The Value of a Good Water Test

by Gene Franks

One of the things I’ve come to believe in very strongly after more than 25 years in the water treatment business is water testing.

Water plays such an important role in our lives that it only makes sense to know as much as possible about the water we use.

A high quality water test is worth many times its cost. Whether you have a private water source or get water from a city supplier, an independent water test will give you extremely valuable information about your water.

It you find out that you have great water with no significant treatment issues, that is the most valuable information of all, and the test pays for itself many times over, both in peace of mind and in avoidance of purchasing unneeded equipment.

If you learn that you have an unsafe level of a health-threatening substance like lead, arsenic, E.coli, chromium, or fluoride that needs immediate treatment, the test pays for itself many times over.

If you are planning to treat a known water issue, like hardness, iron, or an unpleasant odor, a reliable, easy-to-understand independent test will give you precise information about the issue in question and provide a full picture of your water so you can select the most appropriate and cost-effective treatment. The test, again, pays for itself many times over.

When you consider the total cost of providing water for a home, a good water test is a minor expense, and the information you receive always pays for the test.

Pure Water Products offers free testing for the most basic water issues like hardness, pH, and total dissolved solids, and we also offer comprehensive water test packages from National Testing Laboratories that provide a complete picture of your water. We’ve been offering the NTL WaterCheck and WaterCheck with added pesticides packages for a number of years, and we have recently added specialty test packs for city water users and specific well water issues.

Details about our free tests and the inexpensive National Testing Laboratories tests are on our main website.

NTL tests are reported in an easy-to-understand format, color coded for quick reference.  See a sample test report. Upon request, we at Pure Water Products will help with interpretation of NTL tests and recommendation of equipment to remedy problems identified by the tests. (We’ll help with test interpretation whether you  buy the test itself through us or not.)

The WaterCheck Test Kit has everything you need to overnight the samples to the test lab.  The test kit price includes both the kit and the testing itself.

Our own free test is much less extensive, and, we are the first to point out, much less expertly done.  He have some very good test equipment, but we aren’t a certified laboratory and we make no guarantee of absolute accuracy.  Our test is designed for well water, not city water, although we test city samples if they are sent to us.  It concentrates on the five most significant well water issues (not counting, of course, bacterial contamination that must go at the top of the list).  Knowing these can save much of the guess work of treating well water issues.  Here’s a rundown of what I call the “big five”:

Turbidity measures the general clarity of the water  The lower the number, the cleaner and clearer the water.  The measurement is in FTU. (Most testing for turbidity reports in NTU, but our LaMotte equipment calls it FTU.  In either case, it’s an an arbitrary scale designed to measure turbidity.)  Above 1 FTU can be considered an issue of concern, although water often measures considerably higher. Turbidity not only can be an aesthetic nuisance;  its presence also can offer a breeding ground for bacteria.  The test is done by shining a light through the water and recording how much is blocked by particles in the water.

Hardness is a measurement of the calcium and magnesium content.  These minerals form scale in pipes, keep soap from lathering, and ruin appliances. The measurement is given in grains per gallon.  A grain of hardness represents 17.1 parts per million.  Water is usually considered hard enough to require treatment at about 7 grains per gallon.

pH is a measurement of the relative acidity/alkalinity of water.  Seven is a neutral pH and anything lower is acidic and anything higher is alkaline.  Mildly alkaline is usually viewed as the ideal pH.  While 6.0 doesn’t seem a lot under 7, it is actually quite acidic– enough to cause sever damage to plumbing, creating pinhole leaks in copper pipes, and causing water to pick up bad tastes from metals it comes in contact with.  pH is a very important factor that influences many water treatment strategies. For example, iron and manganese are much more easily removed by filtration at a high pH.  Sometimes it is necessary to raise the pH of the water as part of the iron treatment procedure.

Iron,  which along with hydrogen sulfide odor, is the most common well water complaint. Iron content is  measured in parts per million, and problems with iron usually begin at about 0.3 ppm.  Iron causes staining of fixtures, laundry, and even  sidewalks and driveways. Iron and iron removal are among the more complicated issues in water treatment. Iron exists in several forms:  ferric (red water iron), ferrous (clear water iron), colloidal, and more.  There are also iron bacteria which constitute a separate problem.  Our test is mainly for clear water iron.  Ferric iron may constitute part of the turbidity reading.  Iron bacteria must be tested separately by a professional tester. (Our NTL test program offers a separate test for iron bacteria.)

TDS, or Total Dissolved Solids, is a measurement of the total mineral content of the water.  It consists mainly of calcium and magnesium (hardness) and sodium.  Although we do not test for sodium, you can usually take an educated guess at the sodium content by subtracting the hardness from the TDS.  [This is an over-simplification, but it’s a useful rule to apply.  If your water has 450 parts per million Total Dissolved Solids and only 2 grains (34 parts per million) hardness, you can be fairly certain that it has a lot of sodium.]

Diagnosis of Water Problems by Taking an Educated Guess

 Hydrogen sulfide must be tested on site and its rotten egg odor is usually obvious enough that a test is not needed. Treatment of 2 or 4 or 6 parts per million hydrogen sulfide would be essentially the same, so self-diagnosis is usually practiced.  To treat it, however, it is very helpful to know if there is also iron present, the pH of the water, a whether or not dangerous bacteria like e Coli are also present.  The presence of iron, on the other hand,  is easy to detect by red staining on fixtures and clothing,  but it should never be treated unless testing has been done to determine pH and hardness.  Finding a treatment strategy that works with iron (e. g. a water softener, an “iron filter” with or without an added oxidizer like air or chlorine) is just a guess unless you know at least the basic characteristics of your well water.