How to Test Your Water Quality

How to Test Your Water Quality
Clean, great-tasting water can be available right at your tap. If the water in your home isn’t appealing because of its taste or odor, or if it causes issues such as staining on your clothes, or scale buildup on your plumbing, the first step to reclaiming better water is to test it.

A water test is the only way to determine exactly which minerals or harmful contaminants are lurking in your water, so that you can choose the most effective water treatment for your needs.

You can buy an at-home test to do it yourself, or invest in a lab analysis

Going Beyond Consumer Confidence Reports

If your home relies on a municipal water supply, you have access to a yearly Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), or annual drinking water quality report. If you have not received your report, you can either call your local water supplier or find your report at the United States Environmental Protection Agency

While the CCR summarizes your risks of contamination, potential health effects, and an accounting of the municipal treatment system’s actions to restore safe drinking water, only you can verify what the state of the water is when it enters your own home.

If you are one of the 13 million households on private well water, you’re responsible for monitoring your water quality, and the treatment of common issues such as hardness.

Homes built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986 should also check for lead that could be leaching into the water from the plumbing.

What to look for in a quality water test

When it comes to choosing a test, you’ll want to make sure you’re looking at the right type for your water supply. Water test kits are often formulated to look for the most common contaminants based on the water source.

While city water is most likely to show high readings of chlorine, fluoride, or other treatment byproducts, well water should be tested for bacteria, nitrates, metals, and other common groundwater contaminants.

If you have a suspicion you’re dealing with a specific issue, such as hard water or chlorine, be sure to pick a test that includes its detection.

What to expect from water test results

Whether you’ve chosen to conduct a do it yourself test at home, or sent your water sample off to a lab, a quality water test should provide you with both your individual results on a range of contaminants, and a comparison to water quality standards as established by the EPA to flag any concerns.

Your test may report on the following water issues.

Total Coliform (Bacteria)

One of the most important tests for well water is the detection of Total Coliform, or bacteria. Because it’s impossible to test for all organisms, these serve as indicator bacteria for how sanitary your water system is. If Total Coliform shows up in your water sample, surface contamination has somehow entered the water, and you’re at risk for disease-causing organisms.


Municipal water sources rely on Chlorine treatment to keep your water disease-free. But an overabundance of residual left by the time it reaches your water supply is not only unappealing, but unhealthy at levels above the EPA maximum of 4 parts per million (ppm).


A pH of 7 is considered “neutral”. Your pH level determines how acidic (low pH) or basic (high pH) your water is. Acidic water can corrode pipes, resulting in metals entering your water supply. It is also very hard on your body’s digestive system, which can cause health issues. Very basic water can also damage your pipeline, but it will usually have an unpleasant smell or taste. A pH level of 6.5 - 8.5 is considered acceptable.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

The measure of Total Dissolved Solids represents all the substances dissolved in your water. This can include minerals, salts, and metals. A high concentration of dissolved solids isn’t a health hazard, but may affect the taste and leave mineral residue. A TDS higher than 500 ppm may be of concern.


Nitrogen and oxygen compounds are often naturally occurring, but can be dangerous if there are high levels in your water. The EPA recommends the maximum safe levels in your water of Nitrates to be no higher than 10 ppm, and Nitrites no higher than 1 ppm.

Copper, Iron, Lead

High levels of metal in your water can not only affect taste but health. Copper above 1.3 ppm and Iron above 0.3 ppm may require treatment. Any level of Lead in your water is of concern.


Fluoride is added to municipal water sources to help prevent tooth decay. In 2015, the US Dept. of Health and Human Services lowered the optimal Fluoride level to 0.7 ppm.


Arsenic is found in many groundwater sources, including every state in the U.S. While trace amounts are naturally found in many foods, in your water the EPA maximum is 0.010 ppm.


Another substance naturally occurring in groundwater, a Sulfate level above 250 ppm may cause health issues, including a laxative effect.


If you have hard water, you’ve probably already noticed the white residue left on your plumbing. A level above 3 grains per gallon is considered hard, and can benefit from water softener treatment.

Verify the problem to find the solution

The first step to ensuring your home supplies the cleanest, safest water for you and your loved ones is investing in a quality water test.

Whether you test yourself at home, or rely on the expertise of a lab, knowing the results will give you the information you need to choose the right treatment or water filtration system from a water solution product expert such as