Testing Your Water at Home for Contaminants

Testing your water at home and purchasing the appropriate water treatment systems is part of a regular household maintenance that any homeowner should consider. If your water comes from a public source of water, then it is likelier to have already been tested but if your water comes from a private source such as a well, then it is crucial to test it for contaminants. This can prevent damage to your home through pipe corrosion as well as deter personal health risks.

There are a few ways to test your home for contaminants. The first way is to go to a regular home improvement store and purchase water testing kits. These are usually relatively inexpensive and will give you a good enough estimate to be able to make the appropriate decisions for which kinds of water contaminants you want to treat. A second option is to directly contact a company that sells water treatment products and ask if they offer water testing services. Often these companies will do so with no charge if you purchase their systems. A third option is to find a local laboratory which tests your water. This option will return the most accurate results but is also the most expensive.


Below is a description of several contaminants that may be found in household water. After this description are links to the EPA website where the acceptable levels of the contaminants are listed. If your contaminant goes above this level, it is essential that appropriate action be taken to filter this out of your water.

Hardness 

In and of itself this is not a contaminant, hardness refers to hard water as opposed to soft water. Hard water means it contains a lot of minerals. While this isn’t a problem, there is a happy medium of the amount of minerals you want in your water. Hard water may be caused by an excess of Calcium or Magnesium in your water supply, along with a lot of other positively charged elements. Hard water is typically treated with water softener systems whereby you by pellets or a salt block from the store and your water supply runs through it. The ion exchange which occurs leaves the water with less minerals than before, making it softer water.

Anions

This refers to several negatively charged elements. Chloride, Fluoride, Sulfate, and Nitrate are all examples of anions. These anions can be found in your water supply and can have health hazards or may cause an unpleasant taste in your water. Chloride has typically been added to prevent bacterial growth in many public water systems but too much will leave an unpleasant taste. An excess of sulfate in your water may create a laxative effect. Anions are typically treated through distillation, reverse osmosis systems for drinking water, or ion exchange systems, along with a softener. If left untreated, too many anions can also cause corrosion to pipes.




Metals

Iron, Manganese, and Lead are examples of metals found in the water which can cause very serious health hazards in the event that they are left untreated. Many metals are listed by the EPA to have primary drinking water regulations. Iron can cause problems with your pipes because iron eating bacteria may form inside, clogging and corroding them. Iron and Manganese are treated with filtration systems quite effectively but such a system is generally expensive.

Hydrogen sulfide

Sulfide can leave an unpleasant rotten egg type of odor in your water. It is also corrosive and can lead to ruined pipes, stained laundry, or tarnished silverware. There are several treatment options for sulfide which often require a separate water treatment system.

Tannin

Tannins are decayed organic materials which are sometimes found in well water. They are byproducts found in water passing through vegetation and soils. It’s possible to find tannins close to a source of swampy or still water. They don’t typically pose a health risk but can lead to discolored water and therefore stained clothes in your laundry. They don’t taste very good either.

This is just a basic list of contaminants but a full list can be found on the EPA website for primary (serious, can cause health risk) and secondary (purely aesthetic) regulations for these contaminants. You can check if your level of contamination is too high using these links:

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (EPA)

Secondary Drinking Water Standards (EPA)