Resource Guide

How to Test Your Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Homeowners

Difficulty: BeginnerTime: Under 2 Hours Print

You know the saying, “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.”? While many of us are lucky to have water on demand, whether or not it’s totally clean depends on a variety of factors. Even if your water is clear as crystal, there could be harmful substances lurking within your home’s water. If you have any question about the quality of your water, there’s only one thing to do: Test it! This guide will walk you through simple and accessible ways to test your water.

Why You Should Test Your Water

Every home relies on a supply of clean water. However, contaminants can sometimes sneak their way into our taps, potentially putting our health at risk. These impurities can range from harmful bacteria and chemicals to hard water minerals that can cause limescale buildup in appliances and around faucet, tub and shower spouts. By testing your water, you can:

  • Identify potential health hazards such as lead, bacteria and other toxins.
  • Understand if your water is hard or soft, which can influence your choice of detergents and soaps.
  • Detect any foul tastes or smells that can affect your daily life.
  • Make informed decisions about water treatment solutions like filters and softeners.

Being proactive about water quality ensures peace of mind and the well-being of your household. Consider it to be just another part of your regular household maintenance routine, like changing your air filter or sealing air leaks in your windows and doors. It’s just another way to save money and keep your family safe.

What You’ll Need

Before you dive into water testing, here are some essential supplies to have on hand:

  • Home Water Testing Kit. These are readily available online or in home improvement stores. Depending on the kit, you can test for bacteria, pH, nitrates, chlorine, lead and other common water concerns. Home Depot offers multiple options, and the vast majority of Home Depot stores actually offer free testing kits. Be sure to inquire with your local store to learn more.
  • Lab Testing Service Kit (optional). For a more in-depth analysis, consider sending a water sample to a certified lab. They are more expensive, and your results will take longer to receive, but they tend to be more comprehensive and accurate than a home kit.
  • Sterile Sample Bottles. If your kit doesn’t provide them, make sure to get bottles that are meant for water sampling to prevent contamination.
  • Gloves. To keep the sample uncontaminated, be sure to get some new, clean gloves.
  • Notebook and Pen. You’ll want to jot down your results and any observations.

Steps to Testing Your Water

Step 1: Choose your testing method.

There are two primary methods of water testing:

  • DIY Testing Kits: Suitable for quick checks and regular monitoring. However, their accuracy might not be as high as lab tests.
  • Professional Lab Tests: For a more detailed analysis. These tests include uncommon contaminants that aren’t tested for by typical home test kits, like pharmaceuticals and PFAS. While they can be pricier, they give a comprehensive report on your water’s quality.

Decide which method works best for your needs and budget.

Step 2: Gather your sample.

Before collecting a water sample, it’s imperative to take a few precautionary steps before you begin. Start by avoiding any perfumes or lotions as their scent can taint the sample. Wash your hands, then slip on your clean, unused gloves. Use a frequently used tap in your home, like the kitchen sink. Allow the water to flow cold for a couple of minutes, ensuring any stagnant water in the pipes is cleared out, then fill up your sample. When filling the sample bottle, be careful not to touch its inside or rim. Ensure the water doesn’t spill over and fasten the cap securely once filled.

Step 3: Conduct the test.

When using a DIY kit, be sure to closely follow the kit’s guidelines. This often means either adding a specified amount of solution or immersing a test strip into the water sample. After waiting for a set duration, you’ll observe alterations in the color or pattern, which can then be compared with an accompanying chart to interpret your results. On the other hand, if you opt for lab testing, it’s essential to label your sample clearly with pertinent information like the date, time and sampling location. Once labeled, follow the kit’s mailing instructions.

Step 4: Interpret and act on your results.

For DIY kits, you should have your results within minutes. You’ll match your results with the kit’s chart, which will indicate if your water has concerning levels of contaminants, or if your home’s water is hard or soft. For lab tests, you may be waiting for a week or even longer. When it’s ready, you’ll receive a detailed report about the contaminants in your water. If you’re unsure about any findings, don’t hesitate to contact the lab for clarity.

If your test results come up with concerning findings, you have a few options when it comes to next steps. Think about adopting water treatment methods, including filters and/or water softeners. If there’s evidence of bacterial contamination, it’s prudent to boil your water as an interim measure until a permanent solution is in place. However, if the presence of heavy metals or other dangers are indicated, it’s crucial to consult with a specialist for informed guidance. You can find specialists through the Water Quality Association website or through the Environmental Protection Agency.


Regular water testing is an integral aspect of home maintenance just like checking your smoke detectors or cleaning your gutters. It’s about safety, health and enhancing your quality of life. Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to ensure that every drop of water in your home is as pristine as it should be. Cheers to clear, clean and safe water!