7 Ways to Tell if Water Is Contaminated Without Lab Testing

The best way to tell if your well water is contaminated is with accurate lab testing. But even before you get your water tested by a professional lab, there are clues to water contamination that you can use to detect problems that deserve further attention. 

If you see any of these signs in your water or home, then you can follow up with accurate professional testing. The results of that test will tell you if your health is at risk and what type of filtering or water treatment you need to eliminate these contaminants. 

Fast Clues to Water Contamination

  1. Colored Water: Of course, pure water should have no color at all. Any of the following colors point out substances you want to remove from your drinking water:
  • Blue or green: These colors indicate the presence of copper particles that mostly enter your water from plumbing equipment. Too much copper increases the risk of kidney damage and kidney cancer. 
  • Yellow or brown: These colors are picked up from peaty or swampy soil. The water may not be harmful but it may not be the most pleasant water to drink. 
  • Black or yellow: This coloration indicates that iron bacteria may be present. Iron bacteria is not itself harmful but it can be a hint that E. coli or Salmonella are also present.
  • Red or brown: Iron or manganese can give your water red or brown coloration. These metals may not be harmful at low levels but this water will stain objects in the household. Algae and other microorganisms can also create a reddish tint to water. Ingesting water with algae or microorganisms can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and headaches

2. Metallic Taste: This odd taste can reveal the presence of mercury, lead, arsenic or iron. All these metals accumulate in the body and so can reach toxic levels, resulting in fatigue and harm to brain, lungs, kidneys, liver and blood.

3. Smell: A turpentine or chemical smell can indicate contamination with xylenes or MTBE. Xylenes are industrial chemicals with a sweet smell. Even low exposures to xylenes can cause headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. MTBE was a gasoline additive used until 2005. It can still be found in drinking water. Exposure to MTBE can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and throat irritation. Chlorine smell or taste may be the result of disinfection but too much chlorine remaining in water can have many harmful effects including hormone disruption and reduced fertility. 

4. Cloudy appearance: The dissolved minerals in hard water will make water cloudy but the water may not be harmful to health. However, it can very expensively harm appliances and plumbing fixtures. Metals or bacteria in the water can also make it cloudy. If cloudy water also has any of the colors listed above, that may indicate contamination that is harmful to health. Cloudy water can also indicate the presence of sediment that may have brought harmful bacteria along with it. 

5. Stains on appliances or plumbing: Acidic water can leach copper or lead out of plumbing fixtures, resulting in green stains. A glass of this water may have a blue-green tint. Red stains can result from rust.

6. Corrosion: If you notice some of your plumbing equipment developing corrosion, that indicates that you have acidic water. Acidic water may also carry lots of calcium and magnesium which will gradually narrow the diameter of plumbing pipes and reduce water pressure.

7. Persistent gastrointestinal upsets in the home: This can be a sign of E. coli, Campylobacter or Leptospira bacteria in the water, or Cryptosporidium or Giardia parasites, or metals. All these substances can cause nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps and much more. Naturally occurring metals like antimony and copper can also cause gastrointestinal upsets.

These Clues Are Just the First Step in Detecting Well Water Contamination

These clues obtained from sight, smell or taste are only the first step. There can be hundreds of other contaminants in your well water that are not as easy to spot. To really know what is in your water, you need a professional water test from a reputable lab that specializes in water testing. Many very harmful chemicals or minerals have no taste and can’t be seen. 

A very smart move is to test your well water once each year or more often if you notice the water quality change (as above!) or if there is work done on the well. The very first time you test a well, get the most comprehensive test you can. Then you can use a simpler test annually after that. Getting into this routine protects all the people and pets who consume your well water. For help choosing the right test, call ETR Labs today at (800) 344-9977.