Do drugstore water-testing kits work?
YES. But you should know a few things before you purchase one.
Test your water for free. If you’re on a municipal system and you notice any difference in color, odor, or taste—from a change in chlorine levels or recent repairs— call the city’s water safety inspector for a free test.
When to go to a pro. If you’re on a well system, you should get your water tested professionally, especially if you live with children, an elderly person, or anyone who is pregnant or has a compromised immune system. You should also have it tested if you live near lakes, large farms (which use pesticides and other chemicals), or if your home is old and may contain some lead pipes (which were phased out in the ’70s and ’80s). A certified lab test requires two water samples, which cost $30 each.
Use kits as screening tools. Drugstore kits like Watersafe ($10 to $50; discovertesting.com) can detect lead, bacteria, pesticides, nitrates, chlorine, and pH levels. A more advanced kit is available from Suburban, which tests for 40 different contaminants ($175; h20test.com). If you see anything suspicious, get a professional test done. To find out the safe level of any pollutant, check with your local state or municipalities. The EPA has recommended standards for trace minerals, metals, and bacteria at water-research.net/standards.htm.
—Brian Oram, P.G., soil scientist at Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.