If you want to keep your pool water clean and healthy, you need to be testing it all the time.
Testing your pool water is truly one of the most important things you can do as a pool owner.
Enter: the pool testing kit
You might think testing your pool water is a difficult task that requires a trip to the local pool store, but the truth is you can test the water yourself in under half an hour.
This guide lays out why you need a pool test kit, how they work, and the best pool test kits you can buy.
Why it's important to test your pool water
Seriously, unbalanced pool chemistry will wreak havoc on your swimming pool and your swimmers.
Chlorine that is too low will allow algae blooms to take over and other bacteria to make a home in your water. But high chlorine levels can cause skin and eye irritation.
Unbalanced pH levels can cause erosion on your pool liner and equipment.
Hard water (calcium hardness levels) can cause scaling that can clog your pipes and filters.
And total alkalinity levels that are unbalanced will throw off the pH levels, which in turn will throw off the calcium hardness levels.
It’s also important to test for total chlorine and free chlorine levels.
See how it all goes hand in hand?
That’s why it is important to test all these levels on a very regular basis.
I always tell people to do it weekly, unless you are having certain issues, like algae growth.
In which case, you will test and balance daily until your levels are in the right ranges.
Ideal pool chemical levels
So, what are these appropriate chemical levels?
You'll find a little variation of opinion among pool experts on some of these levels, but not much.
Most of us agree that these are the ranges you should shoot for:
Why you need a pool testing kit
Okay, so I guess you don’t have to have a pool testing kit: you can absolutely go out and buy the strips to test each chemical individually if you want to.
But why would you do that when you can pay one price and get them all in one handy little package that you can pull out all together any time you need it?
Another benefit of owning a pool testing kit is that you have similar instructions for all the chemicals.
In other words, if you buy a liquid testing kit, all the chemical tests will be similar and you'll get the hang of how to use them pretty quickly.
Whereas if you buy separate tests for each chemical, you'll have to learn how to use and read each one.
And that’s just too much extra work for me.
How pool testing kits work
If your kit doesn’t include those, you'll want to purchase them separately.
Each type of kit works a little differently, but basically each has its own type of indicator.
The test strips have pads with the indicator in them and the liquid have droppers full of liquid indicator.
When the water touches those, they change colors to indicate the presence of a certain chemical.
Types to choose from
The three types of pool water test kits available are liquid, digital and strips, and there are a few pros and cons to each one:
The liquid test kits use reagents, which is the liquid that comes in the dropper bottles.
You'll first take a water sample directly from your pool and then you will drop the amount of reagent that's called for into the vial of pool water.
The instructions should tell you exactly how to take the readings, but they're usually very simple and take very little time.
Strip tests are the easiest to use, but they're not always as accurate as the liquid kits for a couple of reasons: they can be tainted and they don’t work after they expire.
These are dipped directly into your pool water, so there is no need to take samples.
You then just wait for your strip to change colors and read the instructions to find out what the colors mean. Each color usually indicates a different level.
Digital pool testers also use reagents like the liquid types, but they're much easier to read since the electronic device does it for you.
Best pool testing kits
This unit from Taylor (click here to check the price on Amazon) comes with the stuff to test for chlorine (total chlorine and combined chlorine), pH, alkalinity, calcium hardness, and cyanuric acid, and includes a FASDPD bromine test kit as well.
These are all the chemicals you will be testing regularly, so it’s handy because you don’t have to purchase anything separately.
What I love is how accurate it is and it's super easy to use, as it uses DPD powder.
It comes with very clear instructions and a convenient carrying case to keep it all together.
Another dependable Taylor product, the K-2005 (click here to check the price on Amazon) is a little different than the K-2006 model above.
It's considered a high range (HR) kit, meaning it's developed for professionals who regularly test public pools.
All this means is that this one is made to be more precise so that comparisons in frequent water testing is easier. And that in no way means that you can’t use it for your pool at home.
It's just a little more thorough and a little more involved, so the learning curve may be a bit higher.
It tests chlorine, bromine, pH, acid demand, base demand, total alkalinity, calcium hardness and cyanuric acid.
Poolmaster is another trusted brand in the industry and this version (click here to check the price on Amazon) also tests most of the levels you need, including chlorine, bromine, pH, acid demand and total alkalinity.
It also comes with a convenient carrying case to keep it all organized and is very easy to use.
The indicator panels are easy to read, so you can get quick, accurate results about color matching with the included color chips, and the instructions make it a snap to decipher the results.
You'll this digital unit from LaMotte (click here to check the price on Amazon) for its sleek design and ease of use.
It comes with a photometer which you will use to read the results from your water samples, while the digital display gives you your levels accurately and takes the guesswork out of it.
Instead of trying to decipher between colors, your results are displayed clearly in digital numbers.
It tests for chlorine, bromine, pH, alkalinity, calcium hardness and cyanuric acid, and liquid reagents for free chlorine, total chlorine: all the tests you need!
These strips from AquaChek (click here to check the price on Amazon) are a great choice if you decide to go the test strip route.
It comes with strips to test chlorine, bromine, calcium hardness, alkalinity, pH and cyanuric acid.
Really, it doesn’t get much easier than test strips. There are no water samples to take. No solutions to mix. You simply insert your test strip directly into the pool water, wait a few seconds and then take it out and read it.
These come in an airtight container to prevent contamination.
Just keep them stored in the container between uses and you should be able to get fairly accurate readings.
Another option from AquaChek, this digital tester (click here to check the price on Amazon) is made to be used with TruTest digital test strips.
It's very easy to use as well and much easier to read than the test strips themselves: you won’t have to try to figure out if a color is closer to red or blue, you'll simply get a numerical digital reading that takes out the guesswork.
It's lightweight, water resistant and has a large print LCD display for easy reading.
It will test chlorine, bromine, pH and total alkalinity in about 15 seconds.
There you have it.
Is that everything you ever wanted to know about pool testing kits? I sure hope so!
Just keep in mind that liquid and digital tests are slightly more consistent with reliable results, but a little more difficult and time-intensive to use.
But you know yourself.
And if you think you'll be more apt to use the test strips regularly than you will the others, then by all means, buy the strips.
The best test kit is the one you'll actually use.