Pool pros on what they like and don’t like about the top chemistry tests
By Andrew Lisa
It seems water-testing systems come down to two choices: Time-tested visual methods that rely on the human eye’s ability to discern changes in color, and sophisticated electronic instruments that do all the work for you. When choosing water-testing supplies for your own applications, you’ll have to consider factors like the level of precision you require, the skill needed to translate the results, the ruggedness and portability of the system, maintenance requirements and, of course, cost — that means both initial investment and cost per test.
Quick, cheap, simple, tried and true, strips are ubiquitous for a reason.
“In my opinion, test strips are a good way to get a very quick overall view of the water chemistry in a pool,” says Brian Siegel, president of Northstar Pool Service in Allendale, New Jersey. “All parameters can be viewed at the same time and the test only takes a few seconds. Test strips are also very economical, often costing less than more advanced methods of testing.”
Ease of use, however, comes with a tradeoff.
“As a pool professional, I only use strips as a way to confirm an unusual reading or double-check my work,” Siegel says. “Strips do not contain any chemical dosing information, so once you have your results, now what? Strips are the least professional and least accurate method of water testing.”
Drops, or liquid reagents, are probably the second-most common testing medium.
“Drop-count titrations have a reputation for giving consistent results over time,” says Wayne Ivusich, manager of education and technical services at Taylor Technologies, Inc., makers of several test strips, reagents and kits. “Drop tests require minimal technique. They can be done in a minute or two even by inexperienced analysts, and they offer a degree of accuracy sufficient for most applications.”
Just as with strips, however, easy doesn’t mean flawless.
“There could be drawbacks if you are not aware of how to handle them,” says Mike Tellegen, owner of The Pool & Spa Medic in Portland, Oregon. “There could be some errors in the results or skewed, erroneous results when certain parameters or residuals are really off balance, or if the individual who is analyzing the water is careless. As an example, if chlorine is really high, the drops will bleach out and can provide you false readings. If certain by-products are in the water, again this could affect the accuracy of your pH and total alkalinity readings.”
Anthony Arredondo, president and managing partner for The Pool Guys of Tampa Bay, Florida, says the company’s techs are required to use Taylor’s K-2005 drip test kit, which he says provides the most accurate reading for weekly chemical testing and adjustment.
Tablets and powder
Tablet reagents are not as popular as drops or strips, but they have their advantages.
“Tablets typically have better stability than liquids,” says George Bailey, vice president of sales and marketing for Industrial Test Systems, Inc., which manufacturers digital test kits, reagents and strips.
Powder systems are another common option, but they seem to come with more headaches than benefits.
“Powder reagents are supplied in small sachets (pillows) or dispensers,” Bailey says. “It is important that all the powder is transferred, or the test results will be affected. Also, some powders are hygroscopic and clump.”
Here, too, however, there are some drawbacks to both tablets and powder tests.
“They’re not suitable for cool water testing due to suspended solids,” Bailey says. “Lighting can affect the interpretation of results, they require good visual judgment to match colors, and some tests have very subtle color changes, making color matching difficult. Also, they’re not suited for the colorblind.”
Digital test equipment is incredibly fast, accurate and reliable. The trade-off, however, is that it doesn’t come cheap.
“Retailers commonly use this equipment to test water samples and use in the field is growing,” Siegel says. “Digital testing equipment eliminates the need to visually determine color variations. This makes testing more consistent and accurate.”
Among the most lauded is LaMotte’s WaterLink Spin Touch Mobile Lab Photometer.
“The WaterLink Spin Touch is an amazing lab with centrifugal fluidics photometry that can measure a customer’s pool or spa water in just 60 seconds,” says Rich DeMoss, global pool business director at LaMotte. “Pool dealers and service professionals can achieve precision without time-consuming liquid or tablet reagent test and cleanup procedures.”
Tellegen also uses a Spin Touch water test device. “This meter is fantastic, accurate and quick,” he says. “In about a minute, I can get the results for up to 10 different parameters.”
Pool remodels for The Pool Guys require a tap water refill and, therefore, a more substantial water chemical analysis for startup. In which case, Arredondo and his team use the Spin Touch.
“The results are usually accurate, with a reading variance within a range of 15 PPMs as of late,” he says. “There is at times a discrepancy with the calcium hardness readings, versus the Taylor K-1770 Calcium Hardness Drop Test. When in doubt, I’ll use the Taylor K-1770 over the Spin Touch analysis [to check results].”
“Over the years, we’ve used numerous types of test kits — both drip and photometer based,” Arredondo adds. “Taylor and LaMotte have become our chemical analyzers of choice.”
Test Strips: $10.50 to $67
Varied-Composition Reagents: $2.50 to $112
Full Test Kits (Pros and Homeowners): $12 to $1,767
Counterlab Kits: $915
LaMotte carries a professional line of its Insta-TEST strips just for pool pros. There’s also a line of reagents and full test kits, as well as on-site digital testing devices, most notably the WaterLink Spin Touch, which can also be used for in-store testing.
Industrial Test Systems
eXact Test Strips and Reagents: $9.99 to $20.99
Digital Testing Devices: $149.99 to $714.99
The AquaChek TruTest digital reader tests for free chlorine, total alkalinity and pH. There’s also a line of tests for chlorine-based pools, as well as specialty products that include salt titrators, sodium bromide tests, hardness tests, nitrate tests and more.
The Palintest Pooltest 10 Photometer tests for all 10 of the most common testing parameters. There is also a range reagents, sensors and other photometers, which test for anywhere from three to 25 common parameters.
Strips: $12.75 to $312
Test Kits (including instrument and multiparameter): $109 to $14,252