Are Home Improvement Store Water Tests Good Enough?

Have you been thinking about checking your water quality? If you have, you may have been considering one of the tests offered by your local home improvement stores. Maybe you’ve noticed that some of these tests are even free. Whether you are trying to test your community water supply or your well water, are these tests your best choices? 

Maybe not. Let’s look at what results these tests commonly offer. 

The Free Test

One large home improvement store states that its free water quality test looks for “hard-water-causing minerals and other contaminants.” A CBS News investigation into this test reported that this water test only looks for “mineral content, and is not designed to detect contaminants.” 

This test won’t tell you much about any pesticides, toxic metals or other contaminants you don’t want in your household water. Its primary purpose may be simply to provide leads for water filtration systems sold by the store. Add a filtration system that is designed only to remove this high mineral content and you can still have a water supply that contains toxic substances.  

Cheap Home Improvement Store Tests

So how about the tests you can buy from these stores? They range in price from $7.50 to $40.00. A low-end test may look for these common contaminants or qualities: 

  • Total alkalinity
  • Total chlorine
  • Total hardness
  • Free chlorine
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Iron bacteria
  • pH
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites

What about the $40 test? One of these tests provides 14 results, including: 

  • Total coliform bacteria
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Mercury 
  • Zinc
  • Sulfates
  • Total chlorine
  • Hardness
  • pH
  • Total dissolved solids

Before you invest in one of these tests, consider how inexpensive tests are carried out. All you do is expose test strips to the water and see if these substances are present at sufficient concentration to change the color of the test strip. But you can’t know how high or low that concentration is. High enough to be toxic to humans or not? There’s no quantification available with these tests. 

Toxic Industrial Chemicals in Your Water? 

Ever see the movie Erin Brockovich? This is the movie that made many people aware for the first time of the dangers of a contaminated water supply. In the movie, the chemical causing a high number of cancer cases was hexavalent chromium or chromium-6, found in the water of Hinkley, California. This is a chemical used in chromium plating, leather tanning, and the manufacture of glass, paints and inks. 

When found in drinking water in very small quantities, it can cause stomach and intestinal cancer as well as harm to liver and reproductive systems. 

After the incident that inspired the movie, the State of California recommended a limit of 0.06 parts per billion (ppb) of hexavalent chromium in drinking water. Later, the Environmental Working Group investigated the drinking water of 35 American cities. The water in 31 of these cities was found to contain hexavalent chromium. Highest levels were present in Norman, Oklahoma (12.9 ppb); Honolulu, Hawaii (2 ppb); Riverside, California (1.69 ppb). More monitoring between 2013 and 2019 found hexavalent chromium in the drinking water of all 50 states.  

These inexpensive tests will not alert you to dangerous chemicals such as hexavalent chromium. 

Rocket Fuel in Your Water? 

As another example, consider perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel, flares and fireworks. This chemical, when found in drinking water, harms the function of the thyroid. When a fetus or child is exposed to perchlorate, it can damage the child’s cognitive development or fetal growth. It is also a hormone disruptor. But perchlorate has been found in nine states, in the water provided by utilities serving 12 million people. 

Chemicals and other toxins can travel a long distance, so knowing that your water supply is located away from manufacturing or industry is no guarantee of purity. Perchlorate was found in the Colorado River in 1997. Its source was traced back to a fireworks manufacturer in Henderson, Nevada—a location at least seven miles away from the part of the river where this chemical was detected. 

No Substitute for Proper Water Testing and Filtration

There’s no way to know what’s in your water other than by acquiring a water test from a professional testing laboratory. Once you get a thorough test done of your water and then install a filtration system that will remove whatever is harmful in your water, that’s when you can be confident that your water is safe. A cheap home improvement store test will not provide that comfort. 

At ETR Laboratories, we offer a variety of water tests that can help you achieve this peace of mind. Once you get a test done, we will help you select the right filtration system for the water coming to your home. There’s no extra charge for this service, it comes with the test. Check out our water tests now.