Water testing kits are chemistry sets for homeowners who are tired of leaving tests to other people and paying an arm and a leg for the privilege. When you use these kits, you’re testing with chemicals to determine the concentration of other chemicals inside a chemical bath in your backyard, i.e., your swimming pool.
Chemistry sets aren’t something you can just pick and take home. You need to know what you’re getting, how dependable it is, whether the results can be trusted, whether they’re reliable, and whether they’re consistent. Given the sheer number of available testing kits on the market, this can be a daunting task. We’re not saying it’s a jungle out there, but the chemical soup is pretty thick. You’ll need some help wading through it.
We’ve put ourselves in your place and done the research for you. There are a lot of variables to consider and more than a few results to analyze. In the end, we posted these reviews that present our findings in plain English for your benefit.
|Taylor K-2006 Kit|
|LaMotte 2056 ColorQ Pro 7 Test Kit||1 lb||4.7/5|
|Poolmaster 22260 Kit|
(Best for the Money)
|HTH 6-Way Test Kit (1173)||1 lb||4.4/5|
|Blue Devil B7550 6-Way Pro||1 lb||4.1/5|
This Taylor kit will test for total chlorine, combined chlorine, pH, alkalinity, calcium hardness, and cyanuric acid (stabilizer), and give you results that are more accurate and consistent than most of the stuff you can find in your local swimming pool store.
With this kit, you can be confident you’re getting accurate information for use in keeping your water sparkling, crystal clear. Moreover, Taylor backs it up with some of the best techno-geek customer service representatives in the world. They can answer any question you throw at them, and you get the impression they’re really into it.
This isn’t merely a water testing kit – it’s a full-on, no-fooling-around chemistry set. The included instructions are accurate but pretty intimidating when you first look at them. There is definitely a learning curve to using this kit. Keep at it though. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it you’ll start getting test results that are accurate, consistent, and useful.
The strong point of this test kit is that it gives you a digital readout. With most kits, you have to match colors on the test strips with a color chart to determine the level of the various chemicals in the water. This kit eliminates all of that.
Add reagent drops to the water you’re testing, put the vial in the tester, hit the button, and you get a readout that tells you exactly where the levels are. The results are consistent, reliable, and more accurate than what the pool store would provide.
The reagents the kit uses don’t last very long, so you’ll have to purchase more on a regular basis, but they cost less than buying pool chemicals you don’t need because the pool store is giving you bad information on your water.
The ease of use can fool you. The expiration date on some of the reagents isn’t always evident, and when you start getting results that don’t make sense it’ll be easy to get frustrated. Be careful to always check the expiration dates before tearing your hair out.
This water testing kit has easy-to-follow instructions and more than enough reagents to last a full summer season of pool use before you have to purchase more. It has five tests: chlorine, bromine, pH, acid demand, and total alkalinity.
The tests are reasonably accurate and consistent. You’ll get the results you need to keep your pool clear, clean, and sanitized. Think of this kit as Chem 101 compared to the first two kits on the list.
You do have to compare and contrast colors to use this kit. Although the results are consistent, the accuracy suffers from the same problems all color contrast systems experience: you’re presented with a range of numbers instead of a specific value for the chemical levels.
The results for the chlorine test – arguably one of the most important – are especially difficult to read since it deals with shades of yellow.
There are some quality control issues at the Poolmaster factory, because bottles of reagents sometimes arrive in unopened kits displaying evidence they were never properly sealed in the first place. Still, for the price, you get a decent kit that delivers pretty good “ballpark” results.
This six-way kit from HTH will test for total chlorine, bromine, pH, total alkalinity, total hardness, and cyanuric acid. There are a lot of reagents included in the kit, enough to conduct up to one hundred tests. Unfortunately, many of them can only be purchased on HTH’s own website. You can’t find them anywhere else.
The included instructions aren’t very clear. Nothing, in particular, stands out about them – they’re not misspelled or anything – but reading them tends to produce a “Huh?” reaction the first time you look at them. It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
This is reinforced by the inconsistent results the kit produces. The expected results and the color comparison charts are printed on different pages, making it impossible to examine them together without ripping up the pages. The charts themselves are poorly printed, leaving us to wonder just how accurately the colors are being displayed on the pages.
The most disappointing aspect is the lack of a carrying case. The clear plastic clamshell it comes in is basically just the packaging, but that’s the only thing you can use. The chemicals need to be kept in a secure case built for that purpose.
This kit will test for chlorine, bromine, pH, alkalinity, acid demand, and stabilizer. It’s a fairly impressive six-way range of tests, but that’s about the only good thing to say about it.
The advertising says it arrives with “complete instructions.” Not true. The instructions aren’t just incomplete, they’re nonexistent. How are you supposed to use a chemistry set – which is what water testing kits are – without any instructions? We don’t know either.
The manufacturer also claims there is a “convenient plastic storage case included.” Wrong again. There’s a plastic case, but there’s nothing convenient about it. It’s cheap, badly made, and nothing really fits inside it. The organizer doesn’t organize, the lid won’t close when everything is inside the case, and it simply will not snap shut.
Once you can get some instructions, it still doesn’t help. The results are wildly inaccurate, and the chlorine test, using shades of yellow, is nearly impossible to decipher. The pH test is always wrong, and some of the reagent bottles leak. These are chemicals we’re talking about. Someone call the EPA.
This is the little kit that can’t.
The Taylor K1001 Basic Residential DPD Pool or Spa Test Kit has some things going for it. It can be used to test for either chlorine or bromine levels, so you can use it with either kind of pool, or with a system where you use chlorine in the pool and bromine in the hot tub. It’s also a free-chlorine test, so you know if your chlorine concentrations are high enough immediately. Plus, this model comes with a hard-shell storage case. That makes it easier to keep the necessary chemicals together, and also helps keep them safe when they’re not in use.
One downside is that you have to use two chemicals to test for chlorine. That makes it a more time-consuming process than other kits, and it means that if you run out of either chemical, you’re out of luck until you get a replacement. The bottle numbers also don’t always align with the instructions inside the case, which suggests that the factory is making bad quality control mistakes. If you’re looking for a simple water testing kit, this isn’t the worst, but you can get better value with other kits.
The Pentair R151076 752 2 n 1 pH and Chlorine Test Kit is easy to use, but has some problems in other areas that make it a poor overall choice. This test requires the use of just two chemicals, so it’s not a super-complicated process. If you run out of one chemical or the other, it’s also less expensive to replace it. It includes a handy vial with a color chart built in, which makes comparing your tested water easy and fast.
Unfortunately, this kit is inferior in other areas. The bottles aren’t well-made, so they sometimes crack while in transit and become leaky. The company is good about replacing them free of charge, but it’s still a problem that happens too frequently. This set isn’t as accurate with bromine as it is with chlorine, so it’s not as useful for those with brominated pools. It also takes some practice to get used to using this set. The wrong light or background colors can throw off your readings, but once you figure out how to read it, it becomes straightforward. This is an inexpensive kit, but it doesn’t work consistently, and that hurts its value.
Sometimes products are positioned in a way that when they don’t work, it’s hard to complain. The Jed Pool tools Inc 00-481 Standard Dual Test Kit is one of the lowest-priced pool water test kits out there, but that doesn’t mean it’s something most users will want to rush out and pick up. Besides its very low price, the one thing it really has going for it is that it only requires the use of two chemicals, so you don’t have to deal with any multi-step mixing processes.
The number one problem with this kit is that the colors on the testing vials are off. Misprints at the factory lead to people getting scales where the colors are nearly identical. Likewise, the pH side of the scale sometimes comes with the wrong colors printed, which makes it unusable. That’s reason enough to avoid a product, but this one also has leaky bottles, so you may lose up to half your chemicals during transport. The vial is also made from cheap materials, so it’s not going to last. This model has a ton of red flags, and most people will be better off with something different.
Water testing kits are chemistry sets writ small, but they’re still chemistry sets. We keep harping on that because it’s important.
Chemicals can have either chronic or acute toxicity effects. Chronic toxicity refers to effects that build up gradually over a long period of time. Acute toxicity refers to chemicals that harm you very quickly, such as cyanide in the gas chamber.
Any testing kit that arrives in a damaged container or packaging should be immediately returned, unopened. Chemical fumes from a leaking or broken bottle could build up inside the package to either lethal or flammable levels. You’re trying to keep your swimming pool in good shape, not play Mad Scientist. Send it back.
Assuming the package arrives undamaged, check all reagents inside the kit for their expiration dates. Some chemicals are stable over long periods of time but others aren’t. Some of them will slowly degrade, or self-react with additives in them to form new compounds if you keep them longer than a certain length of time. In either case, they won’t give you any worthwhile results if they’re too old.
You’ll swear up and down you did the test the right way (and hopefully you did), but the results may be way out of line. The first thing to check in a case like that is the expiration date. You can save yourself a lot of grief.
“Consistent” and “accurate” are two different things. Just because a testing kit gives you consistent results doesn’t mean they’re accurate. By the same token, a kit that’s accurate won’t always be consistent, as strange as that might sound.
For example, the speedometer in your car might be set to display a result that is 10 mph over what it’s actually measuring, so that when you’re going 10 mph it will show 20 mph. No matter how fast or how slow you’re going, the speedometer will always show you’re going 10 mph faster. This is a consistent reading, but no one in their right mind would call it accurate.
The speedometer could also be very precisely set so it accurately displays miles per hour based exactly on how many revolutions per minute the tires are making, taking into consideration the diameter and inflation of the tires. It’s very accurate, but if the tires are underinflated, or the wrong size, or if you’re driving on a bumpy road where the tires keep bouncing, that accuracy is wasted because it won’t give you a consistent reading of your speed over the ground – which is what a speedometer is for.
That same dynamic plays out in chemistry. Accurate results will naturally tend to be consistent if, and only if, you keep all the other variables consistent. Mess up the variables and all that accuracy goes right down the tubes. This is something to be aware of when deciding which water testing kit is right for you.
A good testing kit should have plenty of reagents, enough for seventy-five to a hundred tests before you have to order more. While reagents do have expiration dates, they should still last long enough to get you through a summer of watery fun.
It should also come with a full set of easily understandable instructions. It’s natural to feel some confusion when you first read through them, but they should be plain enough that you can walk through them one step at a time until it all becomes clear to you.
A good kit should also have a rugged carrying case that will keep the reagent bottles from rolling around inside, and from possibly breaking or leaking. It needs to have an organizer to keep them compartmentalized away from each other. Cross-contamination might not result in anything that could hurt you, but it will certainly destroy the usefulness of the reagents for testing your swimming pool.
The chemistry sets, err, water testing kits we’ve reviewed here for you were pretty severe and our written reviews reflected that level of difficulty, but in a way that’s understandable to the average person. These water testing kits help you do for your swimming pool what the city does at the water processing station for the whole town: keep it clear, clean, and safe.
The hands-down choice for the top pick is the Taylor K-2006 Kit. When you follow the instructions to the letter it gives you the best, most consistent, and most accurate results of any of the kits on this list. There’s a bit of a learning curve to it, but the end results will be well worth your time and effort.
The choice for best for the money is the Poolmaster 22260 Kit. It won’t deliver the same quality of results as the top pick, but it will give you a fairly consistent “ballpark” figure that can guide you until you can get more accurate results elsewhere.
Hopefully, with these reviews in hand, you’re now prepared to better choose the water testing chemistry set that is right for you and your swimming pool.