By Jay Anand

Test strips have been a growing part of the pool and spa industry since their introduction in the mid-1980s. Taking their roots in medical diagnostic testing, pool and spa test strips have redefined how water chemistry testing is performed. What used to be a task left to either the pool and spa service professional or the experienced pool and spa owner has become an everyday task for just about every pool and spa owner. This being the case, it’s important to know what products are available in the market and the features you can look for when choosing the right test strip.

The players
Although there are many different products and brand names in today’s marketplace, there are only three main pool and spa test strip manufacturing companies. Environmental Test Systems, Inc., a subsidiary of Hach Company located in Elkhart, Ind., has been manufacturing test strips since 1985, under the trade name AquaChek™. Industrial Test Systems Inc., a privately owned manufacturer located in Rock Hill, S.C., has been manufacturing pool test strips since 1994, under the trade names Pool CheckTM and Spa CheckTM. Finally, LaMotte Company, a division of Thomas Scientific located in Chestertown, Md., has been manufacturing pool and spa test strips since 1996, under the trade name Insta-Test®. Although each one of these companies’ products appears to be very similar, each product has its own unique features and benefits in the realm of pool and spa testing.

A popular choice
Why have test strips have gained in popularity?

Because of advances in technology and chemistry, testing strips are now easier to use. With the introduction of the single-dip test procedure, for example, in 1994 by Industrial Test Systems Inc., consumers can now get accurate results without sacrificing time. Couple this advancement with the introduction of mechanical strip readers, designed primarily to benefit pool and spa in-store testing, and one can see why test strips have become the predominate choice for water chemistry testing.

Test strips offer many advantages over their rival wet-chemical reagent tests. Most notably, test strips simplify the testing procedure. With wet-chemical reagent tests the pool or spa owner has to first collect a viable water sample. Once this is accomplished, multiple drops are added to the water sample in order to get close to accurate results. With test strips no sample has to be collected; the test can be performed directly in the pool or spa water. Additionally, all chemicals required to perform the tests are impregnated on the test strip pad, making results more accurate and repeatable, i.e., this removes some of the operator error associated with wet-chemical tests (missing drops, improper mixing, wrong drop counts, etc…).

The time involved with performing tests also decreases dramatically with the use of test strips. No longer does an owner have to count multiple drops, as all chemical results can be determined with a single dip-and-read test strip. Results take place directly on the strip through a colorimetric reaction, usually in less than one minute, without sacrificing accuracy.

Finally, test strips are portable and pose no health threats to users. Liquid reagent type kits contain various liquids that must be properly stored and kept away from potential ingestion. Test strips eliminate both of these concerns in that they are self-contained testing units that, for the most part, use no hazardous chemicals or reagents. Typically, each test strip contains less than 10 percent of the chemicals found in a comparable wet-chemical reagent test.

All of these benefits have helped, and continue to make test strips the choice of thousands of pool and spa owners. So, what should you look for when choosing and using pool and spa test strip products?

Helpful testing hints
According to an article published in 1997, by Aqua Magazine1, there are several principles that one should remember when choosing and using the right testing method for a pool and/or spa.

  • Testing results should be consistent and repeatable—i.e., two different people performing the test at the same time should get the same results.
  • Reagents (test strips) are designed to be used with a specific kit (color chart). Do not interchange or substitute reagents (test strips or color charts) from one manufacturer with those from another—color standards, color intensity and concentration may be different.
  • Make sure the test kit you’re using is capable of giving a reading in the range you are likely to encounter in your pool or spa.
  • Carefully read and follow the test kit manufacturer’s directions.
  • Don’t wear sunglasses when interpreting results.

Choosing the right product
Several more comments can be added to help you choose the correct test strip product.

For instance, look for a test strip product that offers a large, easy-to-read color chart. The larger the color block, the easier it is to read and the more accurate your results are likely to be. In addition:

  • Dip time is also important. Often, the test with the shortest dip time may be quicker and more convenient, i.e., 1 second versus 10 seconds. Longer dip times, however, allow more time for the test strip chemistry to react with pool chemicals and a 1 or 2 second variance has minor effect.
  • Product packaging is important. Test strips are available both in bottles and in individually wrapped strips, introduced in 1999, each offering unique advantages over the other. Explore the different packaging options that are available and choose the one that you’re most comfortable with, bottles of strips or individually wrapped strips.
  • Price is important. With the wide variety of test strips to choose from in today’s market, and the underlying chemistry between all products being very similar, price isn’t necessarily the best way to determine quality.

Again, compare product features and benefits and look for the advantage that will benefit you the most.

Conclusion
Several test strips are patented and each test has some testing uniqueness that each manufacturer can offer. Following the above-suggested guidelines should help to make your test strip choice easier and your testing more enjoyable.

As time progresses, continued technological and chemical innovations in the pool and spa test strip market are expected. These are sure to spawn even more innovative and timesaving products. In some instances, the future is already here. Ranging from mechanical test strip readers to single-dip test procedures, the test strip market has already brought pool and spa testing into a new era—and the best is yet to come.

References

  1. “Test The Waters,” Aqua Magazine, September 1997, Vol. 22, No. 9, pp.65-68.
  2. Richard LaMotte, LaMotte Company, Chestertown, Md., webpage: www.lamotte.com/insta
  3. Environmental Test Systems Inc., Elkhart, Ind., webpage: www.aquachek.com

About the author
Jay M. Anand is the marketing manager for Industrial Test Systems Inc. of Rock Hill, S.C., a manufacturer of test strips for different industries since 1989. Its latest introduction, the Pool CheckTM product line, has been designed to offer both the end-user and store owner unique advantages that, until now, have been unavailable in the pool and spa testing market. Anand can be reached at (803) 329-9712, (803) 329-9743 (fax) or email: its@cetlink.net

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