Pool water should be clean, clear, and safe to swim in, but without checking the content of the water with a pool test kit, you don’t know whether the chlorine level is too high, too low, or perfectly balanced. Pool test kits can also be used to check the pH level, total alkalinity, calcium hardness, cyanuric acid levels, and salt levels for saltwater pools.
Regardless of the size or type of pool you are trying to maintain, it’s necessary to have a pool test kit to get the appropriate balance of chemicals to kill bacteria and plant growth while ensuring the water is safe for people to swim in without ending up with red, aching eyes or irritated skin. Browse this list of top products to get an idea of the best pool test kit, then read on to get more information before making a final decision.
- BEST OVERALL: HTH 1273 6-Way Test Kit Swimming Pool Chemical Tester
- TECH PICK: eSeasonGear SALT-3000 Meter, Digital Salinity PPM
- BEST TEST STRIPS: RUNBO 7-in-1 Pool Test Strips, Quality Testing Strips
- BEST SALTWATER: Taylor Technologies K-2005-SALT Test Kit
- BEST CHLORINE: Poolmaster Essential Collection Chemistry Case
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Pool Test Kit
Don’t settle on just any pool test kit without first knowing what you need for your specific pool. Consider the type of pool test kit, the water type, and the various test elements, including alkalinity, pH, calcium hardness, and more. Read on to find more important shopping tips and details to help you choose the best pool test kit.
There are three different types of pool test kits that ultimately perform the same checks on the pool water, but the process varies between liquid test kits, test strips, and digital test kits.
- Liquid pool test kits are also called titrimetric pool test kits. These are the most commonly used test kits due to their relatively affordable price and high level of accuracy. However, liquid test kits may be the most difficult to use because they require the user to collect a sample of pool water, then apply the correct number of drops of the water to determine the balance of chemicals and pH in the pool water. The kits typically come with two to seven dropper bottles, each with a unique reagent to analyze the pool water.
- Pool test strips are also known as colorimetric pool test kits. They are simple to use and inexpensive, but the results are not as accurate as a liquid or digital test kit. This assessment consists of dipping the strip into a pool water sample and then matching the color to an included chart. The accuracy becomes a bigger problem if more than one person is testing the water because the color results on the strip can be interpreted differently depending on the person and their subjective opinion. These test kits normally analyze up to seven different factors with just one strip.
- Digital pool test kits use a set of metallic probes to check the pool water. After being inserted into a sample of pool water, the probes reveal readings on the electronic display, allowing users to check the pH levels or chlorine balance in just a few seconds. The drawback with these devices is they are usually only capable of measuring one or two factors, so you may end up with separate digital testers for chlorine and pH level. They are also typically more expensive than liquid test kits or test strips.
The type of pool water—saltwater, chlorine, or bromine—influences the choice of test kit needed to properly measure the pH, alkalinity, calcium hardness, stabilizer, and chlorine levels.
- Saltwater pools use a salt-chlorine generator to produce the proper amount of chlorine for the pool. However, this means that a saltwater pool test kit needs to be able to analyze the water for the proper amount of salt as well as check the chlorine levels, pH level, and additional factors, like total alkalinity. The saltwater tests may come separate from the standard pool test kit, so users will need to invest in both products for proper pool maintenance.
- Chlorine pools operate with a pump and filtration system that circulates chlorine through the water to prevent bacteria and algae from multiplying in the pool water. These pools can use a standard test kit for pH and chlorine levels, or users can invest in a more thorough pool test kit that can check up to seven different factors, including cyanuric acid, bromine, and calcium hardness.
- Bromine pools are essentially the same as chlorine pools except that the health and clarity of the water are managed with bromine instead of chlorine. Even the test kits that are used for these pools are the same because they share a reagent; both chlorine and bromine can be assessed with orthotolidine.
When selecting a pool test kit, it’s important to determine the factors the kit can detect. For instance, not all digital or liquid test kits are capable of measuring calcium hardness, alkalinity, or cyanuric acid. However, even a basic test kit can assess the pH balance as well as the chlorine and bromine levels.
This list is not exhaustive, but these are the most common factors checked with pool test kits:
- Chlorine levels should range between 1 and 3 parts per million (ppm) to ensure that the water is safe and won’t cause eye or skin irritation.
- Bromine levels have a slightly larger range than chlorine with an ideal pool water solution containing between 2 ppm and 6 ppm.
- The ideal pH level of the pool water should fall between 7.2 to 7.8 on the pH scale. Water that is lower than 7 is considered to be acidic and can cause itching, burning, and rashes. Water with a pH balance above 7.8 is also dangerous because the basic solution can burn and irritate the eyes.
- Total alkalinity measures the carbonate and bicarbonate levels in the water. It should remain between 8 ppm and 120 ppm for the pool water to be considered safe.
- The calcium hardness is another common test and needs to range between 180 to 220 ppm.
- Cyanuric acid is also known as the stabilizer because it’s used to help prevent chlorine from breaking down under direct sunlight. The stabilizer should stay between 30 ppm and 50 ppm to have a balanced pool.
The accuracy of a pool test kit can vary between specific products and even between users, depending on the type of test kit.
- Liquid pool test kits have a very high accuracy level when they are used properly. However, these kits require the user to collect a sample of pool water, add specific reagents, then compare the color results to a provided scale. Unfortunately, this overly involved process has a lot of room for human error, which can affect the results.
- Pool test strips are less accurate than liquid test kits, though they are much easier to use. However, they are also subject to human error and the subjective interpretation of color-coded results.
- Digital pool test kits are the most accurate option. The electronic display clearly indicates the exact measurement, typically to within 1 or 2 percent. The drawback of these devices is the high initial cost and the fact that they only measure one or two different factors.
Ease of Use
A pool test kit is an assessment of the chemical composition of the pool water. As with any chemical test, the methodology or ease of use can affect the outcome of the results, especially if the steps are overly involved and reliant on subjective interpretation.
- Liquid pool test kits are the most difficult to use and the easiest to botch. This is because the test involves applying liquid reagents to samples of pool water with small droppers. Applying too many drops or too few drops or the wrong drops will affect the outcome. After this process, the results are then compared to a color-coded chart, which can lead to subjective interpretations. However, if the measurement is completed correctly, liquid pool test kits are one of the most accurate options.
- Pool test strips share the same subjective limitations to their accuracy, but these tests are incredibly easy to use. Just dip the test strip in a sample of pool water, allow it to change color, then compare the colors on the test strip to the included color-coded chart.
- Digital pool test kits are accurate and easy to use. The device needs to be turned on and set to the correct menu. Once the device is ready, the user submerges the metallic testing prongs into a sample of pool water and the results of the assessment will automatically be displayed on the screen after just a few seconds, making digital test kits the best option for a single-factor measurement, like pH or chlorine level.
Our Top Picks
Make sure the pool chemicals are balanced and the pool pump and filtration system are working properly with a pool test kit. Consider these top products selected based on kit type, test elements, accuracy, and overall quality to help you find the best pool test kit.
Liquid pool test kits, like this HTH product, are an affordable option for assessing a wide range of pool water factors. The titrimetric kit comes with a clear testing block and several small reagent bottles, allowing users to test the pool weekly for up to 100 weeks before needing to replace the pool test kit. This kit can be used with chlorine and saltwater systems, though it cannot measure the level of salt in the water.
Use the kit with multiple samples of pool water to assess levels of chlorine, bromine, pH, alkalinity, calcium hardness, and cyanuric acid. However, the pool test kit doesn’t come with a case to keep the reagents organized, so users need to find a safe place around the home to store the kit to avoid misplacing the testing block or one of the reagent bottles.
- Works on chlorine, bromine, and saltwater pools
- Less common tests included
- Up to 100 uses
- May test total hardness, not calcium hardness
- Test results not always clear
This eSeasonGear digital pool tester is small enough to be safely carried around in a pocket or tucked into a bag with other pool maintenance supplies. However, the tester should be isolated from contaminating products, so users may want to store it in a ziplock bag. It operates on a pair of LR44 batteries (included) and has three simple buttons to control the device.
The digital water tester is designed specifically for use with saltwater pools and koi ponds. With this purpose in mind, it can measure water temperatures between 32 degrees and 130 degrees Fahrenheit and can also check the salt content of the water. The device has a salt range from 0 to 5,000 ppm, and the device is relatively inexpensive for a digital product.
- Best for saltwater pools and koi ponds
- Comes pre-calibrated to 3,000 ppm
- Fast results
- May not read levels below 3,000 ppm well
- Only reads salt levels
Testing the pool water isn’t likely to get any easier than simply dipping a RUNBO testing strip into a sample of pool water for just 2 seconds. After removing the strip from the water, the color will change over the next 30 seconds to indicate the current chemical composition of the water. The pool water should be checked two to three times per week if the pool is used daily. If it’s used less frequently, then once a week is suitable.
The strip measures seven different factors, including free chlorine, total chlorine, bromine, calcium hardness, total alkalinity, pH, and cyanuric acid, helping to ensure that the pool remains safe for all swimmers. The test strip package displays the color-coded chart for reference during testing and includes 100 test strips.
- Works for chlorine, bromine, and saltwater pools and hot tubs
- Measures free and total chlorine
- Up to 100 uses
- The CYA test may not be as accurate
Many saltwater pool test kits only include the necessary reagents to measure the level of salt in the pool water, but maintaining a pool requires users to monitor several different chemical compositions in the water. This Taylor Technologies liquid test kit helps to maintain the chemical balance for the entire saltwater pool instead of focusing on just the salt.
The kit comes with reagents to assess the salinity or salt level of the water. It also includes reagents for measuring pH, chlorine, bromine, acid demand, base demand, total alkalinity, calcium hardness, and cyanuric acid. It comes in a blue plastic case to help organize the reagents when they are not in use and includes a water balance calculator for quick and easy chemical level reference.
- Specialized for saltwater pools
- Tests for nine different conditions like excess chlorine
- Uses reagents instead of test strips
- More accurate results
- Doesn’t test salt levels
- Some tests use a lot of reagent
Chlorine pool test kits, like this Poolmaster product, don’t need to include reagents to measure the salinity of the water, but they do need to be able to assess pH and chlorine levels. This liquid test kit goes beyond the basics, including reagents for chlorine, bromine, pH, total alkalinity, and acid demand, which are all kept neatly organized in a small, plastic container.
The titrimetric kit is equipped with a clear testing block containing two test tubes, each with fitted caps to make it easy to combine the pool water sample with the required reagents. Before testing, check the box for step-by-step instructions and a quick-reference guide to help keep track of the appropriate chemical levels.
- Works for chlorine and bromine pools
- Uses reagents instead of test strips
- Pool company–quality results
- Fewer chemistry test capabilities
The health and safety of everyone using your pool relies on having accurate pool test results. That’s why we recommend the HTH 6-Way Test Kit overall, but the Taylor Technologies Kit is also a great choice for saltwater pools.
How We Chose the Best Pool Test Kits
We reviewed a number of popular pool test kit options to narrow down our list. Most importantly, we chose products that worked for any kind of pool as well as kits that specialized in saltwater pools for those pool owners. We included three kinds of test kits that have proven effective as well: test strips, reagents, and a salt meter. These options provide more flexibility for pool owners to choose the top products that meet their specific needs.
Some kits include a wider range of conditions that they test for, and others are more specialized, which is helpful whether you’re doing your own pool maintenance or have a pool pro coming in occasionally. Our favorite pool test kits have a proven track record of reliability, ease of use, and popularity. Several of the top pool brand names are included in the list.
Using a pool test kit can seem complicated, especially if you don’t know how it works, when it should be used, and if it needs to be replaced. For the answers to these questions and more, take a look below.
Q. How does a pool test kit work?
A pool test kit comes with several different reagents that need to be added to pool water samples to measure the pH and chemical balance of the water. Some test kits have just two reagents, while others can have up to seven, depending on the various chemicals the test kit is designed to detect.
Q. Are digital pool testers more accurate?
Some high-end digital pool testers can be accurate to within +/- 1 percent. Pool test kits require a person to add drops manually, which can impact the accuracy of the result. However, if pool test kits are used exactly as intended, they are as accurate as a digital pool tester and more affordable.
Q. How often should I check the pH of my pool water?
Check the pH balance of the pool water two to three times a week, depending on the frequency with which the pool is used.
Q. Do pool test kits go bad?
Pool test kits contain reagents that can break down over time. Look for the expiration date on the product, and make sure to replace the pool test kit if it has expired.
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Timothy Dale is a freelance writer, specializing in the home repair and construction niche. He spent his post-secondary years working in the plumbing trade, while completing degrees in English Literature and Psychology, before taking on a Project Management position that ended up lasting 10 years. Mr. Dale has worked in residential plumbing and carpentry over his time as a Project Manager and also spent a year of his career in the commercial and industrial sector.