range of more than 100 potential contaminants and delivers the results in an easy-to-read, richly detailed report. If you’re worried only about lead, we recommend the much cheaper Safe Home Do-It-Yourself Lead in Drinking Water Test Kit.
The SimpleWater Tap Score Advanced City Water Test is a send-away kit: You take samples of your water, put them into a handful of bottles, and ship them off (using an included mailing label) to a certified laboratory. There, your water is tested for more than 100 compounds, including metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like chloroform; bacteria; and industrial and agricultural compounds like pesticides and nitrates. Tap Score is not the only highly accurate send-away kit, but no other kit we tested delivered nearly as useful a report. Tap Score not only tells you, in plain language, exactly which compounds are in your water (and the amount) but also explains their potential health risks and suggests ways of addressing any concerns. Tap Score also offers unmatched online support. You can chat with a representative, and if your questions go beyond their knowledge, the questions are passed on to experts, who follow up with a detailed email. All of this makes Tap Score by far the most user-friendly and informative home water quality test kit we found.
If for some reason you are unable to use Tap Score, we recommend two runners-up: the WaterCheck CityCheck Deluxe and the Safe Home Ultimate Drinking Water Test Kit. Like Tap Score, these are send-away kits; you put samples into bottles and ship them to a certified lab. We found that the testing was just as accurate as Tap Score’s (and, in fact, National Testing Laboratories, which makes the CityCheck Deluxe kit, is among the more than 60 labs Tap Score partners with). But both of these kits are more expensive than Tap Score, and their reports aren’t as easy to understand. The reports are still much more readable than those of some other send-away kits: They’re color-coded, so you can quickly see contaminant levels of concern. But they lack Tap Score’s clear explanations, actionable advice, and robust online support. The CityCheck kit also lacks an included mailing label, so you’ll have to take a trip to the post office or another shipper.
Our budget pick, the Safe Home Do-It-Yourself Lead in Drinking Water Test Kit, doesn’t have to be sent away—you can get the results at home yourself. It tests only for lead, but if that’s your sole concern, this DIY test is a great option. The Safe Home Do-It-Yourself kit is widely available, inexpensive, and fast (the test takes a total of 10 minutes and less than 30 seconds of active work). And it delivers a clear positive or negative result: Your lead levels are either below the EPA standard or above it. You simply dip a strip of test paper into a sample of your water, and the presence or absence of a blue line tells you whether you have a lead problem. If you don’t, you’ll have peace of mind. If you do, you’ll know it’s time to enlist a professional plumber or an environmental service to help you find and address the source of the problem.
We do not recommend any of the more-comprehensive DIY test kits that are available. We tested six of them and found that the tests were so rushed and the results so subjective (you’re asked to match the color of your test sample to a chart by eye, with only seconds to do so) that we didn’t trust our ability to interpret them. If you want a complete picture of what’s in your water, we strongly recommend that you go with one of the send-away kits and let a professional lab do the testing.