The Comprehensive Guide to Testing Your Well Water

If you live on a property where your water supply is brought to you from a deep underground aquifer, you probably know that the same regulations that regulate city water supplies don’t apply to you. This may set your mind wondering about what exactly is living in that confounded hole in the ground that supplies you with water and more importantly, is it completely safe to drink?

All wells will be obtaining their water supplies from the same place and that is the underground aquifers where water collects below the surface of the ground. Because this water has travelled through the crust of the earth before collecting down there, if you live on contaminated ground or around a large urban area, this water may not be clean as it should be.

To avoid risks of illness and other unpleasant issues that can come from contaminated well water, the water in your private well should be tested on a regular basis. This can be a little confusing if you are not sure how it is done, but it is actually pretty straightforward once you have a little direction.

To help you gain a better understanding of what is in your well water, you will need to test it properly. In the following guide you will find all you need to know about why, when, how and how often you should be testing your well water.

Why is Well Water Testing Important?

To fully appreciate the importance of testing and possibly treating your well water, let’s first take a look at what urban water supplies must go through before they reach your nearest tap.

Water that is taken from large reservoirs is treated with chlorine. This powerful substance will disinfect the water and kill off many harmful bacteria like coliform bacteria. It will then pass through larger filters that remove heavy metals, toxic chemicals and all manner of other pollutants.

Of course, city water supplies do contain certain contaminants but generally speaking there are regulations that keep these contaminants at acceptable levels.

Now let’s look at well water.

Private wells receive their water from untreated ground sources. These may contain sources of water that are relatively pure and clean and they may contain pollutants best kept out of the body. Drinking water that is laden with toxins, heavy metals or bacteria is a recipe for some very unpleasant and even fatal complications.

For example, if you live near an agriculturally developed region, your groundwater may be affected by coliform bacteria which comes from water washed through animal feces. Nitrates and other toxic chemicals used in agricultural efforts will also be present in your ground water.

Groundwater is also susceptible to many other natural and human caused catastrophes. Leaking septic tanks, urban and agricultural runoff as well as seepage from landfills can also leak into the ground and poison the water.

All of these situations can potentially affect your water supply and this can make things very unpleasant in the short and long term. Because these occurrences can also happen quite suddenly, it is smart to have a plan to test your well water so you know exactly what it is you are drinking.

Regular testing will allow you to track the content of your well water over a course of time and this can give you a clearer perspective on what is affecting your water supply and how you can provide a remedy. Furthermore, testing your water is the only way to know for sure that any water treatment systems you have applied to your well water system are actually working.

What to Test For in Well Water?

Wells can become affected by a wide range of commonly occurring contaminants. These include:

Arsenic — This is a naturally occurring compound that is commonly found in groundwater supplies. Ingesting arsenic can cause cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and eventually death. It can even cause congenital defects.

Nitrate — nitrates and nitrates are also common in a subterranean water supply and are often caused by agricultural runoff. While these shouldn’t pose a serious issue for adults and full-grown children, nitrates have been linked to infant mortality.

Coliform Bacteria — water contaminated coliform bacteria can be especially risky to drink. Coliform bacteria in themselves are not harmful, but their presence in a groundwater supply is indicative of the presence of other bacteria that are potentially dangerous and far more serious.

Sulfate — sulfate is another impurity that is commonly found in a groundwater supply and can imbue your water supply with the smell of rotten eggs. In larger quantities, sulfates can also cause issues in the gastrointestinal tract.

Ions — chromium, iron, manganese, and sodium are all examples of positively charged particles, or ions, that are commonly found in a water supply. These contaminants can discolor a freshwater supply and even cause health risks if present in very high quantities.


The presence of high amounts of fluoride in water supplies has contributed to a considerable amount of health problems in the teeth and bones.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Also called VOCs, volatile organic compounds, can also present some serious health risks to the health and body. VOCs have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, liver damage, impaired immune function.


Lead is another important heavy metal that must be identified in any water supply as it is an especially toxic element and can cause the organs to shut down. Lead is characterized by its cumulative effects, which means that it will stay in the body and cause more damage over time.

Agricultural Chemicals

Then there is an extensive range of herbicides and pesticides used by agricultural developments that can seriously affect the water supply. These chemicals are sprayed liberally far and wide and then washed into the ground with the rain where they collect in the ground water shelf and bring poison back to humans.

How Often Should I Test My Well Water?

As a rule of thumb, well water should be tested at least once a year. But if you want to be well-informed, you will take a closer look at the state-by-state recommendations on what to test for at different times of the year.

For example, if local testing has revealed an increasing level of arsenic in the local region, it may be a good idea to test for the presence of this deadly substance as fast as possible. You will find copious amounts of information on the subject posted on the website of your local water authority.

But no matter what you do or don’t hear from your local water authority, as the person who will suffer from the effects of any contaminants in your water supply, I highly recommend you test regularly for coliform bacteria, arsenic, lead, and any other dangerous contaminants you would rather not be consuming on a regular basis.

How to Test Your Well Water

There are two common ways to have the water in your well tested: have a “drinking water test” performed on your water supply by the local water authority. Purchasing an at-home test kit.

Professional Laboratory Testing

As you may imagine, having your water tested in a laboratory by skilled professionals with professional-grade equipment will not only provide the most accurate description of the compounds in your water, but will cost considerably more than doing this yourself with a DIY kit.

You can send a water sample to the lab along with a list of specific impurities to be identified and quantified. This would be especially important if you are concerned about some specific types of contaminants.

Certified testing can provide you with information on your drinking water quality, and of which impurities are posing the biggest problems. Then, once you have installed the proper water treatment product to address any contaminants in the water supply, you can have your treated water retested to ensure that the implements you have implemented are functioning according to their intended purpose.

At home Test Kit

Then, there is the at-home test kit which is also widely available and very easy to use. In a short time, you will have a fairly-accurate indication of what to expect in your water supply.

To use this kit all you need to do is gather water from the source and follow the very basic instructions provided with the kit.

This usually involves submerging the strip in the water being tested for a certain amount of time and then allowing the strip a few more minutes to fully register the results before. Once the time has passed, you will be able to identify the quality of your water by comparing different colors on the strip to codes provided. If you suffer from CVD, you may need some help here.

An At-Home test kit is a great idea testing things like nitrate, iron, lead, total coliform bacteria and other contaminants.

At home water tests are a convenient way to test the quality of your water supply in between professional testing. But it is important to know that they are not as thorough and gambling with health is never a good idea. Even though they can provide basic information like the presence of sulfate, they can’t indicate if it is above or below what is widely considered “acceptable”.

But the information from your at home testing kit will reveal to you whether your well has a problem with any specific level of impurities. This will allow you to get professional testing and begin looking for the best way to treat your water so that its quality is improved.

Understanding Your Test Results

If you have used an at-home test kit you will find that your results are all pretty easy-to-understand.

The test strip will have a specific set of squares that will change to specific colors once proper reactions have occurred. Then you simply compare these colors to the color code provided with the kit, and you will have a read out of your water quality.

If you have sent your water to be tested at a laboratory, you will be given a complete lab read out of the pollutants of your water with quantities and further information.

This will often be presented by a table with a list of pollutants in one column and their respective results and units in the following two columns. The analysis will also come with any specific notes on levels that exceed what is considered safe for drinking.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Does Well Water Testing Cost?

If you are looking through tests that are offered by a professional lab, you should expect to pay upwards of $200. This price may vary from lab to lab and some labs may offer special offers. But as a rule of thumb, the more impurities you are having examined, the more you can expect to pay.

Then there are at home tests which will cost about $20. As mentioned, these tests are not quite as accurate or comprehensive as the professional tests.

What Should I Do When Contaminant Levels Come Back As “Unsafe”?

First, breathe a sigh of relief because you found out. Now you can begin taking action to improve the quality of your water. For example, if you have found that coliform bacteria levels are at an unhealthy high, consider treating your water with UV/RO (Ultraviolet/Reverse Osmosis) filtration. Of course, there are many different ways to return unhealthy water to healthy standards, but it all begins with knowing exactly what is in the water supply.

How Long Will Lab Results Take?

This depends on the amount of work at the lab. Ask about fast results packages and other promotions. Typically, the testing alone will take two standard work days.

Can I Avoid Impurities In My Well Entirely?

It is unlikely that your well water will be 100% pure H2O molecules because this rarely exists in nature. But you should know that not all impurities are hazardous to one’s health. The results from your testing will provide the information you need to devise a plan to supply your property with pure water.

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