Testing Your Well Water

As a private well owner, you need to make sure that your water is safe to drink.

What to Test for

Water quality can change over time and can be affected by various things in the environment. The three routine sets of recommended tests for private wells are:

  • Every year: Test for coliform bacteria, nitrate/nitrite, color, chloride, sodium, and turbidity.
  • Every three to five years: Test for metals, corrosivity, and hardness.
  • Every five to 10 years: Test for volatile organic compounds, and MTBE.

When you have your water tested, you will receive results in the form of a lab report. The Center for Drinking Water Quality has created the worksheet Understanding Your Lab Report to help you to understand the basic information in the report. For more details, see our Smart Well Owner Guide. If you've had problems with your well water before or are at a higher risk for certain things (such as soil heavy in iron, or worn-down copper pipes), you should test for those items more often.

There are some areas in Rhode Island where it may be a good idea to test for arsenic and/or beryllium. Arsenic was once used in orchards as a pesticide, and beryllium can naturally be found in the bedrock. You only need to test for arsenic and beryllium once.

You can use our online tool to see if your home is in an area where testing either arsenic or beryllium tests is recommended.

If you are buying or selling a home with a private well, see Buying or Selling a Home below.

How to Test Your Water

Be sure to use a certified water testing laboratory. Test kits you buy in the store or testing done by companies that do not use a certified lab may not give you accurate results.

The certified laboratory will provide you with special bottles and step-by-step instructions for how to take a sample and return it to be tested. Most water samples should only take about five or 10 minutes to complete. After you return the water samples to the lab, results usually take 10-15 business days to finish.

If mobility or transportation is an issue, some laboratories do offer services like sending out kits through the mail (though they will need to be returned in person for analysis) or have staff that will come to your home for a fee. Call as many laboratories as you like until you find the one that meets your needs.

If you are using the State Health Laboratories, download and complete the Lab Order Form for Private Well Water. You can pick up water sample bottles at the Central Receiving area of the Chapin Building at 50 Orms St. in Providence (on the right side of the building, next to the loading dock). We recommend to call before you come to get the bottles so they are ready when you get there. Checks, money orders, and credit cards are accepted and payment is due when you drop off your sample.

State Health Laboratory
50 Orms St.
Providence, RI    02904
401-222-5600
Hours: 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (Please note that nitrate/nitrite testing samples cannot be dropped off on Fridays due to the time-sensitive holding limits.)

If you are testing water from a private well before buying or selling a home, see Buying or Selling a Home below.

Cost of Testing

Private testing laboratories set their own rates, and you can either call or check online for price lists. For the State Health Laboratories, pricing can be found on the Lab Order Form for Private Well Water.

How Often to Test

It’s recommended that private wells be tested at least once a year, as outlined at the top of this page. You can also test any time you’re concerned about your water or feel like it’s not safe to drink. For example, wells are at a higher risk for bacteria after a flood or if the well is damaged. You may also want to test after a treatment system is installed so you can check if the treatment system is doing what it’s supposed to do.

Private wells are required by law to be tested:

  • When a new well is installed (see Putting in a New Well)
  • Before the sale or transfer of a home (see Buying or Selling a Home below).

Understanding Your Test Results

When you get your laboratory report, you should see a list of test names, abbreviations, and numbers. It may be confusing if you don’t know what to look for. Call the laboratory that tested your water and ask to speak to a licensed interpreter. The interpreter can explain your results and answer your questions. If any of your results seems high or strange, talk to an interpreter.

RIDOH and URI worked together to develop useful Tip Sheets for many common issues, such as bacteria, iron, and nitrates. They are all online here and include information like what can cause a problem, the effects it may have, and treatment options.

You can also call RIDOH’s Private Wells Program or URI’s Water Quality Program about your concerns. Staff at either place can talk to you about treatment options and what you should do next.

Buying or Selling a Home with a Private Well

Rhode Island law requires that any home with a private well must have the water tested before it’s sold or transferred.

This Tip Sheet tells you what tests are needed, who is responsible for performing the tests, and other things you should know about the process.