If you’re a home-owner who gets their water from a private well, you’ll know that regulations for public water supplies don’t apply to you.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can happily drink your private water in a state of poor quality – it means that you’ll need to take full responsibility in ensuring that your water is safe to drink.
All private wells get their water from a groundwater source. If the environmental groundwater at your local address is polluted or contaminated, it stands to reason that your home’s water will be the same.
To avoid illness and aesthetic problems caused by common well water contaminants, you’ll need to test your water regularly.
It can be a little confusing to understand the requirements for testing your private well water. Certain contaminants require more regular testing for than others.
In this guide, I’ll be providing easy instruction on how you, the home-owner, should test your well’s water, how often, and for what.
Table of Contents
🧪 Why is Well Water Testing Important?
To understand the need for well water testing, let’s quickly consider the treatment processes that city water goes through before it reaches our homes.
Water is treated with chlorine, a disinfectant that removes all the dangerous stuff, like coliform bacteria and other microorganisms that might make us sick.
It also passes through several large filters, which remove everything from lingering sediment to unwanted chemicals and metals.
While city water contains traces of certain contaminants, treatment facilities must legally comply with the US laws and ensure that these contaminants do not exceed a certain level.
Now let’s look at well water.
Private wells contain untreated groundwater that may feature higher-than-safe-to-drink levels of contaminants.
As a result, drinking this contaminant-laced water might impact your health, particularly if your water contains the likes of total coliform bacteria (which is linked to animal feces), nitrates and agricultural chemicals (all very common in wells).
Groundwater pollution can be caused by a number of natural occurrences, as well as certain human activities, such as leaking septic tanks, surface runoff from farmers’ fields and urban areas, and seepage from landfills.
This could leach all manner of dangerous impurities into your well – hence why it’s so important to check your water quality regularly to ensure it’s up to standard.
With regular testing, you can check for problems in your water supply, track changes over the years, and, when you install a water treatment system, determine the effectiveness of this system.
🔬 What to Test For in Well Water?
There are a number of contaminants that commonly occur in private wells. These are:
Arsenic is a naturally occurring compound commonly present in groundwater which causes potential health risks such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cognitive development defects and more.
Nitrate, or nitrates, are common impurities that are typically found in groundwater.
Nitrate contamination can particularly cause a problem when ingested by babies and infants, as it can affect the ability of the red blood cells in carrying oxygen around the body.
✔️ Coliform Bacteria
If your water has coliform bacteria contamination, these bacteria indicate the presence of harmful impurities that are potentially dangerous to drink.
Coliform bacteria is typically associated with animal feces. I’ll offer information on how to test well water for bacteria in your area later in this guide.
Another impurity that’s commonly seen in wells, sulfate can cause sulfur, a rotten egg-smelling gas, when it reacts with oxygen. When people ingest too much sulfate, it can pose a problem in the gastrointestinal system.
Chloride, sodium, iron and manganese are all general examples of ion contamination in wells. These are typically aesthetic and can affect water’s taste, but may pose a health risk when consumed in high levels.
The presence of a high amount of fluoride in water could cause a number of health problems related to the teeth and bones, especially in children and young people.
Check out these top rated fluoride water testing kits to get started!
✔️ Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOCs, can pose a range of harmful health risks that cause concern, including impaired immune system function, increased cancer risk, and damage to the liver.
Lead is a heavy metal most commonly found in old municipal pipes, but it may also enter ground water from industrial facilities. It’s a fact that there is no “safe” level of lead as it’s a harmful accumulative toxin, meaning it can build up in the human body over time.
✔️ Agricultural Chemicals
Pesticides, herbicides and agricultural fertilizers may get into your drinking water if your local address is in close proximity to an area of rural environmental farming. These chemicals could affect your general health, causing issues even when ingested in small quantities, so it’s important that they’re removed if they’re found.
📅 How Often Should I Test My Well Water?
It’s recommended that you get your well’s water tested on a once-yearly basis.
You’ve probably read advice recommending that you test for certain contaminants at different times, and this may vary on a state-by-state basis.
For instance, if your local area’s environmental ground water is seeing a particularly fast increase in arsenic levels, you may need to test for this impurity more regularly. You should be able to visit a website that’ll offer advice for your state regulation online, but if you can’t, contact your local department of health.
No matter what, I would recommend that you test for coliform bacteria, nitrate, lead, arsenic and other dangerous contaminants at least once a year. For the sake of your health, it’s important to know exactly what’s in your water supply, and whether you need to adjust your water treatment solutions or implement new means of treatment over time.
💡 How to Test Your Well Water
There are two common water testing methods: getting a drinking water test from a state-certified laboratory and using an at-home water test kit.
Professional Laboratory Testing
Water testing from a certified laboratory is the most thorough (and expensive), and your test results will give you information on exactly what’s in your water, and to what level.
You can send off a water sample and pay for specific impurities to be tested for, such as iron or bacteria, if you think your water is dealing with specific contaminant-related issues. For simplicity, you could also arrange for a once-yearly test that covers the total common groundwater contaminants in your local community.
Certified testing can provide you with information on your drinking water quality, and of which impurities are posing the biggest problems.
Licensed labs can help you to determine the best water treatment solution and, in addition, once you’ve installed a filter, offer peace of mind that you’re successfully protecting your family’s health. A lab will contact you with your total test results as soon as testing is done, and you can ask any questions you may have at this time.
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At home Test Kit
To use this kit, you will need to collect a water sample from your faucet and follow the basic instructions provided.
Usually, the instructions will tell you to submerge a test strip in the sample, typically for several seconds. After removing the sample and waiting for the recommended period of time to pass (usually around three minutes), you should see that the test strip will change color to indicate the quality of your water.
You can then compare the strip with a chart included in the kit.
Based on what the kit tests for, you should get information on whether your water has a presence of nitrate, total coliform bacteria, iron, lead, and so on.
Water test kits are helpful as they can provide a great low-cost option to utilize between professional testing. They’re not very thorough, though; you cannot guarantee they’re error-free in the information they provide, and they won’t give you exact information of quantities of substances in your water, and whether these contaminants are above-recommended standards.
But the information from your test results will tell you whether your water has problems with specific impurities, so you’ll have the impetus to be concerned if you’re seeing particularly high levels of a certain impurity, enabling you to take action if needed.
🔎 Understanding Your Test Results
If you’ve used an at-home test kit for your drinking water, determining what your test results show is pretty straightforward.
Usually, your test strip will have four or five separate squares that will each turn a different shade to indicate your water quality. You can simply compare each color with the range of colors on the chart that’s included with your kit, and this will inform you roughly to what level your water contains specific contaminants.
If you request to get your water tested by a licensed laboratory, you will usually receive an analytical report, or a water analysis form, with all the information you need to know.
This analysis will typically consist of a table, with the contaminants you’ve had your water tested for in the first column, and the results and units listed in the second two columns. You can see an example of one of these reports below (reports will vary from laboratory to laboratory).
The analysis may also have a “notes” section that tells you whether any specific impurities exceeded the maximum recommended limit; either the limit set by your local area or the national limits set by the EPA.
If your report doesn’t indicate whether your water’s impurities exceed maximum limits, you can always visit the EPA website and consult the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, comparing your results to the national recommendations for health set by the EPA.
❔ Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Does it Cost to Have Your Well Water Tested?
If you’re looking at tests offered by laboratories, you can expect to pay at least $200 for an annual test. This may vary on a lab-by-lab basis. Some laboratories may offer penny-saving packages to test for a group of common impurities in a well source, but generally, the more impurities you’re getting tests for, the more money you’ll have to spend.
At-home tests are much more affordable, usually costing around $20 per test. Of course, these tests aren’t as accurate or comprehensive, and shouldn’t be relied upon for exclusively testing well sources for that reason.
What Should I Do If My Water’s Contaminant Levels Come Back As “Unsafe”?
Water testing is a great way to make sure your tap water is safe – and you can quickly take action if it isn’t. There are many different methods of impurity removal, so before you start browsing for filtered water systems, you need to first understand what you need to filter out.
The Best high-performance treatment systems for a well include UV systems and chlorine injection units, which remove live pathogens; water softeners, which remove hardness minerals, iron, manganese and sulfur; and whole home well filters, which remove impurities that are commonly found within well sources. All of these can provide clean water using their own processes.
An additional universal treatment option is reverse osmosis. These water systems can remove pretty much every contaminant in total that water testing typically looks for, including bacteria, nitrates or nitrate, copper, VOCs, pesticides, herbicides, hardness, chlorine, industrial metals, environmental waste, live microorganisms, and so on, ensuring clean, odor-free, pure drinking water.
How Long Will It Take To Get My Lab Results Back?
How long it takes for a lab to complete your testing may vary based on who you find for the job, but the best labs will follow fast processes to try to get testing done as soon as possible, while your water is at its freshest. Typically, you’ll have to wait around 48 hours to find out your results. You can always contact your lab and ask for updates if you have reasons to hurry.
Are All Well Impurities Dangerous?
No – some impurities may pose an aesthetic problem in your house, such as calcium and magnesium hard water minerals. Some, like iron, copper, and sulfates, may affect water taste or odor. However, some additional impurities, like VOCs, lead and chlorine, can be a safety concern when they’re able to enter within well sources, even when they’re present in small amounts. It’s best to get your water tested so that you can control your water supply, adapt to change, and protect your family with the information you receive. You can find more information about water impurities by browsing my website.
Can I Avoid Impurities In My Well Entirely?
It’s highly unlikely, considering you’re using a natural water source. All you can do is continue to care for and maintain your well’s structure to avoid impurities being able to get in through cracks and holes. Your federal authority may help in offering more information on how to reduce your risk of well contamination, especially if you’re near a septic system or a farm, but it’s usually a case of treating the problem accordingly, rather than trying to prevent it.