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Salts Test – Value for Damp or Water Leak?


What is a Salts Test?

A salts test is a method of testing areas affected by moisture and damp. The tests they carry out help to identify the type of water by looking for signs of of chlorides (found in tap water) and nitrates (found in ground water – which can indicate rising damp on walls).

These two test can be very valuable when looking for water leaks as, once you have found an area affected by moisture, you can test it to understand the particular source of water. It can help to confirm a leak or let you know it is something else, such as penetrating damp or other damp causes.

It is important to note that, like many pieces of leak detection equipment, a salts test is used together with other information to identify and locate water leaks, it will not find a leak alone but will help understand the source of the leak.

What is in a Salts Test Kit?

The contents of a Salts Test Kit are:

  • Distilled / De-ionised water – this is pure water with all traces of minerals removed (such as sodium, iron and copper etc) and also anions such as chloride and sulphates. It is important that this water is pure so that it does not affect the tests that are carried out.
  • Nitrate Tablets – which, as the name suggests, checks for nitrates in the affected material which has come into contact with water or moisture. This is something that is included on water testing kit strips commonly too and drinking water tests.
  • Chloride Tablets – to check for chlorides in the affected material
  • Measuring scoop – to measure a portion of the material that is being tested (e.g. plaster)
  • Measuring cups / beakers – to mix the material, the tablets and water for the test
  • Instructions – to explain the process and steps taken in a salts test
  • A Carry Bag – to keep the above items clean and protected
Salts Test Kit
Salts Test Kit

What does a Salts Test Check?

The main thing that the salts test is checking for:

  • Nitrates – nitrates are found in water that has been in contact with the ground / soil. They are soluble in water and so can be carried in moisture from rising damp. The presence of nitrates indicates that the water has likely been in contact with, or is from, the ground – rising up.
  • Chlorides – chlorides are found in treated tap water. As you know, tap water goes through a treatment process to clean and filter it, with certain chemicals added too (typically chlorine and fluoride) to help make the water safe and often to disinfect the water and prevent it carrying water borne diseases. The chloride test looks for these traces.

Clearly there are several combinations of result that are possible with salts tests;

  1. Positive for both Nitrates and Chlorides
  2. Negative for both Nitrates and Chlorides
  3. Negative for Nitrates, Positive for Chlorides
  4. Positive for Nitrates, Negative for Chlorides

As well as testing for positive and negative in the results, our trained engineers will look for the strength of the result either way, particularly positive tests, as it can help to understand how much of the materials are present. And, to be ready for interpreting those subtle variances.

Please note – chlorides presence does not necessarily mean that the moisture comes directly from fresh tap water. Remember that tap water is used to flush toilets, in washing machines etc. So it could also indicate a leak from waste water. See more about types of waste water, half way down the page.

On the subject of appliances, see how much water washing machines use.

Water Leak Detection Service
Water Leak Detection Service

How Can Salts Tests help Find Water Leaks?

Salts test are just one of the methods to help find water leaks and are used in conjunction with other water leak detectors, such as moisture meters, thermal imaging, tracer gas and acoustic. As we have said previously, these compliment each other, helping to narrow down both the type of water leak and the location of the water leak. Salts test help with the type of water leak, specifically the type of water.

Salts tests can also be used to identify rising damp, penetrating damp which (in some cases) can be mistaken for water leaks. Again, it’s further evidence to add to the other methods.

Doing a salts test is not really a DIY task, mainly because of what we just said but the results can need interpreting and combining with other information. Our water leak detection engineers are trained in all these methods of leak detection and regularly carry out salts tests.

We offer salts analysis tests either on their own, as part of water damage investigations and, if needed, as part of our leak detection services. For example, when looking into a flooded basement.

How do you do a Salts Test?

To do the test, the leak detection engineer will take a measured sample of the affected material that has come into contact with the water / moisture. This will be mixed separately, using the purified water, with the test tablets. These are then stirred and left to take effect, as well as the sediment settling. The colour that the water turns will tell the leak detection engineer what the type of water is.

Salts Test Result
Salts Test Result – Colours

It’s important to say that, this measurement, analysis (including exact quantities) and especially interpretation is something that experience is very beneficial in, to ensure correct and accurate results that can be actioned upon further in the process.

From start to finish, these tests only take a few minutes and are almost always carried out onsite, allowing us to interpret and use the results in the rest of our investigations.

How Much do Salts Tests Cost?

Salts tests are relatively inexpensive and are a very cost effective way of undertaking tests on water leaks, water damage or damp. In some instances, several tests may need to be taken in different locations, especially if damage is extensive or if there are other possible issues already with a property. For example, if a property has rising damp as well as having a water leak.

A salts analysis test is usually under £100 if that is the sole purpose of the visit. If it is part of other work being done (such as leak detection) it is more likely under £50. Remember that this could be paid for free by your insurance company as part of your trace and access cover.

On the subject of salts, you might find our article regarding efflorescence on bricks interesting. Sometimes people refer to this as brick salts. On the subject of testing, we have a great page explaining about Water Testing Kits.

How fast is a Water Leak Salts Test?

The results of a salts analysis test are available in just a few minutes when done by an experienced and trained technician who knows how best to carry out the process from start to finish (including various elements) and how to interpret results. They give very useful results in helping to identify water sources in properties in a number of applications.

Can Salts Tests be used to identify Rising Damp?

Yes, salts tests are frequently used to help identify rising damp and other forms of damp, especially the nitrates part of the test. Other methods are used to to help collect additional evidence to identify the damp and the extend of the damage. They are a very useful information source for understanding damp in properties.

If you need help with a water leak or salts test, get in touch today for a free phone consultation.