How to Test for Nitrates in Water

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Nitrates contamination is a common problem in well water – a USGS study tested over 2,500 wells and found that about 7% of domestic wells and 3% of public-supply wells contained nitrate concentrations exceeding the EPA’s legal limit of 10 PPM.

A review of studies looking at the health effects of nitrate in water found that nitrate consumption has been linked to thyroid disease and neural tube defects. Even ingesting nitrate levels below the legal limit can increase the risk of these health effects.

If you’re keen to test your drinking water for nitrates, keep reading – we’ve shared our top methods of testing in this updated guide.

How to test for nitrates in water

๐Ÿงช Use A DIY Test Kit

The cheapest and easiest nitrate testing method is to use a DIY water test.

Not every at-home water testing kit is guaranteed to test for nitrate. Check the contaminants that a kit detects if you’re specifically looking to test for nitrate.

Most DIY test kits for nitrate use test strips and cost around $20-$25, depending on the nature of the test.

Here’s the step-by-step process of testing your water’s nitrate concentration with an at-home water testing kit:

  1. Unpackage your test and place the test strips on a clean surface.
  2. Fill a glass of water from your faucet – this is your water sample.
  3. Dip a test strip into your water sample and wait for the square at the end of the strip to change color.
  4. Compare the color of the strip to the shade on the color chart to get an estimate of your drinking water nitrates concentration.

DIY test strips can detect nitrates within specific ranges, typically from 0-50 PPM. Some kits test for nitrates and nitrites, so you can get a reading of the pair together in your water supply.

Note: An at-home water testing kit doesn’t provide highly specific results. You can use a DIY test to find out whether or not your water contains nitrate, and roughly how much. But if you want to know how much nitrate is in your water to the exact decibel, you’ll need to consider more comprehensive laboratory testing.

Test assured chlorine, copper, and nitrate test

๐Ÿšฐ Upgrade to Accredited Laboratory Testing

A more accurate (but also more expensive) drinking water analysis method for nitrate is professional laboratory testing.

You should find plenty of certified laboratories in your state that provide professional drinking water nitrate testing packages.

The cost of professional laboratory testing for nitrates depends on the test type, and exactly what you’re testing for:

  • A specialized nitrate test costs $55-$120 on average
  • A grouped contaminant test, which detects nitrate and other related contaminants, costs $120-$600, depending on exactly what you’re testing for

Laboratories use the most comprehensive testing methods for nitrate analysis, which means the results are more accurate and detailed. Most labs will provide a test report that details the concentrations of nitrates in your water, and how these compare to local guidelines or legal limits.

When getting your water tested by an accredited laboratory, you’ll just need to collect a sample of your water in a vial or container sent to you by the lab.

tap score water testing

Here’s the process of taking a water sample for a laboratory nitrate test:

  1. Order your preferred nitrates test and wait for the sample-taking kit to be mailed to you.
  2. Follow the instructions to take the water samples (be careful not to accidentally contaminate your water).
  3. Post the sample to the laboratory.
  4. Wait for the results to be emailed to you.

We recommend using Tap Score by SimpleLab to test your well water for nitrate. The Essential Well Water Test tests for common well water contaminants and parameters, including hardness, turbidity, iron, lead, mercury, nitrate and nitrite. If you exclusively want to test for nitrate, go for the nitrate water test, which is the more affordable option.

water testing with tap score

Good to Know: The typical turnaround time for a nitrate laboratory water test is 5-7 days, meaning that you should get your results within a week of returning your samples to the lab.

๐Ÿ“ Interpreting Your Results

Your test results should provide you with the information you need to take action.

If you’ve used a DIY water testing kit and high concentrations of nitrate have been detected in your drinking water, consider paying for a more comprehensive lab test that can give you a more detailed analysis of your water quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a legal limit of 10 mg/L for nitrate in water to protect against blue baby syndrome. So, if your water contains excess nitrate above this concentration, you’ll definitely want to take action to protect your health.

But you might also decide that you want to reduce nitrate in your tap water even if lower concentrations have been detected. The EPA’s MCLs are produced based on evidence of the health effects of contaminants at certain concentrations, but that’s not to say that you’re guaranteed to be safe drinking low concentrations of nitrate in your water.

If your water is affected by nitrate contamination and you have any reason to be concerned for your health, switch to bottled water while you look into nitrate reducing water treatment solutions.

There are a number of water filtration systems that can effectively reduce or remove nitrate from a drinking water supply, including:

Regardless of the water treatment system you go for, we recommend checking that the system has been tested or certified for its ability to remove nitrate from water. For instance, reverse osmosis systems can obtain NSF 58 certifications for their contaminant removal abilities, which can include nitrate/nitrite removal.

๐Ÿ“‘ Final Word

We hope this guide has helped you to choose the most effective solution for detecting nitrate contamination in your well water system.

To reiterate, DIY water tests are the cheapest way to test for nitrate, but laboratory tests have the advantage of being more comprehensive and accurate.

Ultimately, your choice depends on your budget, your testing preferences, and your level of concern about excess nitrates in your water.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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