How to Test Your Tap Water

It’s important to know your local results to decide whether you need to filter your water

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How safe is your tap water? Finding out can take some time, effort, and money, but it’s worth doing.

Most people on municipal water who pay their own bill should receive an annual water quality report called a CCR, or Consumer Confidence Report. If you don’t receive yours, call your local water supplier. And if you rent, contact your landlord.

Systems with 100,000 or more people must also post reports online. You can find them on the Environmental Protection Agency website.

In the report, look for a summary that shows whether any contaminants were found above government cutoffs and, if so, what the potential health risks are, what is being done to fix the problem, and what you should do in the meantime. For questions, call your local supplier or the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.

More on Water Quality

If you’re on well water, you won’t get a CCR, so you should get your water tested. That’s also a good idea if your home was built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986: Even if your CCR says that the municipality’s water is free of lead, it can leach into your water from the pipes in or leading to your house.

Many kits are available for do-it-yourself tap testing, but it’s not always clear what they test for or how accurate they are. The EPA recommends using a certified lab. Find one on the EPA’s website. Testing typically costs $20 to $150; your community might provide test kits free of charge.

Once you know what’s in your water, choose a filter that suits your needs.

For multiple or high levels of contaminants, reverse osmosis filters are often best. They can remove lead, arsenic, bacteria, and other contaminants. But they take up a lot of space (typically under your sink), require additional plumbing, and often go through several gallons of water for every gallon of filtered water. They’re pricey, too, some costing $1,000 or more. You might also have to pay a professional to periodically service the system.

For improving taste or odor, or dealing with less serious contamination, a carbon filter can help. But it might not remove all lead.

Regardless of which filters you choose, make sure it meets standards set by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and NSF International for removing the contaminants you're concerned about, and that it is certified by an independent lab. Such labs include NSF International as well as the CSA Group, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and the Water Quality Association (WQA).

A pitcher filter is good for drinking water. A filter that attaches to your sink is a good choice for that as well as for water used to cook and wash dishes. CR members with digital access can read on for ratings of the three top water filter pitchers from our tests.

Want cleaner water straight from your sink’s tap? Find the best under-sink water filters from our tests.

What’s in Your Water?

Do you have bad-tasting water? Consumer Reports experts Perry Santanachote and James Dickerson explain how to find out about water testing and the best filtration systems.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the November 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Headshot of Perry Santanachote, editor with the Home editorial team at Consumer Reports

Perry Santanachote

I cover the intersection of people, products, and sustainability, and try to provide humorous but useful advice for everyday living. I love to dive deep into how things work, and debunking myths might be my favorite pastime. But what I aim to be above all else is a guiding voice while you're shopping, telling you what's a value, what's a ripoff, and what's just right for you and your family.