How to Test Your Pool Water Without a Kit

Written by Michael Dean
June 12, 2023

testing pool water without a kit

Testing your water is an absolutely essential part of regular pool maintenance. It not only helps to keep your pool clean and sparkling, but by ensuring the chemical levels are properly balanced, you can even protect the swimmers and your pool equipment. Many pool owners will test their pool using a kit, but what happens if you don’t have one on hand?

Thankfully, there’s an unusual DIY method to testing pool water without a kit. In this article, I will go over my step-by-step guide and even answer some frequently asked questions.

Main Takeaways

  • You can test the pH level of your pool water using just red cabbage and distilled water.
  • Other ways to test your pool water include using a test strip, a liquid test kit, or a digital tester.
  • You should be testing your pool water at least once a week in order to keep your pool clean and your swimmers and pool equipment safe.
  • The most accurate way to test your pool water is to use a digital tester.

Step By Step Guide: How to Test Your Pool Water Without a Kit

Whether you have completely run out of your pool testing kit or are simply looking for a fun science experiment to do with your kids, there’s a fun way to test pool water with basic household ingredients. Even if you don’t have these ingredients in hand, a quick grocery trip should sort you out with all you need.

Tools Needed

  • Red cabbage
  • Distilled water
  • Pot
  • Strainer
  • Knife
  • Clear bowl or container

Step One: Cut Up the Cabbage

Cut up the cabbage into small pieces and put it aside.

Step Two: Put the Cabbage in Boiled Distilled Water

Next, boil some water in a pot and put the sliced cabbage in for at least 30 minutes. Make sure to stir occasionally.

Step Three: Strain the Water

After 30 minutes, the water should be quite purple. Strain the tinted water with a strainer to get out any pieces so that you are left with only the liquid.

Step Four: Get Your Pool Water Sample

Put some of your pool water in a clear container or bowl.

Step Five: Add Some Cabbage Water

Add just a few drops of the purple liquid into the water to be tested and wait for the color to change.

Step Six: Compare the Color

The color of your water will change depending on the pH of your pool water. A light red means your pool is acidic and a light green means your pool is alkaline or basic. If the water remains purple, the water is neutral. You can even use a pH test chart to read the color properly.

Bonus Step: Make a Test Strip

If you want to go a step further and make a test strip for your DIY pH indicator, you can use filter paper to act as your testing strip. Simply soak the filter paper in the cabbage water and let it dry. Then, just get a small sample of the water and smear it onto your DIY testing strip. The testing strip should change color according to your pool’s pH levels.

Other Ways to Test Your Pool Water

Testing your pool water with red cabbage is definitely a unique method, but is not the only way to test the water. Most pool owners will either use test strips, liquid test kits, or digital testers. Each of these ways to test pool water has its pros and cons, and what you choose is ultimately up to you. To use these methods correctly, you should consult the manual that comes with the product, but most of these testers will follow the same general instructions. To find out more on how to use these methods, visit my article on how to test your pool water, testing kit instructions, and the best pool testing kits that you can buy.

Test Strips

Pool test strips are the easiest and simplest way to test your pool water. They are beginner and budget-friendly as well, so they are a popular choice among pool owners.

The more basic test strips will test for just one chemical in your pool at a time. But there are test strips available that can test for even 7 different chemicals at the same time, ranging from pH to chlorine and more. For more, here’s my article on how to read a pool test strip.

All you need to do is dip it in the pool water and shake off the excess water. Then, you simply compare the colors on the strip to the color chart which you can normally find on the bottle.

Liquid Test Kits

Liquid test kits can be more expensive than basic test strips, but they are generally more accurate. These kits require a bit of practice and are more complicated to use as well. However, the more accurate readings do make the purchase worth it for many.

Liquid tests work with the help of reagents, which are added to pool samples and cause them to change colors.

To use a liquid test:

  1. Collect pool water samples in the provided vials according to the fill line. The fill line will often differ depending on what you are testing for at the moment.
  2. Once filled, add drops of the needed reagent into the vial. The manufacturer’s instructions will give you proper direction on how many drops are needed for each chemical.
  3. Then after giving the chemicals a little mix, you can compare the color with your provided color chart.
  4. Repeat as necessary with the different reagents in the kit to test the different chemicals.

To see the difference between testing strips and liquid tests, visit my article on testing strips vs liquid drop tests.

Digital Testers

Digital testers are incredibly easy to use and a handy tool to have that can provide an accurate reading on your pool water’s chemical levels. They are more expensive than other types of testers, but they make testing the water a breeze by saving you time and effort. These types of pool water testers are especially favored by those that struggle with differentiating color. 

Some digital testers work by collecting a pool water sample and dipping the tester itself into the pool water to get a reading. Other digital testers require a testing strip to be dipped into the water and inserted into the reader.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why Should I Test My Pool Water?

Any pool owner should know that testing pool water is a basic part of pool maintenance. By testing your pool water, you can keep your pool looking crystal clear and algae-free. Beyond the looks of your pool, improper chemical balance can cause a variety of issues, including irritation, hair damage, swimsuit discoloration, and damage to your pool equipment. By testing your pool water regularly, you will be saving money in the long run. To learn more about keeping your pool clear, check out my pool chemistry guide!

How Often Should I Test My Pool Water?

How often you test your pool water depends on a number of factors, but as a general rule, you should be testing your water at least once a week. During high usage seasons, you should consider testing your pool water even twice a week if you can. It is important to also keep in mind that your pool water should be tested after heavy storms and rain as these factors can really change the chemical balance of your pool.

What is the Most Accurate Way to Test Pool Water?

The most accurate method to test your pool water is by using a digital tester. Using a digital tester takes away the guesswork that comes with looking at the slight variations of color on a testing strip or liquid test.

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