Consumer Reports: Tips for testing tap water

Reports of lead in drinking water have sounded alarm bells in several communities across the country. Maybe that's got you wondering what's in your tap water, and how safe is it?

The answer isn't always easy to find out. Consumer Reports reveals some tips for how to test the water from your tap.

Most municipal water in the US appears to be safe to drink, free from harmful contaminants, according to EPA data. But how to know if the water passing through your pipes and into your tap is safe?

"Finding out if your water is safe enough to drink can take some time, effort and money," said Consumer Reports' Perry Santanachote. "But it's definitely worth doing."

If you're connected to a community water system and pay your own bill, you should receive an annual water quality report called a CCR, or Consumer Confidence Report. If you don't have one, call your local water supplier. And if you rent, contact your landlord.

If you're on a non-community public water system or use a private well, you won't get a CCR, so Consumer Reports recommends having your water tested once a year and anytime you notice a change in taste, color or odor. You should also get your water tested if your home was built before 1986 when lead-free pipes were mandated.

To test your water, the EPA recommends using a certified lab. You can find a lab on the EPA's website. If the test finds contaminants in your water, it's probably time to choose the right filter to clean it up.

"For multiple or high levels of contaminants, a reverse osmosis system is recommended," Santanachote said. "If your main concern is improving taste and odor, the filters that are used in pitchers are actually really affordable and work great. Some can even handle more serious contaminants like lead."

In Consumer Reports' testing, only one pitcher-style filter, PUR Ultimate with Lead Reduction, earned an excellent rating for flavor and odor reduction.

Consumer Reports also says regardless of which filters you choose, you want to make sure your filter meets standards set by NSF International and the American National Standards Institute for removing the contaminants you're concerned about.

Also, make sure it is certified by an independent lab.

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