Do-it-yourself water testing kits are a great choice for a quick assessment of potentially serious problems with your water supply. However, with the multitude of products and variations available, choosing the right one for your needs can be a daunting task.
Before we take a closer look at how to choose the kit that will provide you with the best results, let’s explore the most common options available to test your water.
Water-testing labs are an obvious choice. You will be required to collect and send water samples to the chosen lab, and wait up to a week for the test results. A reputable water-testing lab will provide you with very detailed and accurate information about your water quality.
On the downside, if you need instant results, you will have to explore alternative options. In addition, the lab fees are typically higher than the cost of purchasing a do-it-yourself water test kit.
Another option is to purchase a do-it-yourself water test kit. These products come in handy if you suspect something is not right with your water, and want to determine if it requires more detailed testing. Results are delivered in as little as 15 minutes, instead of days or weeks required by a lab test.
The third alternative is a hybrid between the first two. It involves purchasing a home testing kit, performing the initial testing, and sending the results to a lab for a more detailed analysis.
The initial testing will give you a good idea of potential issues with your water. Sending samples to the lab is optional, and usually involves paying an extra fee.
Choosing the best method depends on how urgent you need the test results, and the available budget.
How To Choose Your Water Testing Kit in 4 Steps
Choosing the right do-it-yourself water test kit requires a little bit of homework. Answering the following questions will make you decision easier.
What Do You Need To Test For?
Determining what kind of test you need is a crucial first step, and a challenging one. Some signs of trouble with your water quality are easy to detect by relying on your senses: if your water is cloudy, has an unusual smell, tastes differently, or leave spots on your glasses, it is time to test it.
Choosing the right product in these cases is not that difficult. For example, if you notice white spots on surfaces that come in contact with water, you will need a hardness test.
Unfortunately, there are other types of contaminants, such as chemicals, bacteria, pesticides, or heavy metals that cannot be easily detected. These contaminants are usually the most dangerous ones and can cause serious health problems.
For example, high levels of harmful bacteria in your pool or hot tub water are impossible to detect without testing. Unfortunately the only warning sign is usually somebody getting ill. For this reason, testing your pool water regularly using a bacteria test kit is highly recommended. Other popular kits are available to tests for acidity (pH level), nitrates, lead, pesticides and chlorine.
Some kits allow you to perform multiple tests. It is important to check packaging to ensure the test you need the most is included with the product.
What Source of Water Do You Need To Test?
Although most test kits will provide reliable results regardless of the water source tested, you should purchase the one designed for your specific application. The two main differences between kits designed for various applications are the test methodology and incubation parameters required to obtain reliable results.
Some common water sources you might want to test are drinking and well water, the water you use while traveling, (be it during your all-inclusive vacation or out in the wilderness), and the water on your sail boat and RV.
Minimum testing requirements are set by your local authority for well water at your house or cottage. That being said, it is recommended to test for coliform bacteria (bacteria found in fecal matter) that can infiltrate into your well water. If you are located close to a farmland you should also test for nitrites, phosphates and pesticides.
If you live in an old residence, you might want to check your water for heavy metals (if the building still has lead pipes), bacteria and biofilm.
Boat and RV owners who travel long distances should ensure the water inside the tank is free of harmful bacteria.
Recommended tests for pool and hot tub owners include pH , Chlorine (free and combined Chlorine), total bacteria count, algae, and turbidity (as an indicator how well your filtration works).
How Long Do You Need To Wait For Results?
One big advantage of the do-it-yourself water test kit is the rapid results. Yet, each product is designed to work differently, and the wait time varies greatly from one manufacturer to another.
Some do-it-yourself tests can take up to 48 hours before reliable results can be obtained, while others give you results in less than one hour.
Since you will be doing the test yourself, you want to be comfortable with performing the testing procedure. Do your research and get familiar with the testing procedure required by the manufacturer for the kit you plan to use.
How Sensitive is the Test?
Test sensitivity is an important selection criterion. Some tests have a great margin of error, and might not offer you the adequate level of protection against possibly dangerous water contaminants.
Let’s take bacteria test kits for example.
Many tests only react when total bacteria levels greatly exceed the 500 cfu/ ml (a measurement unit for determining how many bacteria cells are in the water sample) recommended by EPA ( US Environmental Protection Agency) and WHO ( World Health Organization).
Furthermore, some coliform bacteria test kits in the market only change color at levels of hundreds of CFU/ml, while the recommended limit is less than 1 CFU/ml. Failing to detect lower unsafe levels of bacterial contamination might put your health at risk.
For this reason, it is important to select a highly sensitive test.
The most reliable method to evaluate a test’ sensitivity is to compare its readings against the equivalent lab results. This is particularly important if you use a particular test for the first time.
Reading product reviews will also give you a glimpse into other people’s experiences with the product.
One last piece of advice. Make sure you purchase a test offered by a reputable manufacturer, with many years of experience in water testing technologies. Choosing the right product may make the difference between keeping your family safe and being exposed to serious health risks.