How to Test Your Tap Water

A test tube filled with water on a printed page
  • 0.5-1
  • Beginner
  • 12-25
What You'll Need
Tap water
Tap water home testing kit
What You'll Need
Tap water
Tap water home testing kit

If your water isn't clean, you're probably not clean either. You use tap water to bathe, brush your teeth, cook your food, and provide drinking water for your pets. Don't just guess that it's safe and healthy for you to use. Test your water yourself, and find out exactly how clean or dirty it is.

Test Your Tap Water Regularly

Test your water periodically to ensure it is safe for you to use. It doesn't have to be every week, or even every month. But at least once a year you should check in on the quality of your home's most important liquid.

First, pour some water into a clean glass straight from the tap. Smell the water. If you detect a rotten egg odor, this is an indication of bacterial growth and merits further water testing. An unpleasant earthy or musty smell may indicate that you have a drainage problem in your plumbing system, but it is probably harmless.

If you smell a faint, bleach-like odor, this is probably the chlorine often added to water at treatment plants. Chlorine and other chemicals added at treatment plants are not harmful in low concentrations.

If your water passes the smell test, move on to a visual examination for signs of cloudiness or debris. You may see brownish or reddish particles in the water, an indication that you might have rusted water pipes. If your water is cloudy, it may not be safe to use and should be tested.

colorful water testers

Get the Right Kit

You can't fully test the cleanliness of your water simply by looking at or tasting it. To determine how clean your water is, you need to study it on a chemical level. There are many home test kits available—look for one that tests multiple qualities, not just pH.

Test Your Water

Look for test strips that allow you to check for nitrates, chloride, sulfate, iron, manganese, hardness, corrosion, and pH. All of this data will give you valuable information about your water, and let you know whether or not it's truly safe for you to use.

Follow the instructions on the test kit carefully to get accurate results. Testing your water typically requires you to dip the test strip into a glass of room temperature tap water. You'll soak the strip for a few seconds, perhaps moving it around in the water, before removing it from the glass.

As you hold the test strip, you will see it begin to change colors. Some strips may even display a pattern or multiple colors. Use the test key to determine what the colors mean and get a clearer idea of your water's composition.

Woman looking at a glass of water

Bad Water

If your test strip reveals any potentially hazardous readings, contact your water department or the organization that oversees the water company where you live. This may be a city or county government office. If you're not sure whom to contact, call your local courthouse and ask. You can also request a water quality report from your municipality.

If you use a private water source, you should test your water more often, since private water sources are not tested or treated by governments. Your water should be tested once a year at minimum, and any time you have reason to suspect there is a problem. You should also run a test if anyone in your household becomes pregnant, or if there is a baby less than six months old in the home. Keep a close eye on nitrate readings in those cases, since high levels of nitrates may be linked to certain birth defects.

Healthy Tap Water

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the average person uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day. You put it in your mouth, drink it, and apply it to every single part of your body. If your water is contaminated or unsafe, you're exposing yourself to a great deal of danger in the course of a few hours. Test your water regularly to ensure that it's safe for you and everyone in your home.