How To Test Well Water? [Can You Do it For Free?]

Why Learn Well Water Testing?

A variety of contaminants are tested for in public water systems on a regular basis. If you have a private well, however, you are responsible for conducting regular testing. Well construction inspection and improvements, such as repairing a crack in a casing, are critical steps in ensuring the safety of your well water.

The water in all private wells comes from a groundwater source. If the groundwater near your home is polluted or contaminated, it stands to reason that your drinking water will be as well. To avoid illness and cosmetic issues caused by common well water contaminants, you should test your water on a regular basis.

Understanding the requirements for testing your private well water can be a little perplexing. Certain contaminants necessitate more frequent testing than others. In this guide, I’ll explain how you, the homeowner, should test your well water, how often, and for what.

Water Quality Indicators

Total Coliforms

Coliform bacteria are microbes found in warm-blooded animals’ digestive systems, soil, plants, and surface water. These microbes do not typically cause illness; however, because microbes that cause disease are difficult to detect in water, “total coliforms” are tested instead.

If the total coliform count is high, it is very likely that harmful germs such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites will be found in the water as well.

Fecal Coliforms/Escherichia coli (E. coli)

Fecal coliforms are a type of total coliform bacteria. Millions of fecal coliforms are found in the feces (or stool) and digestive systems of humans and warm-blooded animals. E. coli belongs to the fecal coliform group and can be tested for on its own. Fecal coliforms and E. coli are typically non-pathogenic.

A positive test, on the other hand, may indicate that feces and harmful germs have made their way into your water system. These pathogenic bacteria can cause diarrhea, dysentery, and hepatitis. It is critical to distinguish between the tests for the common and usually harmless WQI E. coli and the test for the more dangerous germ E. coli O157:H7.


The pH level of your water indicates how acidic or basic it is. The pH level of the water can affect how it looks and tastes. If the pH of your water is too low or too high, it can damage your pipes, cause heavy metals such as lead to leak into the water, and eventually make you sick.

What To Test For in Well Water?

A variety of contaminants are commonly found in private wells. They are as follows:


Arsenic is a naturally occurring compound found in ground water that can cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cognitive development defects, and other health problems.


Nitrate, also known as nitrates, is a common impurity found in ground water. Nitrate contamination is especially dangerous when consumed by babies and infants, as it can impair the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body.

Coliform Bacteria

If your water contains coliform bacteria, this indicates the presence of harmful impurities that are potentially dangerous to drink. Coliform bacteria is commonly found in animal feces. Later in this guide, I’ll explain how to test well water for bacteria in your area.


Another common impurity that is found in wells, and when it reacts with oxygen, it produces sulfur, a rotten egg-smelling gas. When people consume an excessive amount of sulfate, it can cause problems in the gastrointestinal system.


Ion contamination in wells can take many forms, including chloride, sodium, iron, and manganese. These are typically cosmetic and can affect the taste of water, but when consumed in large quantities, they may pose a health risk.


The presence of a high level of fluoride in water may cause a number of health issues related to teeth and bones, particularly in children and young adults.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, can cause a variety of harmful health effects, including impaired immune system function, increased cancer risk, and liver damage. Which Volatile Organic Compounds to test for are determined by where you live.


Lead is found most commonly in old municipal pipes, but it can also enter groundwater from industrial facilities. There is no such thing as a “safe” level of lead because it is a harmful accumulative toxin, which means it can accumulate in the human body over time.


Research conducted by state and federal agencies in Illinois indicates a low likelihood of finding pesticides above levels of concern in groundwater as a result of normal farm field use.

If pesticides have been mixed, loaded, or stored near your well, and you have a sand point well or a large diameter dug or bored well, you should consult with your local health department to determine whether you should test for those pesticides.

Long-term exposure to some pesticides at levels above health standards may result in a variety of health effects, including liver, kidney, adrenal gland, and nervous system damage. For more information on pesticide use, contact your local University of Illinois Extension office.


This naturally occurring radioactive element is primarily found in deep rocks, soil, and groundwater in the northern third of Illinois. Radium has been found in private wells and can only be identified through water testing. Long-term radium exposure at levels above safe levels may increase the risk of bone cancer, leukemia, aplastic anemia, and lymphoma.

To find out if any of these contaminants are a problem in your area, contact your local health department or the EPA.

Please keep in mind that if your test results indicate the presence of germs or chemicals in your water, you should contact your local health department for assistance in interpreting the results.

How to Test Well Water?

There are two common methods to test your well water: obtaining a drinking water test from a state-certified laboratory and using an at-home water test kit.

Professional Laboratory Testing

Well water testing from a certified laboratory is the most thorough (and expensive), and the results will tell you exactly what’s in your water and to what level.

If you suspect that your water contains contaminants, you can send a sample and pay for specific impurities to be tested for, such as iron or bacteria. You could also arrange for a once-yearly test that covers all of the common groundwater contaminants in your community to save time.

Certified testing can provide you with information on the quality of your drinking water and which impurities are causing the most problems.

Licensed labs can assist you in determining the best water treatment solution and, once installed, provide peace of mind that you are successfully protecting your family’s health. As soon as the testing is completed, a lab representative will contact you with your total test results, and you will have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have.

At Home Test Kit

How can I have my well water tested at home? At-home test kits are widely available, simple to use, and can provide you with an immediate indication of the quality of your drinking water. To use this kit, take a water sample from your faucet and follow the simple instructions provided.

Typically, the instructions will instruct you to immerse a test strip in the sample for several seconds. After removing the sample and waiting the recommended amount of time (usually three minutes), the strip should change color to indicate the quality of your water.

The strip can then be compared to a chart included in the kit. Based on what the kit tests for, you should be able to determine whether your water contains nitrate, total coliforms, iron, lead, and other contaminants.

Water test kits are useful because they offer a low-cost alternative to professional testing. They are not, however, very thorough; you cannot guarantee that the information they provide is error-free, and they will not provide you with exact quantities of contaminants in your water and whether these contaminants are above recommended standards.

However, the information from your results will tell you whether your water has issues with specific impurities, so you’ll have reason to be concerned if you see unusually high levels of a particular impurity, allowing you to take action if necessary.

Why should I test my well water?

Testing your well water quality on a regular basis is an important part of maintaining a safe and dependable source. The test results enable you to address the specific issues of a water supply in a proper manner. This will assist in ensuring that the water source is properly protected from potential contamination and that appropriate treatment is selected and operating properly.

It is critical to test the suitability of your well water quality for the intended use, whether livestock watering, chemical spraying, or drinking water. This will help you make informed choices about your water and how you use it.

When to Have Your Well Water Tested?

Check your well at least once a year to make sure there are no mechanical issues, and test it once a year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels. If you suspect other contaminants, test for them as well.

Spend time identifying potential issues, as these tests can be costly. The best place to begin is to speak with a local expert, such as the local health department, about potential contaminants in your area. You should also have your well tested if any of the following conditions exist:

  • In your area, there are known issues with well water
  • You have had problems near your well (i.e., flooding, land disturbances, and nearby waste disposal sites)
  • You replace or repair any component of your well system
  • You notice a difference in the quality of the water (i.e., taste, color, odor)

Where Can I Get My Well Water Tested?

Contact your local or state Department of Health and Human Services. They will be able to point you in the direction of a licensed laboratory in your area. Furthermore, many communities host free screenings known as “Test Your Well” events. Begin in your own neighborhood.

How Much Does It Cost to Have Your Well Water Tested?

If you look at laboratory tests, you can expect to pay at least $200 for an annual test. This may differ from lab to lab. Some laboratories may offer cost-effective packages to test for a group of common impurities in a well source, but in general, the more impurities you test for, the more money you’ll have to spend.

At-home tests are much less expensive, typically costing around $20 per test. Of course, these tests aren’t as accurate or comprehensive, and they shouldn’t be relied on solely for testing well sources.

What Should I Do If the Contaminant Levels in My Water Are Determined to Be “Unsafe”?

Water testing is an excellent way to ensure that your tap water is safe – and to act quickly if it is not. There are numerous methods for removing impurities, so before you begin looking for a filtered water system, you should first understand what you need to filter out.

UV systems and chlorine injection units, which remove live pathogens; water softeners, which remove hardness minerals, iron, manganese, and sulfur; and whole-home well filters, which remove impurities commonly found in well sources, are among the best high-performance treatment systems for a well. All of these can provide clean water through their respective processes.

Reverse osmosis is another universal treatment option. These water systems can remove nearly every contaminant found in water testing, including bacteria, copper, nitrates, VOCs, pesticides, herbicides, hardness, chlorine, industrial metals, environmental waste, live microorganisms, and so on, ensuring clean, odor-free, pure drinking water.

Can I completely avoid impurities in my well?

Given that you’re using a natural water source, it’s highly unlikely. All you can do is continue to care for and maintain the structure of your well to prevent impurities from entering through cracks and holes.

Your federal authority may be able to provide more information on how to reduce your risk of well contamination, particularly if you live near a septic system or a farm, but it is usually a case of treating the problem as it arises rather than attempting to prevent it.

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