Testing Strips vs. Liquid Drop Tests

One of the most important parts of your swimming pool maintenance routine is keeping the chemicals in the water balanced. Even if you regularly vacuum, scrub, and shock the pool, the water will not stay clear if you are not testing. There are a couple of different ways to test the water, but the main method was to use a dropper test until recently. However, in recent years, testing strips have become much more popular.

In this article, I will talk about the testing strips and liquid drop tests. You should be able to make a well-informed decision on what type of test to use for your pool. For more specific kit recommendations, check out my article on the best pool water test kits.

Testing Strips

Testing strips are essentially small strips of paper that you can use to test for the different chemical levels of a swimming pool. They can test for calcium hardness, total chlorine, free chlorine, pH, total alkalinity, and stabilizer. They are relatively quick and straightforward to use.

To test, you dip the testing strip in the pool water, shake it dry, and compare the color to the appropriate color chart that comes with the kit. Once the color is matched up, you should adjust your pool chemicals accordingly.


  • Testing kits are a fast option compared to liquid tests. They only take about 15 seconds to appear and don’t require added chemicals.
  • Testing strips are easy to use, so there is not much of a learning curve.
  • You will quickly be able to test for various chemicals using different strips.
  • They are super cheap. A pack of 50 will cost around $10.


  • They quickly spoil, so an entire pack can become useless if left in a damp area or sunlight.
  • They have an expiry date, so they don’t last as long as dropper test kits.
  • They are less accurate than dropper testing kits in general
  • Testing strips are not as ideal for particular chemical readings like calcium hardness.

Liquid Drop Kits

A liquid drop kit is another prevalent method for pool water testing. The kit will come with a water sample collector containing two vials, one for testing pH and the other for testing chlorine. The kit will also contain chemicals such as phenol red and orthotolidine.

  1. To test the water, fill one of the vials with pool water and add the number of drops of phenol red according to the instructions to the pH side or orthotolidine to the chlorine side.
  2. Hold the water against a neutral background (such as a white wall or a sheet of paper) and compare the color of the water to the color chart on the kit.
  3. If the chlorine side is dark yellow, the water is high in chlorine, and if the pH side is dark red, the water has high pH levels. Conversely, lighter colors indicate lower chlorine or pH levels.

The testing process with drop kits is slightly more complicated, but still relatively easy to do. To ensure the most accurate readings follow the directions closely and add the chemicals slowly to the water sample.


  • Most of the components last a very long time, so they will not need constant replacing.
  • Liquid drop kits can be highly accurate if you use the kit with the correct technique and the appropriate amount of drops.
  • Testing is available for the largest diversity of chemicals, making water drop testing the only option for certain types of chemical testing.
  • They are generally more precise than testing strips because they have a larger scale.


  • Although you won’t need to replace the main parts often, the initial cost is more expensive than testing strips. The prices range from around $60-$200.
  • The test is more complex, thereby allowing for more human error. Though the test can be even more accurate, many swimming pool owners do not use the kit correctly.
  • Testing the water with a liquid drop kit is more time-consuming.
  • The chemical drops will expire and need replacing quite often.

Taking a Water Sample to a Pool Store

You should be testing your pool water regularly to keep up to date with the state of your pool. If you are having constant trouble with your pool and can’t seem to clean the water properly, you may want to consider taking a water sample to a pool store.

Generally, a pool store will be able to test the sample immediately for you and tell you what problems may be taking place in your pool. They will get a more accurate reading than most pool owners will, so this is an excellent option for specific situations.

On a regular maintenance basis, I would not recommend taking all samples to a pool store. This wouldn’t be a very efficient method.

Which Testing Method Should You Use?

The main standout difference between using liquid testing and testing strips is the complexity of the methods. If you have been using liquid testing kits for years and are used to the technique and happy to stick with it, I see no reason to change. They are very accurate if used correctly and have a wider array of testing options, so pool owners that value precision may gravitate towards them.

However, liquid tests are more time-consuming and complex to use. Therefore, I feel that for most new pool owners, testing strips are a much more efficient option that can be just as accurate as liquid drop testing.

I recommend testing your water at least 2 to 3 times a week to keep your water clean and safe. So if you are unsure of which method works best for you, try them both out and see how you feel.

Any further questions? Let me know.

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Bottom Line

We all know that testing is important. It is the only way to know what is going on in your pool water. Maintaining your pH and chlorine is the first step in preventing algae and bacteria from growing in your pool. It also ensures that the water is comfortable for swimmers. Test your water frequently by taking a water sample to a pool store, using quick and easy testing strips, or using a chemical dropper test. Each method is beneficial for many different reasons, so it is ultimately up to you to choose how you wish to test your water!

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