Can You Trust Home Water Test Kits? Here’s What I Found
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Have you ever wondered if those drinking water tests you do at home are a good gauge of your water quality? How accurate are they?
There are lots of different brands of test kits to choose from. How do they compare with each other? Do homeowners' water testing results match up with those from a professional lab? Which is the best home water test kit?
I had the same questions. So I decided to get my hands on some test kits and try some water testing myself. Keep reading to find out how I conducted my experiment, and what I found out.
Number of Contaminants Tested
Bacteria Test Included?
JNW Direct Test Strips
125 test strips
NovoBlue Test Strips
100 test strips
First Alert Drinking Water Test Kit
best testing kit for city water
Health Metric Drinking Water Test Kit
includes reminder fridge magnet
Test Assured Drinking Water Test Kit
separate iron test
Watersafe Well Water Test Kit
best testing kit for well water
Tap Score Home Water Test Kit
collect samples and mail in;
You can click on a topic from the quick navigation below, or scroll down to read the whole review.
How I Tested the Water Test Kits
The water at my house comes from a 185 foot deep drilled well. It's cold and clear and tastes fantastic. But taste alone doesn't tell you the true state of your water quality.
When my husband and I bought the house a few years ago, we were told that our well water quality was fine. But we never had any water testing done ourselves. It was always in the back of my mind that I really should get it checked, just to be sure.
So, I finally stopped thinking about it and ordered six different water test kits from Amazon. I decided to go with kits that are well known and that are affordable for most people.
Then I scheduled an appointment with a guy from the well company to come out and do some water testing. He spent about an hour collecting samples and then sent them off to Nelson Analytical Lab in Manchester, New Hampshire for analysis. That same afternoon, I did all of the tests from all six kits and recorded the results.
A few days later, I received the lab report from Nelson Analytical, and I sat down to go over the numbers and make comparisons. And that's where all the information in the rest of this post came from.
You'll find detailed descriptions of each water testing kit - what they test for, the methods used, and how the results I got compared to the professional lab test results.
I've also included a table with all the test data so you can see how the kits compare to each other and to water testing by the professional lab.
I hope you find it helpful if you're trying to decide which is the best water test kit to meet your needs.
Disclaimer: I am not a scientist. I did not conduct these tests in a controlled environment. The water testing was conducted in my home following the instructions in the kits. My results could be flawed due to human error. The opinions and conclusions drawn in this post are solely my own. Your results may vary.
Best Home Water Test Kits Reviews
We'll start off with two all-in-one strip tests: JNW Direct and NovoBlue.
JNW Direct Drinking Water 10-in-1 Test Strips
If you want an uncomplicated way to test drinking water from a municipal supply, the 10-in-1 Test Strips from JNW Direct are a good choice. Because it doesn't include a bacteria test, you won't want to use this if you're on well water.
You get 125 test strips in one plastic container. Each strip has 10 tests. Here's what it tests:
- free chlorine
- total alkalinity
- total hardness
The water testing method is simple. Just dip the strip in a sample of your water, wait 10 to 30 seconds, then compare the pad colors to the chart on the bottle.
Once the container is opened, the strips are only good for 90 days. That's because contact with the air makes them degrade, and they won't be accurate.
Chances are you're not going to use 125 test strips in three months, so maybe you could split the pack with friends. Or give them to your kids to do some science experiments!
JNW Direct has a bonus Ebook for you called Information You Need To Know About Your Drinking Water when you register at their website. It gives more details about the different tests and what to do if the results show you have a water quality issue.
How JNW compared to the professional lab analysis
Mostly it agreed where they tested the same things.
However, I would not trust this for testing fluoride if that's a concern for you. The JNW Direct test detected no fluoride in my water, but the professional test measured fluoride at 1.6 ppm. That's a significant discrepancy.
In addition, the JNW Direct test detected no iron, but the professional test detected iron at 0.062 ppm. The hardness was off a bit, too.
And it said that the pH of the water was 6.4, while the professional test said it was 8.04. In other words, JNW Direct told me my water is slightly on the acidic side, where in reality it is alkaline. So I wouldn't trust it for testing pH, either.
There is no chlorine in my well water, and the test didn't detect any. Since there are plenty of strips to experiment with, I added a tiny bit of bleach to another water sample and tested it again. This time, chlorine was detected.
JNW Direct is a cheap and easy way to get a general idea of the condition of your water quality, but don't use it for hardness, fluoride or pH testing.
NovoBlue 14-in-1 Water Test Strips
Here's another simple water test that you can use for municipal drinking water. NovoBlue 14-in-1 has a few extra tests beyond what JNW Direct has, so you can also test your pool or spa water or the water in your aquarium.
There are 100 test strips in the bottle, and 14 tests on each strip. They test:
- cyanuric acid
- free chlorine
- total alkalinity
- total chlorine
- total hardness
The method for testing is just like JNW Direct. Dip a strip in water, wait 15 to 30 seconds, and compare with the color chart.
I asked NovoBlue about the expiration date. They told me that, as long as you keep the strips at 36°F to 86°F, they should last for two years even after it's opened. So there's a better chance that you'll get more use out of these than the JNW Direct ones.
NovoBlue also gives you a free eBook, A Complete Guide To Water Safety for Pool, Spa, & Drinking Water, but no registration is required.
How NovoBlue compared to the professional lab analysis
The results were almost identical to JNW Direct.
It detected no fluoride and no iron even though the professional test said I do have 1.6 ppm and 0.062 ppm, respectively. So, like the JNW Direct strips, I don't recommend using it to test fluoride.
The hardness measured at 120 ppm while the professional test gave it a hardness of 85 ppm.
And it measured the pH at 6.8, but the professional water test measured it at 8.04. The result would lead me to believe that my water is a hair on the acidic side. But it's not. It's alkaline. So I wouldn't use NovoBlue to test pH, either.
I did the same experiment with bleach that I did with JNW Direct, and NovoBlue did detect chlorine in the water.
NovoBlue is fine for testing chlorine and lead. But don't rely on it for testing fluoride, hardness or pH. You can use an opened container for up to two years, so you can get a lot of use out of it.
And now we'll look at some more complicated multitest kits which can give you a clearer picture of your water quality.
First Alert Water Test Kit (best for city water)
The First Alert home water test kit includes a bacteria test, so can be used for either well water or city water. It can only be used one time, so you need to be careful to follow the instructions closely.
The following 8 tests are included in the kit:
- bacteria (E. coli)
There are two test strips. One tests for nitrate and nitrite. The other tests for pH, hardness and chlorine. Just dip, wait a short time, and compare the colors to the chart.
Then you've got the lead and pesticide test.
To do this, you have to add two droppers full of water to a vial, put the two test strips in, and wait ten minutes.
On each strip, there are two little blue lines. You compare the lightness and darkness of the lines, and that tells you whether you have a negative or positive result. The dropper and vial are included in the kit, by the way.
Finally, there's the test for bacteria. You'll have to allow 48 hours for this one. In the kit you get a sealed vial containing a bacteria growth medium. You just add water, put the lid on, and shake it well. The water will turn purple.
Then, you have to put it in a warm place (70°-90°F) for 48 hours. If the color remains purple, that means there's no bacteria. If it turns yellow, there is bacteria present.
How First Alert compared to the professional lab analysis
This one came close to the lab test in measuring pH. The reading was 7.5 - not too far from 8.04. At least it was on the correct side of neutral (which is 7).
Like most of the other water testing kits, it was a bit off on the hardness - 120 ppm versus the professional result of 85 ppm.
And, like all the other brands, it didn't detect any nitrate or nitrite, where the professional lab test detected small amounts of both.
The First Alert Drinking Water Test Kit will give you reasonably accurate water quality readings, particularly for bacteria, chlorine, lead and pH. I consider it the best water test kit for city water.
Health Metric Drinking Water Test Kit
Health Metric is another multipart water testing kit that can be used for well or municipal drinking water. The complete test can be done one time. For some reason, though, they give you an extra nitrate/nitrate test and an extra 4-in-1 test strip.
Here's the list of the 9 things you can test for with this kit:
- bacteria (E. coli)
The 4-in-1 strip tests for pH, total alkalinity, total chlorine, and total hardness. Dip and swirl the strip in water for 5 seconds, then wait 20 seconds. You're supposed to complete the color matching in 10 seconds, so you've gotta be fast!
There are two other water test strips: one for copper, and one for nitrate and nitrate.
The lead test is the same as the First Alert lead test, but there is no pesticide test with it. Health Metric doesn't test for pesticides.
And the bacteria test is the same as First Alert except that it uses a larger bottle, not a vial.
Here's a photo of the four bacteria tests that I did. It was winter in New Hampshire, and my house is always on the cool side.
So, to keep the samples above 70°F, I kept them under a heat lamp with a 60 watt light bulb for 48 hours.
How Health Metric compared to the professional lab analysis
Health Metric drinking water test kit comes fairly close to the professional water testing, with the exception of pH.
It gave my water a pH of 5, but the lab test said it's 8.04. This is a huge discrepancy! A pH of 5 is not even within the EPA acceptable standard. So, if I went by this test, I would think my water is super acidic, when in fact it is alkaline.
Like the others, it didn't detect nitrate or nitrate, and it said my water has more hardness than it actually does. And it didn't detect any bacteria, which is correct.
For a basic reading of your water quality, the Health Metric test kit is fine. But I don't recommend it for testing pH or hardness.
Test Assured Drinking Water Test Kit
The Test Assured kit can be used once to test well water or municipal drinking water quality.
Included in the kit are 10 tests:
- bacteria (E. coli)
- total chlorine
This test kit has five separate tests that you do.
First, you've got a lead and pesticide test that is identical to the one in the First Alert kit. (Put water in vial, add strips, wait ten minutes and read.)
There's a bacteria test identical to the one you get with First Alert - add water to the vial, shake, and keep warm for 48 hours.
Two multi-test strips are included. One tests chlorine, copper, nitrate and nitrate. The other tests alkalinity, pH, and hardness. These are the "dip and wait, then match the colors" kind of tests.
Finally, there's an iron test that's a little different. You add an iron reagent tablet to water in a vial and shake it up to dissolve the tablet. Then you dip a strip in that solution and wait 60 seconds to read the results.
One nice little addition to this water testing kit is a refrigerator magnet. It has a space where you can write the date of the next time you want to test the water.
I didn't have any trouble opening the packaging on the other kits, but this one was a different story. You wouldn't have to worry about it coming apart, that's for sure. Anyway, I managed to cut two of my fingers trying to get it open. Not a big deal, but I thought I should mention it.
How Test Assured compared to the professional lab analysis
The bacteria test was spot on. It didn't detect any bacteria, and neither did the professional test.
According to the Test Assured pH test, my water has a pH of 9. That's quite alkaline and not within the EPA standard. The professional test gave it a pH of 8.04, which is somewhat alkaline, but still within the standard. The number isn't that far off, but if I relied only on the home water test, I would think I had a big problem when I really don't.
Now, the hardness number was way, way off. The test said the hardness was 200 ppm, but the professional test said it's 85 ppm. 200 ppm is in the highest range of hardness (very hard) and 85 ppm is kind of in the middle and considered moderately hard.
There is no EPA standard for hardness. It's considered an aesthetic effect. But if I went by the Test Assured result, I might think I need to run out and spend a couple thousand on a water softener system.
No nitrate or nitrite were detected by Test Assured although the professional water test did detect small amounts.
And it detected no iron in the water, but the professional test said it has 0.062 ppm. Not a lot, I know, but especially if you're on a well, you want to know if there's iron in the water.
The water test kit from Test Assured can give you a good idea of the general condition of your drinking water. But you should probably use something else to test the hardness.
Watersafe Well Water Test Kit (best for well water)
Watersafe calls their offering a well water test kit, but you can also use it for testing water from a municipal supply.
This is another test kit that you can only use once. It tests for the following:
- bacteria (E. coli)
You'll find six separate tests inside the kit, and they're all easy to do.
Four of those are test strips that you dip in the water and then match the colors on the results chart. One strip is for copper, one is for iron, one is for nitrate and nitrite, and one combines pH, hardness and chlorine.
One bacteria test - identical to the ones in Test Assured and First Alert - is included. Simply add some water to the included vial and shake. Keep it warm and then check for a color change after 48 hours.
And there's a lead and pesticide test, which is also identical to the ones in the Test Assured and First Alert kits. Just add some water to the included test vial, put in the two strips, and wait ten minutes to read the results.
How Watersafe compared to the professional lab analysis
The test results with Watersafe were almost identical to the First Alert tests. The only difference is that Watersafe includes tests for copper and iron, and First Alert does not.
So, this one was also close to being accurate on the pH, but it was off on the hardness by 35 ppm.
It didn't detect nitrate, nitrite or iron, while the professional test did detect small amounts.
The Watersafe test kit can give you a somewhat accurate idea of how safe your drinking water is. It's especially good for testing pH, chlorine, lead, and bacteria and is the best water test kit for well water.
Tap Score Home Water Test Kit by SimpleLab (best mail-in test)
I wasn’t going to review any of the expensive mail-in tests, but SimpleLab approached me and asked me to try out their Tap Score Home Water Test. They sent me a free kit, and I used it to test my tap water. This was at a later date than the other tests.
Before starting, you activate your test at the SimpleLab website dashboard using the code that comes with your kit. After they receive your samples and do the testing, you can see all the results there.
This kit tests for over 100 contaminants, including:
- heavy metals
- nitrate and nitrite
- E.coli bacteria
It also analyzes other aspects of water quality such as:
There are two test strips you use yourself at home - one for chlorine and one for hydrogen sulfide gas. You’ll enter those results on your dashboard.
You also collect two water samples in containers provided with the kit, and then you mail them to the lab in the postage paid box.
The first one is called a “first draw” sample. This has to be taken after the water has been stagnant in the pipes for at least six hours. So first thing in the morning is the best time to do it. This gives you an idea of the condition of your plumbing.
Then you take a second sample after running the water for 5 minutes. That’s the “fully-flushed” sample and reflects the quality of your water at the source.
The samples need to be mailed in as soon as possible. Same day is the best.
Then you’ll get an email when your report is ready, anywhere from 3 to 10 days later. All the information is clearly laid out on your dashboard with full explanations for the numbers and suggestions for any steps to be taken.
How Tap Score compared to the professional lab analysis
It’s a bit difficult to compare the two because they don’t both include all the same tests.
Tap Score includes many items that aren’t considered detrimental to health, like TDS, turbidity, and minerals that might affect your pipes. The testing I had done by the well company was more focused on a short list of the most serious contaminants.
The pH, hardness and fluoride results were similar, and neither detected any E.coli.
Where they differed was with arsenic, nitrite, nitrate, and manganese. Tap Score didn’t detect any of these, but Nelson Analytical did, although in small amounts.
Also, Tap Score said that my uranium measurement was 0.005 PPM and Nelson Analytical said 0.007 PPM. That’s not much of a difference. But what is very different is that Tap Score says in my report that this “exceeds the federal goal of 0 PPM”, whereas Nelson says that it’s nothing to worry about because the EPA acceptable level is 30 PPM. And I did verify that at the EPA website.
The SimpleLab Tap Score is thorough and covers a wide range of tests. But, it’s also expensive and may cost more than having a professional come to your home.
Water Test Kits Results Comparison Table
Below is a table I made comparing my water test results with those of the professional water testing. Where it says n/a, that means the test kit or lab did not test for that substance. (Tap Score is not included.)
The EPA Acceptable Level came from the professional lab test results. In that column, n/a just means that it wasn't included in the report because the lab didn't test for that substance. It doesn't mean that there is no EPA standard.
Click or tap on the table to see it full size.
Here are a few takeaways from this table:
- None of the tests detected nitrate or nitrite, but the professional lab did.
- None of the pH tests matched the professional water testing.
- None of the hardness tests matched the professional reading.
- The two that tested fluoride detected none, but the professional lab did.
- The four that tested iron detected none, but the professional lab did.
- The bacteria test results were all correct.
- None of the tests detected chlorine or lead. Although the professional lab did not test for these, the result is correct because we are on a drilled well (no disinfectants used) and our pipes are made of PVC.
How to Choose the Best Water Test Kit for Your Home
If you're going to buy a home water test kit, you should first decide which of the different contaminants you want to test for and look for a kit that includes those specific tests.
Do you get your water from a municipal supply?
If that's the case, you'll probably want a water test kit that at least checks the chlorine and lead levels. You might also want to test for fluoride if that's of concern to you. You shouldn't need to test for bacteria unless you suspect there might be a problem somewhere between the water source and your faucet.
Do you have a well?
If so, you'll need a water test kit that includes tests for bacteria, lead, iron, fluoride, manganese, arsenic, nitrate, nitrite, and radiologicals. You won't need to test for chlorine unless your well has been disinfected.
Whether you're on city water or well water, you might also want to include pH and hardness as part of your water quality evaluation. Then if those levels aren't where you think they should be, you can take steps to correct it.
Also make sure the kit tests to EPA standards. It usually states that on the outside of the package.
Tips for Using a Water Test Kit
Testing your water quality at home isn't hard to do. But if you use one of the single use kits, you'll want to be sure you do it right the first time.
So, after having used six of these test kits, I have some tips to pass along to you to make it easier for you.
- 1Read through all the instructions before you start, and follow the directions precisely.
- 2Have a timer or a clock with a second hand nearby. Timing matters!
- 3Don't open any sealed containers or packets until you're ready to use them. Exposure to air will cause them to degrade and possibly give inaccurate results.
- 4Wash your hands before you start.
- 5Test using cold water from a fixed faucet with the aerator removed. A bathroom faucet is the best choice.
- 6When filling small vials, pour the water from another container, or use a pipette. It's hard to not overfill them because they're so small.
- 7Matching the colors on the test strips can be tricky. If possible, check the colors in natural light.
- 8If the tests seem to indicate that you have a problem with your water quality, get a second opinion from a professional before you take steps to correct it. It could save you from some needless expenses.
Verdict: Which is the Best Water Test Kit?
Home water test kits have their limitations, and they'll never be as accurate as tests performed in professional labs. But, they can be helpful as a first step toward diagnosing problems with your drinking water.
If there's any indication that your water is not safe, you should always follow up with a professional test.
Sure, you can buy more expensive home test kits that will test for a greater variety of contaminants. But, they're still going to be much more prone to human error than testing done in a lab.
And, if you're going to spend $100+ on a home test, why not just have a professional do it instead? You could probably get water testing done by your state health department for less than the cost of one of the fancy home test kits for sale online.
So now that we've taken a closer look at these test kits and tried them out, the question is which one is the best water test kit?
In terms of overall accuracy, I'd say it's a toss up between First Alert and Watersafe.
If you have well water, Watersafe is the best well water test kit because it tests for iron and copper in addition to the other basics.
But if you're on city water, I'd recommend the First Alert Water Test Kit for your water testing.
If you have tried doing your own water testing at home, I'd love to hear about your experience. Which do you think is the best water test kit? Leave a comment below and let us know how it went!
Related Post: Hands-on Review of the AquaScreen Drinking Water Test Kit (new in 2020, and comparable to the First Alert test kit, but you get two of each test)
Last Updated on December 15, 2020