How to Test Your Drinking Water

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The water contamination scare in Flint, MI, serves as a warning about the unsafe conditions of US water. Water contamination is primarily associated with developing or Third World countries, however, it can happen anywhere.

As a result, you need to learn how to test your potable water, so you and your family remain safe. Contaminated water consumed on a regular basis can lead to health problems. They range from Parkinson’s disease-like symptom caused by manganese poisoning to headaches, memory loss and possible death from lead poisoning.

Higher than acceptable levels of lead occur in potable water in 41 states, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In 33 states, potable water tainted with industrial chemicals and pollutants has also been linked to health problems including cancer and hormone disruption, according to a 2016 Harvard research study.

What Contaminants Are in Drinking Water?

Sometimes simple nuisance bacteria develop in water and can produce iron and sulfur, two dangerous contaminants. However, other bacteria cause disease. These include E. Coli and coliform which require medical treatment.

Many tests for potable water help determine if the following contaminants are present: arsenic, bromine, carbonate, copper, chlorine, cyanuric acid, fluoride, iron, lead, nitrates, nitrites and residual chlorine. These common elements can occur in safe levels, but the test materials explain what those are and the appropriate safe parameters.

Its Hard to Detect Contaminants

While you cannot see these elements with the naked eye, you can see symptoms of their presence in your bathroom fixtures. For example, iron leaves yellow or orange stains on the bathtub, cement and sinks. Iron creates rust which contaminates your water with long-term consumption of rust causing serious illness. Manganese also stains fixtures, but in black or purple. Long-term consumption of it leads to declines in mental health and psychiatric issues. Manganese poisoning also causes symptoms similar to that of Parkinson’s disease.

Rather than see signs of hydrogen sulphide contamination, you’ll smell it. If your water smells like rotten eggs, it signals the presences of hydrogen sulphide.

Lead Poisoning… One of the Worst Offenders

One of the most insidious toxins, lead, leaves no discernible trace. You do not suspect it until you fall ill and your doctor tests you for it. Whether inhaled or ingested, lead damages neurons. Exposure can lead to abdominal pain, constipation, headaches, infertility, memory problems and vomiting. Long-term exposure can cause anemia, coma, seizures and death.

Arsenic Poisoning More Common Than You Think

You won’t see arsenic signs until you consume it, either. Arsenic poisoning causes slightly different symptoms depending on its type and absorption level. If you consume inorganic arsenic, it can cause abdominal pains, destroy red blood cells, cause the body to go into shock and lead to quick death.


How to Test Your Drinking Water

Different people consume information in different ways. We provide step-by-step instructions on how to test your water in this article. If you learn better by watching, you might enjoy this YouTube video that walks you through the testing steps using a tap water example, plus testing two bottled waters. It even uses one of the test kits we review in this buyer’s guide.

Step-by-step Testing Text Instructions

The majority of home water testing kits use simple paper strips that change color to reflect the test result. You match the color on the strip to the provided color coded chart to determine the general level of a substance.

Better kits provide multiple strips to test for bacteria, chlorine, nitrites and pesticides, plus hardness and pH level. Each test contains its own instructions, but most kits function similarly.

  1. Dip a test strip into a cup of water. Most kits require one to three swirls of the paper. 
  2. Remove the strip from the water. 
  3. Do not shake off excess water. 
  4. Hold the test strip horizontally for 15 to 60 seconds. 
  5. Compare the test strip’s results to the color chart included with the kit. 

Best Drinking Water Test Kits

Lead Iron Copper and Mercury – Home Water Testing Kit for Well Tap and Potable water

This at home test for four common heavy metal contaminants takes less than 15 minutes to administer. Developed and manufactured in the US, it is calibrated to Environmental Protection Agency standards. It tests for copper, iron, lead and mercury and provides the results in fine increments. Use it on filtered, tap or well water. The kit contains four separate tests for the named metals.

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Lead Iron Copper and Mercury - Home Water Test Kit for Well Tap and Drinking Water | Fast & Accurate Quality Testing to EPA standards | Easy to Use and Sensitive Tester Strips Made in USA
  • QUICK AND EASY TO USE - Detect unsafe levels of 4 common heavy metals in your drinking water in less than 15 minutes. The simple, clear instructions make this hassle-free test kit super easy to use at home.
  • MADE IN USA - Don’t rely on foreign-made test kits which are often designed for wastewater testing, not drinking water. All our tests are made in the USA and calibrated to EPA standards. This means you can rely on the test results to indicate the safety of your water.
  • LOW-LEVEL DETECTION / HIGHLY SENSITIVE - Unlike other versions on the market, these test strips allow for measurements in very fine increments. Whether you are testing heavy metals in your well, tap or filtered water, low-level detection and accuracy is a must.

Well Water Testing Kit for Potable Water – Quick and Easy Home Water Testing Kit for Bacteria Nitrate Nitrite pH Manganese & More

This kit provides specific tests for well water which needs to be tested at least four times per year. You can test for bacteria such as coliform, nitrate and nitrite, manganese and hydrogen sulfide. A separate test total alkalinity, water hardness and pH. It provides a color-coded results card that you compare to the result on the test strip. Some tests require as little as five minutes to conduct.

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Well Water Test Kit for Drinking Water - Quick and Easy Home Water Testing Kit for Bacteria Nitrate Nitrite pH Manganese & More | Made in The USA in Line with EPA Limits [NO MAILING Required]
  • ENSURE YOUR WELL WATER SAFETY FOR PEACE OF MIND - Wells can easily become contaminated - putting you and your family at risk of illness, plumbing problems, and other issues. This is why it’s often recommended to test four (or more!) times per year.
  • MADE IN THE USA IN LINE WITH OFFICIAL EPA STANDARDS - If you use a private well, your water is not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. With this test though, you can check for the most common contaminants according to federal law EPA limits.
  • SIMPLE ENOUGH FOR ANYONE TO USE AND READ - The step-by-step directions are clearly laid out, making it easy to get accurate results. Simply compare your results to the included color-coded card to check the levels of each contaminant.

JNW Direct Water Testing Kit – Potable Water Testing Strip Kit for Lead, Iron, Copper, pH Fluoride, Mercury and More

The JNW kit tests potable water for 11 items including alkalinity, copper, fluoride, free chlorine, iron, lead, mercury, nitrate, nitrite, pH, and water hardness. It provides a color chart that divides results into three categories – low, ok and high. It provides two strips for each item. You can use this kit on any potable water source. It comes with a link to a free e-book on EPA standards and how to improve the quality of your water.

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JNW Direct Drinking Water Test Kit for Lead, Iron, Mercury, pH, Hardness and More, Water Test Strips Kit for Testing to EPA Standards, Easy, Instant and Accurate
  • THE ULTIMATE AT HOME TESTING KIT for your drinking water. Tests for 11 parameters: Lead, Iron, Copper, Mercury, Total Hardness, pH, Fluoride, Total Alkalinity, Nitrite, Nitrate & Free Chlorine
  • MAKE SURE YOUR WATER IS WITHIN EPA LIMITS - Compare your results instantly to the color chart on each packet which has the EPA recommendations and guidelines listed with “LOW”, “OK” and “HIGH” range
  • EASY, INSTANT AND ACCURATE - Each strip provides accurate and fast results for any water sources including well and tap water, or any other potable water sources. Great for kids science fair projects and school classroom water testing

Safe Home STARTER-20 Water Quality Test Kit

The Safe Home starter kit lets you test for 20 different contaminants including bacteria, chlorine, copper, dissolved solids, hexavalent-chrome, iron, lead, mercury, nitrates, pesticides, pH, TDS (also called water hardness) and zinc. You can use it on tap water and well water. It’s developed and manufactured in the US. Some consumers report it tested pH levels incorrectly.

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Safe Home STARTER-20 Water Quality Test Kit - (DIY Testing for 20 Different Contaminants: Bacteria, Lead, Pesticides, Mercury, Nitrates, Hex-Chrome, TDS, Zinc, Chlorine, Copper, pH, Iron & More)
  • OUR #1 SELLING DIY KIT with testing for Well Water & City Water. Over 3-Million Tests Sold!
  • SAFE & EASY TO USE. Testing mechanisms from patented technologies never before available in one test kit.
  • MADE IN THE USA and developed by scientists with over 150 years of combined experience in testing drinking water.

NovoBlue 14-in-1 Water Testing Kit Tester Strips

The NovoBlue tests water in many situations – aquariums, hot tubs, pools, spas and tap and well water. It provides 14 tests on one strip. It detects pH and water hardness plus, determines the levels of bromine, carbonate, chlorine, copper, cyanuric acid, fluoride, free chlorine, iron, lead, nitrates, nitrites and total chlorine. The kit contains 100 strips allowing you to repeatedly test your water for safety. This kit has approval from the FDA and is CE-certified for at-home use.

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NovoBlue 14-in-1 Water Test Kit Tester Strips for Pool, Spa, Hot Tub, Aquarium, Drinking Water, Well - Detect pH, Hardness (TDS), Chlorine, Fluoride, Lead, Iron, Copper, and More!
  • 14 TESTS IN 1 COMPLETE KIT - Check water levels for pH, fluoride, lead, iron, copper, and more!
  • GENEROUS 100 STRIP COUNT - Test everything from your residential faucet water to lemon juice.
  • EASY & FAST RESULTS - Simply dip a strip into liquid and compare it to chart. No private laboratory testing or mail-in analysis required.

Health Metric Potable Water Testing Kit for Home Tap and Well Water

Health metric’s simple testing strips measure levels of bacteria, chlorine, copper, lead and nitrate. These are designed in the US and made to meet EPA standards. It tests for less items than some kits but still includes the major items of alkalinity, bacteria, chlorine, copper, hardness, lead, nitrate, nitrate and pH.

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Health Metric Drinking Water Test Kit for Home Tap and Well Water - Simple Testing Strips for Lead Copper Bacteria Nitrate Chlorine and More | Made in USA to EPA Standards
  • A SIMPLE, ACCURATE AND LOW-COST WAY to screen your water for the presence of potentially harmful contaminants.
  • MADE IN THE USA IN LINE WITH OFFICIAL EPA LIMITS - Compare your results with EPA-approved guidelines for drinking water quality. Don't rely on Chinese-made "bulk" strip kits, these are often merely wastewater tests with unapproved and unsafe Lead, Iron, and Copper readings.
  • COMPREHENSIVE TESTING FOR PEACE OF MIND - Not only does this test kit detect even the smallest amounts of Lead and Copper, it also tests for Bacteria and other crucial water quality parameters. Having unbalanced levels of Chlorine, Hardness, pH, Alkalinity, Nitrate or Nitrite can indicate serious issues.

Water Quality Tester, Accurate and Reliable, HoneForest TDS Meter, EC Meter & Temperature Meter 3 in 1

The Hone Forest test kit uses ratings of 0 to 9990 ppm. Its accuracy makes it ideal for potable water testing. It goes beyond test strips and uses a meter for measurement. It includes a titanium alloy probe and uses Automatic Temperature Compensation (ATC) to provide accurate readings regardless of temperature. A backlit LCD makes it simple to read the results. Its simple operation provides readings in seconds. Turn it on, stir the water sample with the meter’s probe for a few seconds. The readings appear on the LCD and the meter shuts off automatically. Store the device in its accompanying leather case. It offers a three year warranty. It measures total dissolved solids, electrical conductivity and temperature.

Water Quality Tester, Accurate and Reliable, HoneForest TDS Meter, EC Meter & Temperature Meter 3 in 1, 0-9990ppm, Ideal Water Test Meter for Drinking Water, Aquariums, etc.
  • ACCURATE AND RELIABLE: To achieve high accuracy, equipped with premium quality titanium alloy probe, and reliable Automatic Temperature Compensation (ATC) ensures reading always be accurate at various temperatures.
  • MULTIFUNCTIONAL AND UPGRADED: Professional TDS, EC and Temperature Pen 3 in 1. Upgraded with big backlit LCD for easier reading, and auto-lock function for easier use.
  • EASY AND INSTANTLY: Just turn TDS meter on and stir water gently, then stabilized readings will be auto-locked on LCD in seconds, and the tds ppm meter will shut off automatically if without operation over 2 minutes.

Potable Water Testing Kit

This 10 minute test kit includes ten tests including those for alkalinity, bacteria, copper, iron, lead, nitrates, nitrites, pesticide and water hardness. It uses paper strips to measure the water’s quality. Compare the color results with those on the included results guide to determine the general description of the water’s quality.

Drinking Water Test Kit - 10 Minute Testing For Lead Bacteria Pesticide Iron Copper and More
  • 10 TESTS IN ONE: This kit contains tests for Lead, Bacteria, Pesticide, Iron, Copper, Alkalinity, pH, Hardness, Chlorine, Nitrates and Nitrites. Don't risk it! Find out if there are harmful elements in your water.
  • AT HOME TEST KIT: No laboratory testing required. Get your results quickly and easily! Take your own sample and get results without having to mail anything in.
  • MADE IN THE USA: Don't risk anything with overseas testing equipment. Our tests are made in the USA so be rest assured with test assured!

14-in-1 Potable Water Test Kit by Baldwin Meadows

This water testing kit for tap and well water detects even low levels of copper, fluoride, iron, lead, and mercury. It measures 14 items on a single strip. including alkalinity, bromine, chromium, chlorine copper, fluoride, iron, pH, lead, mercury, nitrate, nitrite, sulfate and water hardness. It uses strips that you dip into water. The color they change to determines the level of each item. Compare the results with the included color chart.

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14-in-1 Drinking Water Test Kit by Baldwin Meadows - Water Quality Test for Well Water and Tap Water - IMPROVED SENSITIVITY detects low level ranges for Lead, Fluoride, Iron, Copper & Mercury + MORE!
  • 14 PARAMETERS in 1 STRIP: Water testing for Total Alkalinity, pH, Total Hardness, Iron, Copper, Lead, Fluoride, Mercury, Nitrate, Nitrite, Chromium, Bromine, Chlorine & Sulfate
  • EASY & INSTANT: Simply dip the strip in water to test water quality. Results are determined in seconds. Easy to read Color Chart with EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels + Extra Color Chart Included - Perfect for Classroom and School Science Projects.
  • ACCURATE: Reliably identify harmful contaminants in your drinking water. No lab testing required.

First Alert WT1 Potable water

The First Alert WT1 potable water testing kit provides a test for the eight most common contaminants. That includes bacteria, chlorine, hard water, lead, nitrates, pesticides and pH. It takes ten minutes for the test results to develop. It includes a bacteria test vile and test packets for lead and pesticides, nitrates and nitrites, and pH, water hardness and chlorine, plus a detailed instruction manual.

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First Alert WT1 Drinking Water Test Kit
  • Tests for bacteria, lead, pesticides, nitrates/nitrites, and chlorine
  • Checks the hardness and pH of your water
  • Kit includes everything necessary to test drinking water

Potable Water Test Kit For Municipal Tap and Well Water

These simple testing strips from Health Metric test for bacteria, chlorine, copper, lead and nitrates, plus water hardness and pH. These come as five different tests, one of which is a four-way test for alkalinity, chlorine, pH and water hardness.

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Drinking Water Test Kit For Municipal Tap and Well Water - Simple Testing Strips For Lead Copper Bacteria, Nitrates, Chlorine and More
  • Designed to provide a SIMPLE, ACCURATE and LOW-COST way to screen your water for the presence of potentially harmful contaminants.
  • MADE IN USA according to EPA Limits: Compare your results with EPA recommendations and guidelines for water quality limits. Don't rely on Chinese made "bulk" strip kits which in reality are waste water tests with inaccurate Lead Iron and Copper measurements.
  • COMPREHENSIVE: This test kit detects even tiny amounts of Lead and Copper but also tests for Bacteria and important water quality parameters that are indicators of deeper problems - Chlorine, Hardness, pH, Alkalinity, Nitrates and Nitrites

Universal Essentials 14-in-1 Water Testing Kit

The Universal Essentials kit includes 100 strips of 14-in-1 water tests. You’ll also get an accurate reading in 30 seconds that detects chlorine, copper, fluoride, hardness, lead and pH. Other items take up to 60 seconds for the results to develop including alkalinity, bromine, carbonate, cyanuric acid, iron, nitrate and nitrite. The strips let you test both potable water and pool/spa water.

UniversalEssentials 14-in-1 Water Test Kit - 100 Strips for Testing Drinking Water, Ground Water, Pool, Spa, Aquarium. 30 Second Testing to Detect Hardness, Iron, Chlorine, Copper, Fluoride, Lead, pH
  • 14 DIFFERENT TESTS IN 1 KIT - Ability to check levels for total hardness, pH, fluoride, lead, iron, copper, nitrate, nitrite, bromine, total chlorine, free chlorine, cyanuric acid, carbonate, and total alkalinity.
  • REMARKABLE 100 STRIP COUNT - Additional 10 free strips included in kit.
  • QUICK AND EASY RESULTS - Laboratory visits Not Required! Just dip a strip into the water and compare it with the chart provided for instant results!

Conclusion

At a minimum, you should test your water every six months. If you receive results that the color chart indicates exceed normal parameters, contact your state’s department of water quality. They can direct you to a professional testing source or direct a local office to conduct follow up testing.

If the problem that the test uncovers can be treated by installing a purification system at your home, this can provide you with safer water while the government investigates the source of the water impurity and conducts further tests.

A higher than normal test result also indicates you should visit the doctor to determine if you already ingested enough of the substance to cause health issues. Order a kit and get started testing your water today.

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