Educational Consumer Tips

Water Quality

Author: Better Business Bureau

The question of whether or not to have your water tested is a serious one that concerns the health of you and your family. In addition to illness, a variety of less serious problems such as taste, color, odor and staining of clothes or fixtures are symptoms of water quality problems. But not everyone needs to test their water and it is impractical and unnecessary to test to test for all possible contaminants.

Although most households using water from public sources should have few concerns, potentially harmful contaminants have been found in some water supplies. If you have serious questions about the safety of your drinking water, you can take the suggestions described in this general advice to have your water tested and, if necessary, buy a water treatment unit. 


Municipal water supply systems perform regular tests and will provide water quality reports upon request. If these reports do not meet your need, or if you have an individual supply, you should have your water tested if any of the following situations arise: 

1) Recurrent gastrointestinal illness 
2) Household plumbing contains lead 
3) Radon in indoor air or region is radon rich 
4) Scaly residue, soaps don't lather 
5) Water softener needed to treat hardness 
6) Stained plumbing fixtures exist 
7) Objectionable taste or smell 
8) Water appears cloudy 
9) Odor of gasoline or fuel oil nearby 
10) Salty taste and seawater or salted road nearby 


1) Private testing laboratories are listed in the telephone book. Call the state lab certification officer to make sure they are certified by the state health department. 

2) County and state health laboratories and departments of health. 

3) Water treatment companies may offer certain tests in your home for free. 


*"Free" Home Water Tests: Offers to test the tap water in your home for free are almost always part of a sales promotion. More important, in-home testing does not provide the specific,in-depth analysis that is required to determine if your water needs treatment and what kind of system is suited to your needs. For example, in-home water tests may only check for acidity/alkalinity, water hardness, iron, manganese, and color, but none of these is harmful. Avoid dealing with salespersons who tell you strictly on the basis of their in-home testing that your drinking water is polluted, contaminated, or bad for your family's health.  

*Be Wary of Claims of Government Approval: If a salesman claims that water testing methods or equipment are endorsed by the government, those claims are false. The government does not endorse water tests or water treatment products. If you see an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number on a water treatment product label, it merely means that the manufacturer has registered its product with the EPA. 

*Determine the Quality of Your Water Independently: To Learn about the quality of your water, ask your local water superintendent for the latest test results of the public water supply and then compare them to state and federal standards available from your state government and the EPA. If you use well water, ask your local or state health department if it offers free water testing. Most will for bacterial contaminants. 

*Arrange For An Independent Test: If you are concerned about the results you got from your local water superintendent or are worried about possible contaminants in your water supply, have your water tested by a private laboratory that is certified by your state health department or environmental agency. To find out where you can get a list of state certified laboratories, call the EPA's Safe Water Drinking Hotline at 1-800-426-4791. When having your water tested, deal with the laboratory directly. Some fraudulent sellers ask for a sample of your water to send to an independent laboratory for testing, and then alter or misrepresent the laboratory's test results. 

*Decide What You Need: If tests on your water indicate problems, the next step is to determine what type of system you need to treat the water. This can be a difficult decision because there can be a wide variety of water treatment devices on the market today. Water purifiers range from relatively low-cost, simple filter devices for a kitchen faucet to more expensive, sophisticated systems that treat water from its point of entry into a home. Keep in mind, no one water treatment device can solve every problem. Some systems only soften water by removing calcium and magnesium, while others eliminate virtually all minerals and other foreign matter present in the water. Ask the testing firm or local government officials what kind of water treatment or purification system will suit your needs. 

*Look For the National Sanitation Foundation Seal of Approval: NFS is recognized for its scientific and technical expertise in the health and environmental sciences. Its staff includes engineers, chemists, toxicologists, microbiologists, and environmental health professionals with broad experience in both public and private organizations. You can call the NSF at (800) 673-6275 to see if a water quality company you are considering using is endorsed by NSF standards. Or check out their web site at 

*Comparison Shop: Remember, first you need to identify the water problem, and then you need to shop for the right device or filter to correct the problem. Consider the following before purchasing water quality improvement equipment: 

1) Is the installation included in the price? 
2) Does the unit have enough capacity to meet present and future needs? 
3) Does the dealer you selected have an established business in your area? Check the BBB for a report. 
4) Make sure you know the dealer's main location. 
5) Find out where to call if your equipment needs service. 
6) Did the salesperson explain the methods of treatment and total cost? 
7) Does the equipment or service carry a specific, written warranty? Have you read and understood it? Call the Better Business Bureau for a current report on individual water conditioning companies. 

For more information, contact:

Better Business Bureau
(800) 828-5000

This report is general in nature and is not intended as a Business Review on any company, service or product.