How to Test Well Water for Bacteria & Pesticides at Home/Lab

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, an official website of the US government, there are 13 million households that rely on well water for their water needs. As wells are private property, EPA does not regulate them, however, for the ease of American people and your well-being, it issues information regarding the importance of testing water from wells and guidance on technologies that can be used to treat well water and make it safe for consumption.

In this article, we will discuss well water testing with a special focus on how to test well water for bacteria and pesticides.

Let’s drink safe and healthy water from your well!

How to test your well water for Bacteria and Pesticides

When you want to test your well water for bacteria and microorganisms, the most important thing is to ensure that you collect a sample that is not contaminated with anything else. Contamination can result in bacteria entering the test sample, and then the results will be altered. If you can test after a rainfall, that would be great because the soil will flow towards your water, and you can know how much bacteria is entering your water.

Sample Collection

To collect the sample, you need to use a cold water faucet, make sure there are no filters or aerators on your tap. Wipe the faucet with chlorine and let it run for 10 minutes on full speed, then slow down the water and collect the sample. While you are collecting the sample, keep the cap of the bottle in your hand, and make sure your hands are disinfected or you are wearing surgical gloves on your hand. Make sure you fill the bottle around 80%, and leave some space at the top, close the bottle carefully and place it somewhere safe.

What to do after collecting the Sample

Once you have the sample with you, you can either test at home with a testing kit or send the sample to a laboratory for results. We will discuss both with you.

Home Testing

You can test your well water at home by using a home testing kit. Various test kits are available online; you can select the one that is best suited for you. A test strip contains information about common well water contaminants, the health risks they pose, and what to do to get rid of them.

It also includes strips for different tests including bacteria, and other microorganisms, the benefits for using a home testing kit is that it’s inexpensive and you will be able to test for other contaminants as well as heavy metals, hardness in water and pH.

You can also frequently test your water at home after a couple of months or after a natural disaster. While these kits are inexpensive and easy to use, the results are not reliable as compared to a State-certified lab or a high-tech facility specifically designed for this purpose and with certified water technicians.

Lab Testing

well water test in laboratory

To avail the services of a lab, first of all, you need to make sure that you are getting your water tested from a State approved lab, the best way to do this is to contact your local health department or reach out to EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791.

The representative will guide you about everything related to getting a private well tested for drinking purposes. When sending a sample to a lab, inquire about their working days, so you can get your water tested within 24 hours.

Make sure you are collecting the sample from a faucet that is used regularly and is located close to your well.

The lab will test for following bacteria in your water

  • Total coliform (TC) bacteria
  • Escherichia coli or E. coli (EC) bacteria

TC bacteria are microbes found in the digestive system of warm-blooded animals, in soils, in plants, and surface water. These bacteria do not make humans sick but are an indicator of the presence of more harmful bacteria in the water. They are tested to ascertain the presence of other bacteria and microorganisms in well water.

E. coli (EC) bacteria are a type of TC bacteria. They are present in millions in the human stool and digestive system. Though they are harmless, a positive test beyond the legal limit indicates that feces and sewage have found a way towards your well water, and it can be potentially harmful to your health.

If this is the case, you are at high risk of suffering from diarrhea, dysentery, and hepatitis.

Interpreting the Test Results

Once you have the results in your hand, you would need to interpret the results. There is no rocket science behind this interpretation. A practical report will contain the acceptable limits defined by EPA and what the lab has found in your water. You need to read out the results and then decide what to do after it.

Testing for Pesticides

examination of well water

For private well owners, testing water for pesticides is very important, and you need the services of a full-fledged lab for this purpose. Some home testing kits can be used for testing for pesticides and they may produce reliable tests but will not be able to give you a detailed result and an explanatory breakdown like a testing lab. You must get your well water tested for pesticides if

  • Someone in the neighborhood reports pesticides in their well water
  • A commercial pesticide distributor is located nearby
  • You well is shallow and with a large diameter
  • Pesticides are used nearby your well, or you are aware of pesticide mixing, spills within a few hundred feet of your well

Please keep in mind that testing for pesticides is costly as compared to bacteria testing. Pesticides are much more harmful to your health as compared to bacteria. In case you found your well water contaminated with pesticides, you need to retest your well for a double check, contact the local and state health department for advice and install a recommended water filter or go through the required disinfection or cleaning process.

Read more: Radioactivity in Well Water: Risks factors, Preventions and Treatments


Do I need a special flask for collecting water samples, or any other container will do?

You don’t need a special flask to collect a water sample. Any random container in your home will do. However, make sure that it must be neat and clean, free from germs, and properly sanitized. Once you have collected the sample, close the container and keep it away from direct sunlight, and don’t refrigerate it. You must deliver it to the testing facility ASAP.

Which is the best home testing kit?

We recommend using Varify testing strip for home sampling. It is one of the best and tests your water for 16 different parameters such as impurities, pH, and much more.

How to pick the testing lab for water testing?

Ensure the lab you are picking is licensed by your state and has a good reputation for testing water. You can contact EPA’s safe drinking water hotline at (800) 426-4791 for further information.

Which is the best filter for getting rid of bacteria and pesticides?

For best results, a filter with UV light and RO membrane is recommended. UV light kills bacteria, and pesticides are filtered by RO membrane. iSpring’s filters are best for well water. You can use a 7-stage under sink water filtration system to solve all your water filtration problems. Apart from bacteria and pesticides, this filtration system will also remove lead, chlorine, fluoride, arsenic, and other contaminants.

Final Word: The Next Step

If the reports are fine, everything is good with your well water. You may still consider adding a filtration system to your water line for your peace of mind because bacteria can still seep in your water from soil or after a heavy rainfall or a natural disaster like a thunderstorm or an earthquake. You must never ignore the pesticide problem and take immediate and definitive steps to get rid of this problem. A high concentration of pesticides in drinking water can lead to cancer. All private well owners need to make sure that they take good care of their wells. You can take the following steps to ensure that your well is protected, and you are drinking safe and healthy water from it.

  • Make sure your well is covered with a cap or a sanitary seal to avoid unauthorized entry and animals
  • Periodic inspection of your well’s exposed parts for the cracked, corroded or broken well casing, damaged well cap and cracking of surface seals
  • The area around the well should be in slope to drain surface runoff away from the well
  • Make sure that the well casing is not cut off below the land surface
  • Always hire a certified well driller for any modification to your current well, drilling a new one or closing an old one
  • Do not use insecticides, pesticides, and fertilizers near the well
  • Inspect your septic tanks as recommended by the local authorities and never dispose of hazardous materials in septic tanks.

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