How to Test for Microplastics in Water

🤝 Our content is written by humans, not AI robots. Learn More

Microplastics are a growing concern in US water supplies – a report of 50 studies on microplastics in drinking water noted that microplastics were “frequently present in freshwaters and drinking water”, with plastic particles in fragment, fiber, film, foam, and pellet form being the most commonly found. 

Given that these tiny plastic particles have been associated with numerous concerning health effects, including inflammation, metabolism disturbances, and neurotoxicity, we don’t blame you if you’re keen to learn how your water consumption might contribute to your microplastics exposure.

In this guide, we’ve shared our expert’s step-by-step guide to testing your home’s drinking water for microplastics. 

How to test for microplastics in water

🧪 Microplastics Laboratory Water Test

The only accessible method of testing for microplastics for homeowners in the US is with a microplastics lab test. 

An increasing number of laboratories are now offering microplastics tests for drinking water. Price depends on the comprehensiveness of the test and the size of the microplastics that are being detected, but you can generally expect to spend $150-$550+ on a single test. Why so expensive? The methods used to test for microplastics are complex, costly, and, we assume, time-consuming. 

The exact process of testing your water with a microplastics laboratory test depends on the lab you choose. But generally, all you have to do is take your tap water samples. The sample-taking process looks like this: 

  1. Buy your chosen test. We recommend going for a test supplied by an EPA-certified water testing laboratory, so you can be certain that you’re paying for a legitimate service. 
  2. Take your water samples. The lab will send you a sampling kit, including collection bottles and sample-taking instructions. Follow the instructions to take your samples. Be careful here – you don’t want to accidentally contaminate your water and skew the results.
  3. Ship your samples. Send the samples back to the lab in the box. Tip: a good lab should provide free postage labels with their kits for your convenience. 
  4. Receive your results. Because testing for microplastics is complex, the turnaround time is a little longer. Most microplastics lab tests provide results within 14 days of testing. 
  5. Decide how to act on your results. If microplastics have been detected in your water, you might want to install a water filter that has been tested and proven capable of removing these contaminants. 
Microplastics laboratory test

How accurate is lab testing for microplastics? To answer this question, we referred to information supplied by SimpleLab Tap Score, which offers a dedicated microplastics water testing kit that detects microplastics ranging in size from <1-5000 micrometers. 

water testing with tap score

Tap Score notes that customers should view their test as more of a “screening test” that’s the most effective at identifying larger microplastic particles, rather than definitively measuring all microplastics concentrations.

The lab also notes that the smallest microplastics, which are the most difficult to detect, are typically present in the largest concentrations. Our interpretation of this comment is that if these microplastics aren’t being picked up with high accuracy by a lab test, then your test results may inaccurately suggest that your water contains lower microplastics concentrations than it actually does.

So, microplastics lab tests still aren’t 100% accurate in that they might not offer 100% detection, but they can still help you to get an understanding of your water quality in this respect.   

🔎 What Tests Do Laboratories Use to Detect Microplastics?

We reviewed a few different laboratory websites to see which testing methods they were using to detect microplastics in water. The two most common methods for detecting microplastics appear to be: 

  • Microscopy: The process of visually examining a water sample under a microscope to identify microplastic particles Specialized microscopes can be used to differentiate between various plastic materials.
  • Spectroscopy (FT-IR and Raman): Ttwo instrumental techniques used for microplastics analysis. Scientists shine light on the water sample and measure how it interacts with the material. FT-IR identifies materials based on their infrared absorption patterns, while Raman spectroscopy relies on scattered light. Both techniques can help confirm the presence of microplastics in water samples and differentiate between different types of plastics. 

It’s worth mentioning that methods of testing for microplastics are still in development and have their limitations due to the difficulty in detecting these tiny particles.

Many of the studies we found in our research acknowledged the setbacks of the current microplastics detection methods currently available. Some noted that technologies are continuing to improve in this area, which should hopefully help support more accurate detection and reduce issues with incomplete results. 

Microplastics in testing flask

🤔 Can Microplastics be Detected with a DIY Test Kit?

No, we couldn’t find any DIY test kits that can be used to detect microplastics at home. 

DIY tests can typically only detect larger particulates and basic water parameters, like heavy metals, certain chemicals, minerals/salts, or specific contaminants that can be identified through chemical reactions visible on test strips.

Microplastics are tiny, making them difficult to identify with basic at-home testing tools. It usually takes specialized equipment, like microscopes and spectroscopy devices, to accurately detect these contaminants.

Microplastics detection typically involves more complex analysis and often requires lab techniques, which are beyond the capabilities of standard DIY water testing kits. 

As technology advances, it’s likely that we’ll see developments in more accessible methods for microplastic detection at home, but for now, the only viable option is lab testing. 

📑 Final Word

We wanted to share this guide as a simple, helpful resource for homeowners looking to test for microplastics in their drinking water at home. 

Do we think it’s worth paying for a laboratory test for microplastics? We’d say the decision is yours to make. 

If you have a reason to be very concerned about the microplastics concentrations in your water, or you have a flexible budget and you’re just curious – and, importantly, you accept that your results might not be 100% accurate and that not all microplastics might be detected in your water – then go for it. 

But for most folks, we don’t think testing is essential. It’s safe to just assume, based on the studies that exist today, that your tap water most likely contains trace levels of microplastics. 

It’s much cheaper to skip the testing and simply find a water filtration system that can remove microplastics – and there are plenty of filters out there that fit the bill.

  • Brian Campbell
    President & CEO, CWS, CWR

    Brian Campbell, a WQA Certified Water Specialist (CWS) and Certified Water Treatment Representative (CWR) with 5+ years of experience, helps homeowners navigate the world of water treatment. After honing his skills at Hach Company, he founded his business to empower homeowners with the knowledge and tools to achieve safe, healthy water. Brian's tested countless devices, from simple pitchers to complex systems, helping his readers find the perfect fit for their unique needs.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top