Those of us who live in a First World nation often take the quality of our drinking water for granted. In the United States, the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA) of 1974 set strict standards for municipal water quality that ensures public water sources are biologically safe. Even so, there are certain contaminants that can wreak havoc on one’s health and home appliances if they aren’t detected and eliminated. This is especially true for homes supplied with well water, as the water quality isn’t regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, it can apply to municipal water as well.
For example, lead can leach into a household’s water supply through lead-containing pipes and plumbing fixtures, potentially causing a host of dire health consequences (including brain damage). Other examples include:
- Bacteria from wildlife and livestock leaching into groundwater and contaminating wells.
- Mineral deposits from hard water clogging pipes, fixtures, and appliances.
- Elevated chlorine levels corroding pipes, fixtures, and appliances.
As a result, the EPA recommends testing your home’s water every year to ensure it isn’t compromised with known contaminants. A water test kit can reveal if you need a water filter, shower filter, or water softener for your home. Read on to discover how to choose the best water test kit for maintaining healthy water in your home and discover some top-rated options on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Varify 17 in 1 Premium Drinking Water Test Kit
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: JNW Direct Drinking Water Test Strips 15 in 1
- UPGRADE PICK: Watersafe Drinking Water Test Kit
- BEST FOR WELL WATER: Health Metric Well Water Test Kit for Drinking Water
- BEST DIGITAL INSTRUMENT: HoneForest Water Quality Tester
- ALSO CONSIDER: Health Metric Drinking Water Test Kit
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Water Test Kit
Before choosing the best water test kit for your home, it’s important to be aware of the types of kits available, the contaminants for which they test, and several other factors. Keep the following considerations in mind when searching for the best water test kit for maintaining a healthy water source.
Three main means of testing are utilized in water test kits.
- Test strips are small and thin single-use strips that change color to indicate the presence of a contaminant. They can also provide a rough estimate of the concentration of a contaminant by the shade and brightness of the color. A single strip may only test for a single contaminant or may test for several contaminants. Test strips are one of the most common, affordable, and easiest water testing options.
- Color disc kits are less common and more expensive than test strips, but they’re generally more accurate. They work by introducing a powdered “reagent” to a water sample to change its color and indicate the presence of a contaminant.
- Digital instruments use a metal electrode to measure the level of raw impurities in water. Most commonly, digital instruments measure total dissolved solids (TDS) and electrical conductivity (EC). TDS refers to inorganic salts (like calcium, magnesium, and potassium) and is measured in parts per million (ppm). EC refers to the amount of dissolved materials that conducts electrical current and is measured in microsiemens per centimeter (µS/cm). Some digital instruments will also measure the water’s pH and temperature. They don’t, however, test for specific compounds or contaminants unless you purchase a device that is specifically calibrated for that purpose, such as a colorimeter for chlorine.
The EPA regulates 90 contaminants known to cause biological harm; water test kits can test from one to over 200 contaminants. The most common contaminants, also referred to as parameters, checked for by water test kits include:
- Lead: Lead can cause cardiovascular issues, hypertension, decreased kidney function, brain damage, and reproductive issues in both men and women.
- Chlorine: Elevated levels of chlorine can cause stomach aches and vomiting, diarrhea, and dry itchy skin. It can also corrode plumbing pipes, fixtures, and appliances.
- Bacteria: Coliform bacteria (like E. coli) is the most common type of bacteria for which water test kits check. E. coli can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, headaches, fatigue, and even death.
- Pesticides: When present in drinking water, pesticides are usually found in trace-level amounts. Although trace levels of pesticides won’t cause acute toxicity, such as nausea, convulsions, and chemical burns, they can cause chronic toxicity from long-term consumption. This can lead to cancer, birth defects, and damage to the central nervous system or liver.
- Nitrates and nitrites: These elements can cause nausea, abdominal cramps, headaches, and increased heart rate.
- Iron: Elevated iron levels can lead to poor skin health, digestive issues, and a condition called hemochromatosis that can damage the heart, liver, and pancreas. However, elevated iron primarily causes plumbing issues, since excess iron leaves a residue that can create clogs in pipes, fixtures, and appliances.
Some contaminants are more common in certain water sources than in others. Iron and bacteria, for example, are more common in well water than tap water, while elevated chlorine is more common in tap water than well water. As a result, some test kits are designed to accommodate specific water sources by testing for the most common contaminants found in that source. The most common examples are test kits specifically for well water, tap water, aquarium water, and pool or spa water. These specialized kits are usually more affordable than those that test for every possible contaminant.
A test kit’s accuracy will vary by manufacturer, but most are calibrated to EPA testing standards to ensure they’re as accurate as possible. Some kits have even been verified for accuracy by EPA-certified laboratories. Test strips are considered to be the least accurate, mostly because matching the colors on the strips to the contaminants they indicate can be subjective and prone to user error. However, test strips that test for individual contaminants tend to be more accurate than strips that test for a wide range of contaminants.
Color disc kits are usually more accurate and provide more precise measurements of contaminant concentration but can be prone to the same subjective misinterpretations. Digital instruments are often calibrated to be accurate down to +/- 2 percent of 1 ppm and µS/cm, but they don’t measure the presence of specific compounds.
Each type of test kit offers a different testing procedure. For test strips, dip the strip into the water you want to test, and wait for the color to change. Then, match the color on the strip to the provided color chart that indicates the presence (and relative concentration) of the contaminant. The strip can take anywhere from 1 minute to 48 hours for the color to change depending on the contaminant being tested.
For color discs, the water sample is placed inside a plastic box with a viewing window that displays the water sample next to a “reference color” that becomes duller or brighter by turning a dial on the box. To determine the concentration of the contaminant for which you’re testing, simply turn the dial until the reference color matches the water sample. The concentration will usually be listed on the dial.
Digital instruments just need to have their electrode set into the water being tested, and the TDS and EC will display on the LCD screen in a matter of seconds. With each testing procedure, you can often read the results in minutes, with the exception of bacteria testing, which usually requires a wait time of 48 hours.
Our Top Picks
Having the ability to accurately test a home’s water is important for the safety of the home itself and the health of its inhabitants. Our top picks take into account the abovementioned factors in addition to overall quality and value. Keep reading to explore some of the best water test kits on the market in various categories for maintaining healthy water in a home.
Varify’s water test kit tests for 17 parameters, including lead, fluoride, iron, copper, mercury, chlorine, nitrite, nitrate, pH, total alkalinity, hardness, aluminum, sulfate, zinc, chlorine, and manganese, in addition to bacteria. The kit includes 100 test strips that each test for the first 16 of the abovementioned parameters, plus two tests that check for the presence of bacteria. Both the test strips and the bacteria tests are created in compliance with EPA testing standards.
The test strips are ready to analyze in minutes, and the bacteria tests are ready to read in 48 hours. Varify also offers 24/7 support via live chat or email to assist with the testing process and answer consumer questions or concerns. Additionally, 5 percent of all test kit sales are donated to the Water For Good nonprofit organization that combats water shortages in Central Africa.
For a comprehensive test kit that doesn’t break the bank, look no further than JNW’s water test kit. It tests for 15 parameters on a single test strip: iron, copper, lead, fluoride, pH, cyanuric acid, total alkalinity, residual chlorine, total chlorine, bromine, ammonium chloride, total hardness, carbonate, nitrate, and nitrite. The ideal EPA standards for each parameter are marked directly on the bottle for quick and easy reference.
JNW also offers a mobile app to track and monitor the results of water tests and includes an e-book that provides ideas about how to improve the quality of drinking water. The main drawback is this kit doesn’t test for bacteria, making it better suited for tap water than well water.
Watersafe’s water test kit is one of the only kits on the market that has had the accuracy of its lead test independently verified by an EPA-certified laboratory.
The kit tests for 10 separate parameters, including lead, bacteria, pesticides, copper, chlorine, nitrate, nitrite, iron, pH, and water hardness. The catch? It’s expensive, and the kit only includes enough components for a single test. However, the peace of mind from knowing the results are as accurate as possible may be worth the higher cost for some buyers.
For homes supplied with well water, this water test kit from Health Metric is specifically formulated for well water’s unique risks. As mentioned above, well water is not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In addition to testing for the standard parameters of nitrate, nitrite, water hardness, pH, and total alkalinity, this kit tests for manganese, hydrogen sulfide, and coliform bacteria.
The tests are developed in accordance with EPA standards, and the results for most of the parameters are available within minutes. Health Metric offers live support from EPA experts to answer consumer questions.
HoneForest’s digital water tester is as accurate as it is affordable. This versatile tester is suitable for use with tap water, well water, aquarium water, and pool and spa water. It measures total dissolved solids (TDS) between 0 and 9,990 ppm, electrical conductivity (TD) from 0 to 9,990 µs/cm, and temperatures between 32 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Once inserted into a water sample, the tester will display and auto-lock these parameters on the LCD screen in seconds. To preserve the battery life, it will automatically shut off after 2 minutes.
This tester is constructed with a durable probe made of titanium alloy and includes a leather bag for storage and transport. The main drawback of the tester is that it doesn’t measure pH. However, the impressive features and capabilities still provide an excellent value for the price.
Health Metric’s water test kit tests for nine parameters with strips and solutions developed in accordance with EPA standards for accuracy. The kit actually includes separate tests for the different parameters to maximize the accuracy of each individual test. It includes one test each for lead, copper, and bacteria as well as two tests each for chlorine, nitrate, nitrite, pH, total alkalinity, and hardness.
Health Metric also offers 24/7 expert support to assist users with the testing procedures and answer questions about the process. Although this kit may be more accurate than those that test for every parameter on a single strip, testing each parameter individually is more time- consuming and labor intensive. Another downside is that this kit is expensive, especially considering it only includes enough components for a handful of tests.
FAQs About Water Test Kits
Still have unanswered questions about water test kits? Find answers to several of the most frequently asked questions about water test kits below.
Q. How do I know if my water is safe to drink?
Using a water test kit can indicate if your water is safe to drink by determining if it has toxic levels of various contaminants.
Q. What should I test my water for?
You should test your water on an annual basis for bacteria, nitrites and nitrates, iron, chlorine, and lead.
Q. Are home water test kits accurate?
The accuracy of home water test kits varies by manufacturer, but many are highly accurate and developed in compliance with federal EPA standards.