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Why It May Be Time To Test Your Tap Water At Home

An increasing number of US cities are discovering unhealthy, even toxic levels of contamination in their drinking water [1]. Maybe it’s time you tested your tap water at home too.

Lead, PFOS’s, hard water, pesticides and coliform, to name a few, have been discovered in municipal water supplies at levels considered unhealthy by the EPA’s standards. And while communities like Flint Michigan prepare to take state officials to court over their failure, the health industry is bracing for a rise in cancer cases caused by contaminated water.

Why It May Be Time To Test Your Tap Water At Home

15 US Cities Identified With Contaminated Tap Water

  1. Amarillo,Texas
  2. Arlington, Texas
  3. Bakersfield, California
  4. Brownsville, Texas
  5. Corona, California
  6. Corpus Christi, Texas
  7. Dallas, Texas
  8. El Paso, Texas
  9. Fort Worth, Texas,
  10. Fresno, California
  11. Grand Prairie, Texas
  12. Irvine, California
  13. McKinney, Texas
  14. Reno, Nevada
  15. Rockford, Illinois

Buying commercially bottled water can become an expensive alternative to healthy drinking water [3]. A water filtration system designed to treat the specific contaminants and levels present in your tap water is your best long term solution. That being said, you shouldn’t be running out to your nearest hardware store just yet.

Before you start asking around or researching online for the best water filtration system for your home, why not test the water in your home first? It’s actually very easy to do, and there are professional services who can conduct the test for a relatively minimal fee, or even free.

Lucky for you, you found the best online source of water education. If you’ve got suspicions that something’s funny about your water, this is your DIY guide to testing your tap water the right way.

Signs Your Tap Water May Be Contaminated

Serving guests a cold glass of water that smells bad is embarrassing, and unhealthy. There are a wide range of contaminants besides bacteria and lead that could affect your drinking water. Some are immediately detectable, but not all.

Different types of contaminants have different effects. There are however, a few widely common signs or side effects that are easily identifiable. If you recognize any of the following signs below, it may be time to perform a water test.

  • Taste: Your tap water leaves a noticeably strange taste on your tongue.
  • Color: Tap water appears cloudy, murky, reddish, or brownish in color.
  • Odor: An unpleasant odor like sulfur or rotten eggs assaults your nostrils as you sip a glass of tap water.
  • Staining: Your laundry comes out faded, discolored, or emerges with faded spots. The fabric feels stiff. Adding more detergent does not seem to make a difference. Plumbing fixtures appear stained or crusted with a chalky residue.
  • Hygiene: A filmy residue clings to the surface of your soap bar and soap dish. Even with shampooing, a thin, filmy residue coats your hair. You experience frequent bouts of skin irritation

Water Testing Chart For Homeowners Concerned About Tap Water

Symptom Or Environmental Conditions
Contaminant To Test For (4)
Recurring Gastrointestinal Illness

  • Coliform Bacteria

Lead in Household Plumbing

  • pH

  • Lead

  • Copper

Objectionable taste or odor

  • Hydrogen Sulfide

  • Corrosion

  • Metals

Scaly residue, soap does not lather

  • Hardness (magnesium, calcium)

Stained plumbing fixtures and laundry

  • Iron

  • Copper

  • Manganese

Corroded Pipes Or Plumbing

  • Corrosion

  • pH

  • Lead

Salty Taste

  • TDS

  • Chloride

  • Sodium

Intensive Agriculture Nearby

  • Nitrate

  • Pesticides

  • Coliform

Lead Contamination

We often like to think of lead contamination as the result of some freak accident that rarely occurs. For decades, lead-based paints and corroded piping used in homes built prior to the Safe Drinking Water Act (1982) were widely blamed for instances of lead poisoning in tap water. Recent research, however suggests, that the causes are much more diverse [5].

As our society and technology becomes more complex, however, so too does the problem of lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can occur by air, contact with contaminated soil or water. Lead-monoxide dust from car emissions, for example, can become absorbed into the soil. After heavy rains, the soil seeps water into lakes, rivers, and other natural bodies of water.

Municipal water supplies draw their water from these natural sources. As in the case of Flint, Michigan and Newark, NJ, the lead was discovered in a natural body of water, not the pipes or lead-based paints.

Common Signs Of Lead Contamination In Tap Water
Even if your municipality hasn’t issued an alert, you can test your water for lead to be sure. If you suspect lead poisoning in your tap water, see a doctor immediately.

Signs Of Lead Contamination In Tap Water

Even if your municipality hasn’t issued an alert, you can test your water for lead to be sure. If you suspect lead poisoning in your tap water, see a doctor immediately.

Some of the symptoms of lead poisoning include [6]:

  • Abdominal pain or abdominal cramps
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Constipation
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Loss of developmental skills in children
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Memory loss
  • Anemia
  • Kidney dysfunction
How To Test Your Tap Water

How To Test Your Tap Water

Finding an effective, long-term solution for treating your tainted tap water takes a little forethought. You can easily become overwhelmed by the breadth of choices when it comes to water treatment solutions. A countertop Brita purifier might be just what you need; then again, maybe you need a RO whole house filtration system for all the faucets in your home.

Before you shell out hard-earned money on a water treatment system, consider these 3 key factors:

  1. Location: Is the contamination occurring at a single point of use in your home (eg bathroom, kitchen sink, laundry room) or throughout? Are  you experiencing signs of contamination with the hot water only, cold water only, or both? Take note of where the water problem seems to be occurring. This will help you determine whether you need a point-of-use filtration solution or a whole house water filtration system to treat all the water coming into your home.
  2. Type of Contamination: Next, you’ll want to determine what type of pollutant is harming your water so you can treat it appropriately. Lead contamination is treated in a different manner from E coli, for instance. A water test kit can provide clues, but a professional water laboratory service will give you more accurate answers.
  3. Level of Contamination: Even the best water filtration systems have their limits. If your contaminated water drastically exceeds acceptable EPA standards, you’ll want to invest in a solution that features premium-grade filters, multi-stage filtration and a solid warranty.

Options For Testing Your Tap Water

Ok, now for the meat and potatoes. There are 2 ways to test the water in your home:

Option 1) Buy A Test Kit
A water test kit can be purchased online or at a local hardware store. Large department store chains may also carry them.

Essentially, each kit contains anywhere from 50 – 100 color-coded strips. Test vials for collecting samples are also included, along with instructions. You immerse the strip in water, following the instructions provided in the kit. After a few seconds or minutes, the strip changes color, alerting you to the type of contamination.

Water testing kits are a convenient, first step, but they aren’t conclusive by any means. They may not provide an accurate reading on the level of contamination. Even microscopic traces of lead, for example, can have a harmful effect when consumed over time.

Fortunately, a water test kit is usually inexpensive, and the test is easy to perform yourself. If you decide to purchase one, here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Read Before You Buy: Be sure that the water testing kit you choose is equipped for testing the pollutants you are searching for. A hard water testing kit may not be suitable for measuring pesticides, or high levels of ferrous metals, for example.
  • Follow Instructions: Every water testing kit includes detailed instructions for collecting a sample or for testing your tap water. You may be asked to let the hot water tap run at maximum temperature for 2 minutes before immersing the test strip, for example. The accuracy of your test results depends on following the instructions to the letter.
  • Use Clean Containers: Samples of your tap water should be kept in a clean container to avoid altering the test results.

How To Use A Water Test Kit

Option 2) Hire A Professional
The safest way to test your tap water is to hire the service of a state certified laboratory. You can find one in your area by calling the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 or visiting

There are also testing laboratories or services that supply their own sample containers and even a professional to collect the samples for you.You’ll usually have your results back in 2 – 3 days, depending on demand of course, and it’s a fairly inexpensive service considering the benefits.

Common Contaminants Found In Tap Water [7]

  • Aluminum
  • Ammonia
  • Arsenic
  • Chloramine
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Fluoride
  • Bacteria & Viruses
  • Lead
  • Nitrates/Nitrites
  • Mercury


Most Americans can turn on their tap water relatively assured that it’s safe to drink. The list of cities that have failed to meet EPA standards for safe drinking water, however, is on the rise. California, New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, Michigan and New York are just a few of the states where communities must be on alert against pollutants such as lead, aluminum, legionella, and radon.

Whether it’s high levels of fouls-smelling sulfides, ferrous metals or TDS’s, you can and should test your tap water for quality and cleanliness. If you have any suspicions, contact your public water supply for the most recent results of their water testing. Follow up by testing your tap water with a test kit, or hire the services of a professional water laboratory to get accurate results.

[1] 43 US cities have contaminated water. Here’s how to protect yourself.(

[2] The 25 U.S. Cities with the Worst Drinking Water (Best Life)

[3] Bottled Water Costs 2000 Times As Much As Tap Water (Business Insider)

[4] EPA: Home Water Testing (PDF)

[5] Wearing The Lead Glasses (Places Journal)

[6] What Are The Symptoms Of Lead Poisoning? (

[7] Common Waterborne Contaminants (

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