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Water analysis is a valuable way of coming to grips with the health and safety of your water supply. While professional analysis provides more insight, home water testing kits also offer significant value. With these kits, you’ll quickly understand what water issues you might face on your home or business property.

But how do you use these kits? How do you make sure you can rely on the results you receive? There are many different types of kits out there, and each one will work in its own unique way. While we can’t provide you with the specifics on how to use each individual kit, we can provide a rough guide to at-home water analysis.

Decide on the water sample you want to test

To start, you will need to decide on the water sample you want to test. This is important because the standards for, say, a source of drinking water will be radically different from the standards for water you plan to use in a boiler or a cooling system.

It’s essential to keep these samples — and their testing kits — separate. Make sure you have a clear plan outlining what you want to test and what you are looking for in each test. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implements controls on 90 known contaminants in drinking water — failing to adhere to these controls could put health at risk and could lead to a fine or penalty if the breach occurs in your place of business.

Decide on the type of results

Once you have decided on which water sources you plan to test, you need to choose the type of results you will receive. There are many different types of home water test kits available — some will provide results almost immediately, so you can check the status of your water at home or on your premises, while others will need to be sent off to a lab.

Receiving a lab report will be more expensive but will provide you with additional insight. Checking the results yourself will be cheaper, but you will take responsibility for noticing any contaminants or testing discrepancies.

Establish your testing parameters

You will need to know what you are looking for when you test. The EPA-controlled contaminants include Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, bromate, chlorite, haloacetic acids, and chlorine dioxide, among many others, as well as other aspects such as turbidity.

In most cases, you will need comprehensive results on the levels of chlorine, nitrites and nitrates, lead, and bacteria in your water. As mentioned above, a lab report will be able to provide reliable information on all of these contaminants, while choosing to check the results yourself will require more comprehensive planning.

Use water quality testing strips

Your water testing kit may come with water quality strips. These strips are user-friendly and are designed to provide quick results for at-home or on-premises testing. There are different types of strip available, but generally, they are used in the same way.

You will first need to prepare a water sample. A small container or beaker of water should be enough. Label this container to help you keep track of where the sample came from and to avoid confusion.

Next, dip the testing strip into the water. Aggravate the water by moving the container so that the contents begin to swirl. Let the sample and the testing strip stand for a few minutes before removing the strip from the sample.

The testing kit will include a chart that you can use to compare your results. The testing strip should change color according to the presence of specific contaminants. Assess the color change using the included chart and establish which contaminants are in the water. This is not an exact method and won’t give you precise results relating to contaminant levels, but it will give you an indication of the water sample’s status. If contaminants are detected, further testing may be required to ascertain more accurate levels.

Use other testing methods

Your kit may feature other testing methods, apart from the strips mentioned above. Again, testing kits vary in terms of the testing methods they provide, but one common method is powder testing.

Powder testing involves mixing the powder with your water sample and then examining the color change. Put the powder into a small container and then apply a few drops of your water sample. Accelerate the mixing process by shaking and swirling the container, then allow the mixture to settle and stand for a few minutes.

This type of kit should also feature a color chart. Once the mixture has settled, use the color chart to assess what kind of contaminants are present in the water — if any. Like with the testing strip, this will not provide a highly accurate result, but it will give you an indication of which contaminants you need to be aware of.

Compare your results with national and local standards

Whether you have gauged your water analysis results at home or you have received a lab report, you can gain additional insight by comparing these results with the national standards offered by the EPA. Depending on which lab you use — and on the services they offer — a professional report may also include these regulatory comparisons, but you need to make sure of this.

As mentioned above, water testing needs to be handled with great care. High levels of contaminants put health at risk, so be sure to carefully analyze and compare your results with nationally-enforced standards as well as those in your local area.

Getting more from testing

At-home or on-premises testing kits are very useful for giving you some insight into the safety of your water. However, they are not perfect. If you believe that your water may be unsafe, or if you think there has been a discrepancy in your results, err on the side of caution. Use a professional testing service that can give you a more accurate picture of water contaminant levels.