How to Test Your PH Level Without Strips 

Reviewed by: James Layton
Updated on:
January 16, 2024

As you may well know since you’ve navigated your way to this page, pH testing strips require you to discern color, and not everyone can do that.

Luckily, you can easily test your pH level without strips, though there’s only one way to do it without needing to perceive color — and it happens to be the most accurate.

How to Test Your pH Level Without Strips

Digital pH tester

The most accurate way to test your pH level at home is to invest in a digital pH test meter, which is readily available online. The device will cost you less than $100, though the more accurate and applicable the device, the more expensive it will be. Our water expert, James Layton, recommends this digital meter for the best results.

This is the preferred method for people who can’t perceive color because a pH meter gives a numerical value on a display screen instead of showing colors.

There’s little room for human error with a digital pH meter, and the test takes less than thirty seconds to yield results — after you’ve calibrated the meter, of course, which can take up to 20 minutes.

Step 1

First, calibrate the pH meter according to the device’s instructions. Typically, it will involve dipping it in two liquid calibration solutions with established pH values.

If you suspect your water is acidic, you’ll want to calibrate your meter with the low-pH solution and the neutral solution. If you suspect your water is alkaline, calibrate with the neutral and the high-pH solution.

Once calibrated, clean the glass probe with distilled water.

Step 2

Now, fill a clean cup with your tap water and dip your pH testing probe into the cup.

Step 3

The pH meter will start displaying numbers. Let the device stabilize for a few seconds until the device lands on one numerical pH value, which is the exact pH of your well water.

Results

A pH value below 7 is acidic, while values above 7 represent alkaline, or basic, water.

Litmus paper

I’ll admit, using litmus paper to check the pH level of different liquids is the only fun thing I remember from chemistry class.

You can get litmus pH paper online for as low as $10, but be advised: This method does require discerning color. Using it is easy, just follow these steps:

Step 1

Fill a clean glass halfway with water.

Step 2

Dip one strip in the water sample and take it out to check color against the litmus pH scale. Easy as that!

Results

After dipping your litmus paper in water, allow the color to change and compare it to the colors on the litmus pH scale that should have come with the litmus paper you purchased.

How to Test pH Levels With Strips

A quality digital pH meter will cost you around $100, so if you don’t really want to invest that much, and the cabbage method is too goofy and not precise enough, just test your water’s pH with strips.

pH test strips

You can easily find pH test strips online or perhaps in a home improvement store and they last about two years. They are extremely easy to use and take only five minutes of your time.

Remember, pH strips must be stored carefully in a cool, dry place. External factors, such as high heat and humidity, can render the strips useless. And you might not get an accurate result.

This method is slightly more accurate than the litmus paper test but not more than a digital pH meter. Some tests are different than others, so it’s important that you follow the directions on the package, but here are the general steps you can expect.

Step 1

Take one pH test strip and dip it in half a cup of tap water sample for 2–3 seconds.

Step 2

Remove your pH test strip from the water and let it develop the color fully. This may take about 10–15 seconds.

Results

Match the results with the pH color chart. The number associated with the matching color is the pH level of your well water. Typically, red/orange to yellow/green indicates acid, while green is neutral 7, and dark green or blue indicates your water is alkaline.

The results may not be as accurate to the hundredth decimal as a digital meter, but unless you’re performing complex science experiments in your home, a general idea is all you need anyway.

Red Cabbage Method: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Way to Test Water pH

This is probably (read: definitely) the least accurate method on this list, but it might be a fun project to do with your kids.

If you’re seriously concerned about the pH of your water, I don’t recommend this path. That being said, here goes.

If you don’t have a pH tester or litmus paper available and you’re still determined to find the pH of your water without test strips, you can always go for the red cabbage method that needs — yes, you guessed it — a red cabbage.

Whole cabbage

Step 1

Dice half of a red cabbage into fine strips.

Step 2

Boil two cups of distilled water in a pan and add your sliced cabbage to the boiling water. Let the cabbage boil for 5–10 minutes until its purple color leaches out, then let the mixture rest in the pan.

Step 3

Once cooled, strain the mixture into a clean glass bowl. You now have your pH indicator solution: red cabbage juice contains anthocyanin — a neutral pigment that changes color when mixed with an acid or base.

You can also achieve this by blending the sliced cabbage and half a cup of hot water in a blender. Use a coffee filter to separate cabbage juice from the blended mixture.

Step 4

Fill half a plastic cup with the red cabbage juice indicator. Slowly add tap water to the purple juice until it changes color. Alternatively, you can take a few tablespoons of water in a cup and add a few drops of red cabbage juice into it to observe the color change.

Results

If your water is acidic, the solution will turn red or pink. And if it’s basic, the mixture will turn bluish-green and yellow. Neutral water will not change the color and will keep the solution in its original purple.

You can also check the color of your mixture against the anthocyanin indicator scale on this website.

Red cabbage testing strips

Step 1

Take any filter paper, such as acid-free art paper or a coffee filter. Cut out a few strips and dip them in your red cabbage juice.

Step 2

Once fully soaked, take out the strips and let them dry in clean air.

Step 3

Your strips are now ready for testing. Use a dropper to put a few drops of your tap water onto the pH testing strips and observe the color change.

Results

As with the previous cabbage method, red or pink indicates acidic water and bluish-green or yellow indicates alkaline.

Many other edible pH indicators may already be in your kitchen, such as beetroot, blueberries, eggplant, cherries, plums, turmeric, onion, raspberries, grape juice, and tomatoes. You can even use petals of red roses, morning glories, tulips, and violets to create a pH indicator.

Just keep in mind this is more of a curiosity project than a trusted indicator of pH.

The Most Effective Way to Test pH of Water

A pH testing device or meter is the best way to precisely measure the pH level of your well water. It gives an exact numeral value up to two decimal places. This electronic device has nothing to do with the appearance of colors, which significantly reduces human error.

The rest of these methods are only useful for a rough understanding of how high or low your water pH levels are. But this doesn’t mean you should never use them. Sometimes, you only need an estimation of your pH so you can either call a professional for help or install specific filtration systems in your house.

Why Is pH Important to Water Quality?

The pH (or potential of hydrogen) of a water-based liquid determines how acidic or basic (alkaline) it is. If your tap water is acidic, it has a high concentration of hydrogen ions. Likewise, a low concentration means your water is alkaline.

On a pH scale of 1 to 14, liquid with a pH below 7 is considered acidic, while that above 7 is considered alkaline or basic. Anything that lands on 7 — the middle point — is neutral.

Water with an acidic pH tends to contain dissolved heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic, copper, mercury, and cadmium, from the environment.

Acidic well water will corrode your plumbing system, absorbing all the metallic compounds, which can severely damage your health. Certain metals in drinking water can damage the brain, kidneys, liver, lungs, and bones.

On the other hand, alkaline water is less likely to dissolve metallic ions but more likely to have high amounts of other minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, which are not harmful but frustrating.

New trends suggest that alkaline water can improve one’s health by reducing the risk of developing cancer and regulating blood pressure and sugar levels, though experts disagree to what degree alkaline water is beneficial.

What pH Range Is Safe for Drinking Water?

The EPA recommends pH levels of drinking water lie within the range of 6.5–8.5. However, that does not mean the only safe water falls within this range. Water may be more acidic or alkaline for any number of reasons.

For example, you’ll find more acidic water in the areas of Oregon, Colorado, and New York due to natural features, such as limestone and other rocks. That doesn’t necessarily make it unsafe to drink.

The best practice, especially if you have well water, is to test the pH of your water every six months.

Signs Your Well Water Is Acidic

There is no simple “here is the #1 sign your water is acidic” answer. As such, the best sign your water is acidic is that you’ve tested it and it’s acidic. However, there are some indications that could signal acidic water, but keep in mind, theses signs could also indicate alkaline water.

If you suspect your water is acidic, look for blue copper staining and corrosion or leakage in your plumbing, especially rusty corrosion on iron pipes.

You might notice a metallic or bitter taste in your drinking water, but you also might not.

The best way to tell for sure is to test your water.

Signs Your Well Water Is Basic

There are no real signs that your water is basic besides it testing with a high pH.

If you have a high concentration of minerals (hardness and alkalinity minerals), your water may taste chalky and have a high pH, but the taste is due to the minerals, not the pH. In fact, while hard water is almost always alkaline, not all alkaline water will be hard.

You can have soft water and a high pH.

Hardness itself has no effect on pH. The reason they often appear together is the minerals that can create both often appear together.

Although hard water and alkaline water can sometimes go hand in hand, that doesn’t mean scale buildup is a sign of alkaline water. It’s a sign of hard water. However, carbonates dissolved in alkaline water may create white stains on fixtures similar to hard water stains.

How do you tell the difference? Test the pH or have your water quality tested for hardness and other contaminants.

How to Treat Acidic or Basic Well Water

Once you test your water, get an acidic or alkaline response, and have the results in your hands, you can install pH-regulating filtration systems to keep your well water at an optimum pH level.

Water neutralizing systems

If your well water has a low pH value, your best bet is an acid neutralizer. Many types of water neutralization systems are available on the market to suit your needs.

A typical acid neutralizer uses an alkaline material like calcite, calcite-blend, or soda ash to increase the pH of water. If you have a large household, you’ll need a bigger neutralizer and vice versa.

Soda ash chemical injection systems are preferred when the water is way too acidic — say less than 5. Using a calcite neutralizer in such a case might increase the water hardness to the point that you need a water softener to lower the pH.

Check out our review of the best water softeners on the market right now.

Water ionizers

Water ionizers raise the pH level of water by using the principles of electrolysis to separate acidic and alkaline components. This results in two streams of water, one with alkaline components and the other with acidic substances.

You can get a countertop or under-the-counter water ionizer to maintain the pH of selected taps in your home, but this won’t protect your plumbing system from the effects of acidic water. Investing in a whole-house water ionizer is an expensive route, but worthwhile.

Here’s a list of all the best water ionizers.

Water distillation systems

Pure water distillers remove 99% of the contaminants in your water. They work by evaporating water and then condensing the pure water free of heavy metals and acidic compounds.

Distillers are not common because of their high price and energy use, but here are some of the best distillation systems if you decide that’s what you need. 

As with countertop ionizers, a countertop distillation system won’t protect your pipes, but it can improve your cooking and drinking water.

Final Thoughts

Although many techniques will give you an idea of your pH levels, a digital pH meter is the most accurate way. It’s also the best way for people with color vision deficiency because it gives you a number rather than a color.

However, good-quality pH testing strips are more affordable, convenient, and easy to use than a digital meter, and the difference in accuracy is insignificant to most uses.

If you’re seeking additional information on other water system how-to guides, we recommend checking out our articles How to Check Water Pressure Without a Gauge in Two Easy Ways, Average GPM of City Water, and Crazy Facts About Water.

These articles provide detailed instructions, insights, and fascinating facts to enhance your knowledge and understanding of water systems.

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