How to Test Well Water: Top 3 Methods

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If you’re a homeowner who gets their water from a private well, you’ll need to take full responsibility in ensuring that your water is safe to drink.

Our water treatment pros have tried all the different methods for testing well water quality, and we’ve shared our top recommended ways to test well water in this resource.

How to test well water

🔬 Professional Laboratory Testing

What it tests for

Professional laboratory testing can detect essentially any contaminant or group of contaminants you might be concerned about in your well water, including: 

  • Heavy metals
  • Microorganisms
  • Minerals
  • Suspended particles 
  • PFAS
  • Radiologicals
  • VOCs
  • Inorganics
  • Dissolved gases
  • Turbidity
  • Microplastics
  • Hardness
  • Alkalinity
  • pH

The most comprehensive private well water testing option is to use a certified laboratory

We recommend getting your drinking water tested by a certified lab if: 

  • You’re testing for a niche contaminant that a DIY test can’t detect (like radiologicals and VOCs)
  • You have a reason to believe your well has become polluted with a harmful contaminant in possibly dangerous concentrations

Certified laboratory testing tells you exactly what’s in your water, and at what concentrations. 

You can send off a water sample and get it tested for specific impurities, such as iron or harmful bacteria, if you want to check for specific contaminant-related issues. You could also arrange for a once-yearly test that detects multiple common groundwater contaminants.

tap score water test report

Here’s the typical process for getting your drinking water tested by a certified laboratory: 

  1. Choose your preferred testing kit. Go for an EPA-certified lab to ensure the most accurate testing practices. 
  2. Take your water samples. Follow the instructions in the kit to take samples from your faucet in the included vials
  3. Ship your samples. Many labs provide a shipping label so you can return the samples to the lab in the box you received the kit in
  4. Wait for your results. The lab will contact you with your total test results as soon as testing is done, usually within 7-10 days

Our preferred testing lab for well water is SimpleLab Tap Score. SimpleLab’s results are more comprehensive than other labs we’ve used, and we like the formatting of the lab’s interactive reports. There are tens of tests to choose from, including grouped contaminant tests specifically for well water, and tests for individual contaminants.  

We Recommend: Tap Score by SimpleLab

SimpleLab Tap Score
  • Most comprehensive lab water test on the market
  • 3 well water test options, testing 6-12 parameters
  • 54 additional specialized tests to choose from
  • 8 at-home addons
  • Tests for even the most specific contaminants available
  • Receive results within 5 days
  • Modern, detailed, interactive report

🧪 Use A DIY Test Kit

What it tests for

Common well water contaminants & parameters that DIY test kits can often detect include: 

At home test kits for well water are easy to use and deliver instant results. 

You can buy DIY water testing kits for your well water online (Amazon has a great selection) for around $15-$30, depending on the type and number of contaminants you’re testing for.

An at-home test kit is a great low-cost option that you can use initially to detect the most common contaminants in your well’s drinking water.

To use a DIY test kit to test your water quality, follow these steps: 

  1. Collect a water sample straight from your faucet in a clean cup or container
  2. Dip a test strip in the sample and hold it in the water according to the instructions (usually around 15 seconds)
  3. Remove the strip from the water. You should notice that the different squares on the strip have become colored
  4. Compare the color of the squares on the strip to the color chart to get a reading of the presence of select contaminants in your drinking water
at home well water test kit

📇 Use a TDS Meter

What can you test for? 

TDS meters predominantly detect TDS, but some meters also test for other parameters and quality indicators, including: 

  • Total organic carbon (TOC)
  • Chemical oxygen demand (COD)
  • Electrical conductivity (EC)
  • Water temperature

The CDC and other health organizations say that you should test your water in your private well annually for TDS because it can serve as an indicator of drinking water quality. 

TDS measures the concentration of dissolved minerals, salts, and other substances in water. Elevated TDS levels may suggest* the presence of contaminants that can impact the taste, odor, and safety of your water.

Digital test meters that measure TOC and COD provide additional insights into water quality. If you’re planning to chlorinate your well water system, TOC is helpful to know because it gives a reading of the organic matter in the water (and chlorine reacts with organic matter, forming disinfection byproducts).

*A high TDS reading doesn’t guarantee that your water contains harmful contaminants, but it serves as a red flag. You can conduct more specific water quality tests to determine which dissolved solids are contributing to your water’s TDS, and if any of these are present in dangerous concentrations. 

Here’s how to use a digital test meter to get a reading of your well’s TDS and other parameters:

  1. Pour a sample of tap water into a clean cup
  2. Calibrate the digital reader according to the instructions
  3. Submerge the bottom of the reader into the water 
  4. Read the numbers on the screen
Using a handheld TDS meter to take TDS reading from glass of water

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.

🔎 What To Test For in Well Water

The exact contaminants you should test for in your well water depend on several factors, including your well location, age, and depth, and any known local contaminants or pollutants. 

However, a good starting point is to test your water well for the following contaminants: 

  • Arsenic, a naturally occurring compound that may cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cognitive development defects, and more
  • Nitrate, which has several health effects, and may inhibit the ability of the red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body (blue baby syndrome)
  • Coliform bacteria, a group of bacteria that often indicate the presence of harmful impurities and may indicate fecal contamination
  • Sulfate, which can cause sulfur, a rotten egg-smelling gas, when it reacts with oxygen
  • Chloride, sodium, iron and manganese, and other ions. These are typically aesthetic and can affect water’s taste and have plumbing effects
  • Fluoride, a naturally occurring impurity that may cause health problems related to the teeth and bones in high concentrations, especially in children
  • Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are associated with impaired immune system function, increased cancer risk, and damage to the liver
  • Lead, a heavy metal that’s a harmful accumulative toxin, meaning it can build up in the human body over time and poses a major health concern
  • Pesticides, herbicides and agricultural fertilizers, which have a range of possible health effects

Other contaminants you may need to test for, depending on your circumstances, include PFAS, viruses and other microorganisms, iron, radionuclides, and other chemicals, metals, organics, and inorganics. 

Tapscore water test result

📝 Understanding Your Test Results

When your results are in, you can interpret the data and decide how (if at all) you’d like to take action. 

If you’ve used an at-home water testing kit for your drinking water, determining what your test results show is pretty straightforward. Use your results to understand roughly what concentrations of certain contaminants were detected. 

You can arrange for more in-depth laboratory testing if this initial testing has brought up any water quality concerns.

If you get your water tested by a laboratory, you’ll receive an analytical report, listing the contaminants detected, and the exact concentrations in which they were recorded. You can see an example of one of these reports below.

The report may also include a “notes” section that tells you whether any specific impurities exceeded the maximum recommended limit; either the limit set by your local health department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA – see the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations established under the Safe Drinking Water Act), or guidelines recommended by the testing lab.

📅 How Often Should You Test Well Water?

According to the CDC and the National Ground Water Association, private well owners should get their well’s water tested for nitrates, total coliform bacteria, pH, total dissolved solids (TDS), and any other contaminants they suspect might be present in their water, on a once-yearly basis.

The CDC also recommends that you break your annual testing cycle and conduct an additional well water test if: 

  • The well water in your area is experiencing known problems
  • There’s been a change or disturbance in your local geology, such as flooding or earthquakes
  • You’ve undertaken a repair or maintenance work on your well and water system
  • Your water taste, odor, or color changes

You should also care for and maintain your well’s structure, with annual inspections by a licensed well contractor, to help reduce the risk of contamination in your well water system. 

Outside faucet connected to a water well

❔ FAQs

How much does well water testing cost?

If you’re looking at well water quality tests offered by laboratories, you can expect to pay at least $200 for an annual test for a group of common groundwater contaminants. Lab tests for individual contaminants start at around $30-$45, depending on the contaminant. DIY test kits are more affordable, usually costing around $20-$30 per test. Your local health department may offer free or subsidized water tests for common well water contaminants like coliform bacteria and nitrates.

What tests should be done on well water?

The exact tests that should be done on your well water depend on factors including your local geology, the depth of your well, and any known pollution issues in your area. The official guidance is to conduct an annual total coliform bacteria, nitrate, pH, and TDS test. You may also need to test for radiologicals, VOCs, other microorganisms, or certain metals and chemicals. 

What should I do if my test results indicate a health risk?

If your test results indicate the presence of a contaminant in potentially health-harmful concentrations, you can look into the best method of removing it from your water. For bacteria, you may need to shock your well, then install a UV water purifier to kill microorganisms in your water. For chemicals, metals, and other contaminants with health risks, you could install a reverse osmosis system to purify your drinking water. You may need to install a pre-filter to protect the RO membrane if your water is high in iron or hardness minerals. 

  • Michael Claybourn
    Water Treatment Specialist

    With 25+ years in water treatment, Michael Claybourn Sr. (WT Specialist 3) leads his company, Water of Texas LLC, in solving industrial, commercial, and residential water challenges. From filtration to ozone, he tackles any task, from initial consultation to equipment maintenance. His passion, honed in nuclear power and Culligan of Brazosport, fuels his commitment to delivering pure, healthy water for every client.

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