May 20, 2003

Using Test Strips to Make the Sale

Water testing is a must whether you are doing a simple soap
comparison to justify the cost of a water softener to a potential customer or
trying to match the size of a nitrate removal system with the application. The
question is, which testing method you should use? When thinking of the
different types of test methods or chemistries that are available, most people
will list three: contract laboratory testing, simple instrumentation (e.g., pH
meters and colorimeters) and wet chemistry test kits. A growing number of
individuals also will consider test strips as an acceptable water testing
method. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with each method. So,
which method should you use to help make the sale? Below are several important
points regarding these various testing methods.

Apart from the advantages of test strips mentioned in the
sidebar, how can test strips help you sell water purification equipment?

At one time, a water quality professional could go
door-to-door with a sales pitch and testing kit selling water purification
systems to homeowners. Times have changed. People often are just too busy for
this sales technique to be as successful as it once was. In most households,
both decision-makers work, making them unavailable to salespeople during the
day. At the end of a stressful day, they are not interested in having a
stranger in their home making a sales pitch. At the same time, door-to-door
sales are expensive and do not always reach enough people to be successful.
This is where the inexpensive and easy-to-use test strips can help make the
sale. More and more companies are adopting the idea of sending potential
customers complimentary test kits as part of a marketing program. The homeowner
receives the test kit in the mail with instructions and information about the
test kit or whom to call after the test has been completed. This approach
allows the dealer greater market coverage at a lower cost. It also empowers the
customer with a do-it-yourself test kit that will feel less invasive than a
salesperson. Based on the growing demand for test strips, it stands to reason
that this approach is a good way to boost sales and interest in water
purification equipment.

With the decline of door-to-door solicitations, dealers have
opened retail storefronts to sell bottled water, filtration equipment and
filters. These items are increasingly more available and in greater variety at
large retail stores as well. With this in mind, the retail storefront has
proven to be another benefactor of do-it-yourself home test kits. Now,
customers can buy a test kit, take it home, come back to discuss the results
with the dealer and then buy a purification system or water cooler.

Test strips are a great solution for filtered water that
requires regular monitoring. Imagine an ion exchange system that is removing
high levels of nitrate or arsenic from a water source. Test strips make it
possible for the end user to periodically test this water at the point of use
quickly and easily. Quick and easy helps to ensure that the water purification
system is monitored and serviced when necessary. This translates into a more
reliable system with the dealer selling replacement media and filters and
providing maintenance at regular intervals without making unnecessary service

Common Uses for Specific Test Strips

Total hardness or calcium hardness is a water characteristic
that even most non-technical people understand. They know that the hardness of
their water affects taste, efficiency of soap and detergents, scaling of pipes
and the life and performance of coffee machines. However, testing total
hardness with a titration test kit can require several minutes and some
technical ability. Therefore, using total hardness test strips instead of wet
chemistry kits is a great advantage. Most total hardness test strips are very
simple to use and produce easy, understandable results in just a few seconds.
In addition, total hardness test strips are available individually packaged and
tend to be inexpensive enough for the average water quality professional to
give them away at trade shows and in their stores or to include them with
direct-mail literature.

Much like total hardness, chlorine is another test that
frequently is done using test strips. Test strips provide a great companion
product for companies that manufacture or sell the common chlorine removal
filters. Test strips can be used to determine if a filter is needed, and then
periodic tests can be done to determine if the filter needs replacing.
Frequently, manufacturers will include a small number of individually packaged
chlorine test strips with their filter for this purpose. The included test
strips also are great for promoting post purchase satisfaction by allowing the
consumer to confirm that the filter he has purchased is indeed reducing
chlorine levels in his water.

Another example of how test strips are frequently used in
the water quality industry is with nitrate testing. Other methods for testing
nitrate include the use of an expensive colorimeter, complex wet chemistry and
often hazardous reducing agents such as cadmium. Nitrate test strips often are
included in off-the-shelf reverse osmosis systems. This is a requirement for
manufacturers of RO systems that have been certified for nitrate removal.
Because test strips can be individually packaged, give rapid results, are not
technical and are easy to use, they provide an alternative to having the
customer send a water sample to a lab after the RO has been installed.

Uncovering the Latest Breakthroughs in Test Strips

Advancements in research and technology have led to test
strip-based test kits that are more accurate, more sensitive and test for a
greater variety of contaminants. These advancements have made test strips more
applicable and more widely used than ever before as acceptable test methods in
the water purification market. Below are some examples of the latest
capabilities of test strip technology.

Hydrogen sulfide gas can be deadly at high levels by numbing
the sense of smell and then disrupting oxygen flow in the body. At very low
levels, hydrogen sulfide has an obnoxious taste and odor. Until recently,
measuring hydrogen sulfide below 0.5 parts per million was limited to expensive
instrumentation. Many people simply relied on their sense of smell because a
method was unavailable for quantitative testing. A new type of test kit
employing a test strip allows the user to conveniently semi-quantitatively
measure hydrogen sulfide below 0.010 ppm (10 ppb). The kit uses a reaction
vessel and two reagents to generate hydrogen sulfide gas. The test strip is not
dipped into the sample but positioned above the sample in the cap on the
reaction vessel to detect the hydrogen sulfide gas as it leaves the water
sample. After the reaction takes place, the test strip is matched to an
easy-read color chart. Other higher range test kits (up to 80 ppm) feature
simple dip and read technology where no chemical mixing is required.

Arsenic test kits that employ test strips and make quick
measurements in the field possible, even by non-technical individuals, have
been available for some time. Only in the last three years has any major
advancement been made. The first significant changes included a lower 5 part
per billion detection level (as opposed to 100 ppb), limited hydrogen sulfide
interference, use of non-hazardous reagents and refrigeration is no longer
required. Additional improvements continued with shorter test times (from more
than 30 minutes to 12 minutes), elimination of the iron interference and
detection levels as low as 0.2 parts per billion with some kits. The most
recent addition is an optional scan unit capable of measuring the color on the
reacted test strip. The scanner gives the semi-quantitative colorimetric test
kit comparable resolution to that of a meter. This is because the scanner can
distinguish very slight color changes--much more than the human
eye--resulting in the ability to possibly report many more levels than the
test kit's typical 10-15 prechosen levels.

The typical arsenic test strip kit includes a clear reaction
vessel where three to five reagents (depending on the kit) are combined with a
water sample. Similar to the hydrogen sulfide test, a test strip is positioned
above the sample in the cap on the reaction vessel. A reaction occurs in the
reaction vessel that converts any available inorganic arsenic to arsine gas.
The gas is evolved from the water sample, comes in contact with the test strip
and produces a color that is matched to a color chart.

Cyanide is a very poisonous element that is used in
electroplating, metal cleaning, mining and other chemical processes. The EPA
limit for free cyanide is 0.2 ppm in drinking water. A new patented method
using a simple dip-and-read test strips now is available for the detection of
free cyanide at 0, 0.1, 0.2 and 0.4 ppm. The test procedure involves dipping a
test strip sensitive to cyanide in a water sample for 90 seconds and then
matching the reacted test strip to a color chart. Other available methods
require hazardous reagents and technical expertise or simply are unable to
detect cyanide at the EPA limit. What makes this test strip able to do what
others cannot is a unique design, referred to as an aperture. The aperture
allows the water sample to actually flow through the test pad instead of just
into the test pad (see Figure 1). This patented design results in a ten-fold or
more increase in sensitivity, and is a significant advancement in test strips
since the beginning of their wide use in the medical field in the 1960s.

Continuous technological advancements and the many
advantages listed above make test strips an attractive alternative in the water
treatment and purification market. Many water quality professionals using other
testing methods still take advantage of test strips. For the water quality
professional, test strips can be much easier and much more cost effective than
other methods without sacrificing accuracy and reliability. Some test strip
users view test strips as a solution for special applications or marketing
promotionals, while others who focus on one area of expertise such as arsenic
removal may depend solely on test strip kits. Arsenic field test kits that
employ test strips are the only way to test for arsenic if results are needed
quickly. Although test strips are not yet universally used in the water
treatment and purification industry, they do continue to gain popularity.

About the author

John Gary is national sales manager at Industrial Test Systems, Inc., Rock Hill, S.C. He can be reached by phone at (800) 861-9712 ext. 218 or by email at [email protected].