How to Take Care of your Private Water Well

Here is some advice for private well owners extracted from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS).

Most private wells which are properly constructed and maintained provide safe water for years. However, contamination can occur due to improper construction, poor maintenance, or releases of contaminants into the well’s aquifer. Many contaminants cannot be detected by sight, taste, or smell. Even if there is no indication of problems with the water, it is the well owner’s responsibility to properly maintain the well and regularly test it for potential contaminants to ensure the safety of their drinking water. 

People should be reminded regularly that testing is an essential part of protecting your drinking water and in being a good steward of the water supply. Along with testing, being informed by understanding how your well works, where your water comes from, and how to take care of your water system is the best way to protect your family’s drinking water and health.

Potential contaminants in private wells include:  

  • Bacteria
  • Nitrate/nitrite
  • Metals
  • Pesticides
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals”)

Contamination may come from man made or natural sources and can cause a variety of health effects, ranging from developmental problems in children to a risk of cancer. Authorities recommends testing for bacteria (known as a total coliform test) and nitrate/nitrite every year and testing for metals every 3 years.


Most local health departments can provide well-owners with an affordable sampling kit for total coliform and nitrate/nitrite testing. Commercial labs are available for metals testing.


Testing for other chemicals such as VOCs, pesticides, and PFAS may be recommended if such contamination has been found in the area. This testing is only available from commercial labs and can be very expensive. If a well-owner is concerned about the possibility of contamination from VOCs, pesticides, or PFAS, testing through a commercial laboratory is in order, and if treatment is needed, advice can be had from appropriate state agencies and/or water treatment professionals.


Even if no contaminants are found, wells should still be inspected every year to make sure the well remains sealed and clear of debris, including yard waste. Look for damage to the well cap and cracks in the above-ground portion of the well casing. It is also important for well owners to maintain their septic system by following these guidelines:  

  • Do not dispose of kitchen grease or household chemicals in the sink
  • Do not flush personal hygiene products besides toilet paper  
  • Pump septic tanks every three to five years. 

Finally, record keeping is important. Keep records of all testing and all work done on the well.

People who live in cities can depend on the city water department to keep an eye on things.  If you have a well, you are the water department.

Reference Source.