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How to Test Well Water


Water. It’s part of almost everything you do. Cleaning, cooking, bathing, drinking — water is there every step of the way. Naturally, that means you’d probably like to know what’s actually in your glass or bathtub.

Public water systems in the U.S. and Canada are required to align with federal drinking water standards and regulations and also must deliver annual water quality reports to help you understand what’s in your water. A private well, on the other hand, has no such requirement — which means you’re responsible for testing your own water and managing your quality.

But how do you test well water? While at-home water testing kits are available, this might not be the most effective way to handle private well testing. Instead, you’ll likely want an expert who can provide a free, in-home test and an option for more comprehensive laboratory testing – and then help you interpret the results.

Here’s what to know about private well water, including how to test it.

How to Test Your Well Water

Most at-home water testing kits are relatively affordable and easy to use. They involve taking a water sample from your tap or using a test strip, then following instructions to check for certain bacteria and other contaminants.*

Unfortunately, the test results aren’t always simple to decipher. They also don’t check for all possible bacteria and contaminant types. Simply put, these testing kits only give you a small part of your much larger water quality story.

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about taking water samples and reading test results on your own. With a free, in-home water test and consultation from Culligan®, you can just sit back and relax. Your local Culligan water expert knows how to identify well water issues, including some that may be more common depending on your geographical location. They can also determine how often your well water should be tested.

Typically, Culligan and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise this water testing schedule:

  • Yearly: Check for coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids and pH levels
  • Every two to three years: Check for tannins, hardness, chloride, sulfate, iron and copper

Testing should also be conducted any time you:

  • Notice changes in your water quality
  • Replace or repair any part of your system
  • Identify problems near your well due to issues like flooding, land disturbances or waste disposal

The EPA also suggests that well water users test for nitrates if any household members are pregnant or nursing, or if there are any young infants in the home.

Identifying Well Water Problems

Some of these well water problems have obvious symptoms — poor taste, bad odor, cloudy appearance, residue and hard water stains. But other aspects of problem water don’t necessarily make themselves known. For example, arsenic, copper, lead, E.coli, radon and other microscopic bacteria are virtually impossible to find on your own — which is one more reason it’s important to have your well water tested regularly.

Culligan’s free, in-home water test retrieves immediate insights about your water quality, including some of the water problems mentioned above. Based on your water issues and geographical area, we may recommend that your water undergo more extensive analytical testing in our IL EPA-certified lab to uncover other hard-to-identify water issues. The water-testing experts in the Culligan lab have a deep understanding of the problems specific to well water and can test your water accordingly.

Once your water has been appropriately analyzed, your local Culligan expert will discuss the results and recommend the right well water treatment solution for your home.

Why Test Well Water?

Because water is a matter of public health, regular testing and treatment are part of municipal water systems. However, water from a private well doesn’t all come from the same source or pass through the same facilities. This water also isn’t evaluated by public health agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which sets limits on more than 90 contaminants that could be present in drinking water, and the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water (CDW), which develops drinking water quality guidelines in Canada.

This all means one thing: Regular well water testing should be on your home’s maintenance checklist, just like clearing gutters or cleaning the chimney.

Well Water Basics

Whether you’re moving to a location with well water for the first time or have been using a well for years, it never hurts to brush up on the basics. That’s especially true when it comes time for water testing, as a good understanding of well water will help you get more value from your test results.

Here are a few important things to know about well water:

What Is Well Water?

Well water is often groundwater, which is water held underground in natural “tanks” made of permeable rock. These tanks are called aquifers, and they’re refilled when rainwater filters down through layers of earth.

Download Now: Your FREE Guide to Cleaner, Safer Well Water

Although rainwater can potentially pick up bacteria and other impurities, it’s naturally cleaned to some degree as it seeps down into the aquifer. However, you should keep in mind that the water supply may require additional filtration with a well water filter.

How Are Wells Constructed?

Wells are constructed in different ways depending on the depth of the aquifer. According to the EPA, there are three basic types:

  • Dug: Dug wells could be created with a shovel and a lot of elbow grease. They’re best for aquifers that are close to the surface.
  • Driven: This well type is built by driving pipes into the ground. It targets aquifers between 30 and 50 feet underground.
  • Drilled: To create drilled wells, you’d need heavy-duty equipment — but they can reach aquifers thousands of feet under the surface.

Can You Drink Well Water?

Wells can be a source of safe drinking water — but first, water quality testing is in order. Remember, not all bacteria and contaminant types have obvious symptoms, so you shouldn’t rely on guesswork to decide whether to trust your drinking water.

Common Well Water Issues

You know that private wells source from groundwater. But what does that mean for water quality?

Well, as precipitation passes through soil and rocks, minerals may accumulate — as well as other potential contaminants from nearby sources. As pipes and plumbing transport this water, other substances may enter the water supply, too.

These issues can lead to changes that affect the taste, odor or appearance of well water. They may even cause water hardness. Hard water can produce buildup on plumbing fixtures, leave spots on dishes and even impact the performance and longevity of water-using appliances.

In fact, hard water is especially common in private well systems. While this issue is a possibility for municipal water users, those relying on wells have to take extra care to look out for signs of hard water.

Do You Have Hard Water? Download Your FREE Hard Water Solutions Handbook

Another issue somewhat unique to wells is their sensitivity to nearby events. Pay attention to new potential pollution sources in your area — for example, agricultural or industrial changes — as these can impact the groundwater, natural filtration and more. Testing regularly will help you pinpoint when changes occurred, making it easier to figure out what may have caused an emerging issue.

Other potential well water issues include nitrates, lead, arsenic, total coliform bacteria and more.

What Happens After Your Well Water Test?

When you have the test results from your deep dive into well water quality, you may wonder what happens next. Depending on what issue you’re facing, you could take one or more of the following steps:

  • If you have hard water, you should research water softeners. Well water softeners reduce the presence of minerals like calcium and magnesium that cause hard water, leaving your dishes sparkling, your shower walls cleaner and your hair and skin feeling better.
  • If your well is allowing contaminants into your water supply, a whole house water filtration system can help. After being installed where your main water line enters your house, these systems can reduce iron, sulfur and other elements in your water.
  • If drinking water is your main concern, you may prefer a reverse osmosis system. These systems typically work under your sink to reduce the presence of contaminants and make tap water safer and purer-tasting.

Need to Diagnose Your Water Problems? Try Our Water Solutions Finder

Get Your Well Water Tested Today

Whether you’ve never had a water test or haven’t had one in a while, now is the perfect time to jump in. Our in-home water tests can provide results in 30 minutes in most cases — and your Culligan expert will be ready to explain every detail.

Schedule your free, in-home water test and consultation to start taking control of your drinking water quality.

*Contaminants may not be present in your water.

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