How Do I Know If My Drinking Water Is Safe?

Medically Reviewed on 11/29/2021

What should you test your drinking water for?

If you are drinking from a public source of water, the federal, state, or tribal jurisdiction responsible for it is required to tell you whether or not it has been contaminated. You know if your drinking water is safe by testing it for dissolved solids, VOCs, pesticides, and other compounds.
If you are drinking from a public source of water, the federal, state, or tribal jurisdiction responsible for it is required to tell you whether or not it has been contaminated. You know if your drinking water is safe by testing it for dissolved solids, VOCs, pesticides, and other compounds.

Public water in the United States is heavily regulated. Even if you are an owner of a private well, you are still required to keep your water contaminant free. In 1974, congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure its citizens' safe water. Since then, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked to keep water supplies clean and safe to drink.

If you are drinking from a public source of water, the federal, state, or tribal jurisdiction responsible for it is required to tell you whether or not it has been contaminated. Typically, you will receive a yearly report from your water company that will let you know what contaminants, if any, are found in the water. They will also tell you what kinds of health risks those contaminants may possess.

If you are drinking water from a private source, you must ensure your water is safe. Even if you feel your water supply is clean and could not possibly be contaminated, you must test it regularly.

If you or your family have concerns about your water, you may want to test your drinking water or get it tested. Signs you might want to test your water are:

  • You or your family experience illness.
  • There is a brown color in your water.
  • There is an odor in your water.
  • You have stained clothing.
  • Your water fixtures are stained.
  • Your water supply is close to your septic tank or plumbing.

Some of the things you should test for are:

Dissolved solids and pH levels. You should test for these two things once a year. This is especially true if you have new pipes, pumps, or well casing. 

Nitrate. Testing for nitrate is a great thing to do once a year but is best, especially if you expect a new baby at home. You should test before your baby comes and once during the first six months of your baby living at your house. It is best to do this in the spring or summer following rain. 

Sulfate, chloride, iron, manganese hardness, and corrosion. If there are any apparent differences in your water’s taste, smell, or color, test for these contaminants. Otherwise, these should all be tested every three years or if you suspect any sort of interference with your water drinking safety at all. 

Volatile organic compounds. Tests for volatile organic compounds are a general test if you think you have any sort of chemical contaminant in your water. Testing for these can be very broad, so you should attempt to narrow them down. Local water experts can help you figure out what exactly to test for. 

Coliform bacteria. This is usually tested for after you or your family have repeatedly been experiencing gastrointestinal issues. 

RadonThis test is done if you have a radon-rich environment or radon is found in high amounts in your air. 

Hardness. If your water leaves soap residue or doesn’t allow your soaps to lather, you should have it tested for hardness. 

Iron, copper, manganese. This test is performed if there is an excessive amount of residue left on your laundry or plumbing fixtures. 

Hydrogen sulfide, corrosion, and metals. You might want to test for this if you notice your water has an irregular taste or smell. 

Color or detergents. If your water is frothy or murky looking, you should test for those contaminants. 

Corrosion and pH levels. This test is typically ordered if your water fixtures tend to erode or misfunction often. 

Pesticides. Places near agricultural sites should have their water regularly tested for pesticide contaminants. 

Metals, ph, and corrosion. If there is a lot of mining near where your water comes from, you should test it for these things often. 

Chloride, sodium, barium, and strontium. These contaminants are often associated with water sources near gas drilling sites.

VOC, dissolved solids, pH, sulfate, chloride, and metals. These tests are ordered for people near dumps, junkyards, landfills, factories, or dry cleaning facilities.

Chloride, TDS, and sodium. This water test is good to get if your water has a salty taste or you live near the ocean, or a salted roadway.

How should test my water?

If you want to test for bacteria or nitrates, you can always test for them with your county’s health department. For other testing to evaluate your water's drinking safety, you can always send your water out to a state-certified laboratory near you. Usually, the lab will provide their sample containers.

To safely test your water, follow the lab's instructions exactly. They will have tips for how to preserve and collect the water. Depending on what you are testing for, you may have to perform different tests. Sometimes, the laboratory will send a trained technician to collect the samples for you.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/29/2021
References
SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Drinking Water FAQ."

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): "Home Water Testing."