The purity and safety of your home's water supply are hugely important for your health and the longevity of your plumbing. Whether you are a new homeowner or have been at the same address for years, performing at-home testing on your water is never a bad idea. The EPA has strict standards for water safety, but frequent testing adds an extra layer of protection in case there is a sudden change in your water.
Use Your Senses to Detect a Problem
The EPA has a set of secondary standards that it does not enforce but serve as guidelines to make water an appropriate color, taste, and smell. So the simplest test you can perform on your water at home is a color, flavor, and odor test with your own senses. Of course, it won't be possible to determine the exact causes of any abnormalities, but you can at least figure out if your water has characteristics that suggest contamination.
Although no water is 100% pure, distilled water will be as close as you can get, and it is a good idea to compare it to your tap water. Take some time to examine your water's appearance, taste, and smell using the distilled water as a control. If you notice any alarming disparity, you may then want to consider a more rigorous test.
Use a Spoon to Check Water Hardness
According to the USGS, hard water has high amounts of calcium and magnesium. This calcium reacts with soaps, causing a filmy residue and requiring more soap to be used in cleaning. In addition, hard water often stains dishes, counters, and water fixtures like faucets and drains. Sometimes, the dissolved solids can solidify inside pipes and lead to low water pressure.
A simple, at-home test for water hardness is leaving a ladle or spoon holding a bit of water on the counter overnight. If there is a slimy residue or white spots where the water was, you probably have hard water and may want to consider a filter.
Boil Water to Find Dissolved Solids
Not all dissolved solids leave behind the same film as calcium and magnesium. Therefore, you can boil a larger quantity of water to find out if a lot of minerals and other potential contaminants are floating in your water.
Clean a saucepan thoroughly, then fill it with some water. Put it on the stove and boil it without a lid. Once most of the water has evaporated, shut off the burner and wait for the pan to cool. Once it's safe, feel the bottom of the pan to see if there is a chalky, sticky, or gritty residue.
Get a Kit
You will need a more advanced test to determine precisely what is in your water. Fortunately, many of them are not expensive, can be found at any home improvement store, and are easy to use. Kits generally involve submerging a test strip in water for a few moments and comparing its color to a scale that tells you how much of a compound is in your water—more expensive kits test for more compounds. An EPA fact sheet lists what to test for under various conditions.
Call in The Professionals
If you have serious concerns about the quality of your water and do not feel comfortable testing it yourself, you can have someone from an EPA-certified lab come in to do it for you. This service may be best if you get your water from a private well. The EPA and state governments do not regulate private well water, so the owner must conduct tests regularly to ensure their water is healthy.
- Stay in Touch – Your county should send you a municipal water testing report before July every year. These reports usually have everything you need to know about your water quality. However, you can contact them for more information if they omit anything.
- Stay Alert – Although the EPA and state authorities do a great job with the water supply, changing circumstances can harm water quality between testing cycles. For example, if there is a chemical spill in your area or nearby construction, you may want to test frequently until the authorities give their report.
- Stay Healthy – Having hard water is not usually a health hazard, but too much calcium can cause problems. In addition, pregnant women and infants are susceptible to complications from nitrates. You should frequently