pH & ORP Meters: Read Before You Buy/Test

pH & ORP Meters: Read Before You Buy/Test

ORP_Meter_NoBackgroundI’m going to come right out and say it – I hate these things.    Not so much the pH meters, all in all they are reasonable to work with.  But the ORP meters -  I’ve spent thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to find something that will work reliably and consistently.    I’m not alone in this.   I’ve talked with owners and tech support people from many of the water ionizer companies thinking maybe there was something I was missing.    The only bright spot in my ORP meter misadventures has been discovering that I was not alone in my frustrations.

Before you invest in an ORP meter or a combo pH/ORP meter there are some things that you really need to know.

I’ll jump straight to the facts about what you need to know before ordering a pH meter.   pH meters  are pretty simple and straightforward in use, maintenance and calibration but there are a few things you should know before placing your order – or you’ll likely find yourself placing another order as soon as you read the instructions that come with the meter.

  1. Storage Solutions: If you read the instructions that come with your new pH meter you will find that the meter probe should be stored in a proper storage solution.  The storage solution is relatively inexpensive and a 500ml bottle will last you a long time.  You’ll pour less than a cap-full in the probe cover before putting your meter away after each use.  While you can use plain water, I always recommend following the manufacturer’s instructions for proper care and storage of meters.  Using the storage solution offered by the manufacturer can extend the life of your probe and may help reduce the frequency at which you need to recalibrate the meter.
  2. Calibration Solutions: pH meters need to be recalibrated every couple of weeks at least, regardless of the frequency of use.  Always ask at which pH levels the meter you are considering can be calibrated and order those calibration solutions with your meter.  Calibration solutions are sold in both bottles and single-use sachets.  The sachets are a little more expensive but are easier to store and can last a long time.
  3. Ordering/Purchasing a Meter: These little meters can be ordered with just a few clicks of your mouse but I recommend talking with a company sales rep – this way you can ask about the appropriate storage and calibration solutions for the meter you are considering.  When speaking with the representative, here are some things you’ll want to ask:

How often should the meter be calibrated?

A Few of My Meters

A Few of My Meters

Which storage and calibration solutions are best for the meter?

Who do I call for technical support if I have questions?

How long will the probe last?

Is the probe replaceable AND, if it is, how much are replacement probes?

Do you have any “packages” that include the meter, replacement probe (if available) AND solutions for storage & calibration?

What is your return/refund policy?

By asking a few questions and ordering a couple of little extras in the beginning you’re much more likely to be able to jump right into testing as soon as you receive your shipment.  I can also tell you that the pH readings I’ve seen using meters correspond pretty closely with “guestimates” you get using the pH testing drops that come with any water ionizer.

ORP Meters

Where do I begin…  I’ll start with my experience(s) and then list the “Things You Should Know” about these little gadgets.

When I first got into all of this water ionizer stuff my intention was to sell the little combo pH/ORP meters or give them away with the water ionizer purchases.  So I jumped right in with an order of 10 of the little combo pocket meters and one much more expensive pH/ORP meter.

Even the “cheap” meters aren’t exactly inexpensive – so when the shipment arrived the first thing I did was pull out the instructions for the expensive meter.  Then I put it back in the box which was where it stayed for about a week until I got the storage solution that was required for properly storing the probe.

With all necessary supplies in-hand I took out my expensive pH/ORP meter and started testing.  pH tested great!  I was shocked by what the ORP readings though.  Couldn’t get a reading over -350 on water samples from any of my units – which I knew couldn’t be right.  Before calling the company I decided to try one of the “cheap” meters.  I opened one up, read through the instructions.  Again, the pH tested just fine but this time I couldn’t get an ORP reading stronger than a -200-something.

So I opened another of the little cheap meters – and then another.  FINALLY!  pH again tested consistent with the other to pH meters but this time I got ORP readings in the high -700′s from one unit and in the high -800′s from another.  My expensive meter?  Readings with it were now testing in the -200′s.

Thinking that maybe that first “cheap” meters I pulled out may have been  “duds,” I called the company about the high-dollar meter that didn’t work.  I explained to the tech support guy what was happening and he laughed (yes, laughed) and said “oh, those meters aren’t reliable for that, they don’t like to work with that kind of water.”

WHAT?!?

He went on to explain that none of their meters worked well for testing the ORP of ionized water and said “there’s only one company out there that has a meter that will do that.”  I asked which company and he said, of course, “I can’t tell you.”  But not before getting in another chuckle.  And so began my ORP meter journey.

Since that initial purchase I have ordered many meters from many different companies at price points both high and low.  I ordered pH/ORP combo meters and ORP only meters.  Every time ordered a new meter I always ordered the recommended solutions for storage and calibration.  Each time I had the same experience.  Inaccurate readings.

Best Solution?  Conditioning Solutions

One of the meters I ordered was from Milwaukee instruments.  When I called technical support at Milwaukee Instruments (because once again I wasn’t getting accurate readings) I finally found someone who was able (willing?) to give me a reasonable explanation for the issues I’d been having with my growing collection of ORP meters.  The company, after working with people from Enagic for close to 10 years, had also developed a solution to improve performance.

The explanation I was given by Milwaukee instruments, in short, was that the probe needs to be oxidized properly to read high negative ORP.   He went on to explain that when you put something that has been oxidized in an antioxidant solution, it de-oxidizes it – hence “antioxidant” – the water is doing just what it is supposed to do.  That certainly explained why after testing a few samples my ORP readings were showing lower and lower negative ORP numbers.  (sample from unit A tested at -790 on the first try, after testing several other samples, a fresh sample from unit A at the same settings tested at -680, and additional samples take from unit A using the same settings continued to show lower negative numbers after I had tested several other samples from units B, C & D.)  Are you with me on this?  Is it making sense to you?

My guy from MI said that several years ago they were about to get out of the ORP meter business for testing alkaline ionized water because they just couldn’t get consistently accurate results.  Finally, they developed a “conditioning process” for the probes that seems to have addressed the issue.   It is still necessary to let the probe soak in an acidic solution to complete the probe’s oxidation – I use Coca Cola on his recommendation – but I was able to revive some of the ORP meters that I hadn’t thrown away or dissected.

The process involves a set of conditioning solutions.  You soak the probe in solution #1 for a few minutes, then rinse, pat dry and soak in solution #2 for a few minutes.  This process is repeated 4 – 6 times, I usually repeat at least 6 times, then you leave the probe soaking in an acidic solution for several hours.  I usually do the conditioning in the afternoon and leave my probes/meters soaking in Coke overnight.  It’s a time consuming pain but at least I know how to get more accurate readings.

I still lose oxidation on the probes when I begin testing, but at least now I can recondition them and use them again – the next day.  When I test, I use MULTIPLE meters for each sample and don’t call a result “final” until I’ve achieved comparable readings from at least 2 meters.   I accept a variance of 10 – 15 as comparable given my experience with these meters.  (Example:  -790 from 1st meter, -780 from 2nd meter – I’m calling it -785).

The downside to conditioning and oxidizing these probes comes when you have a combo pH/ORP meter.   The conditioning process for the ORP probe shortens the lifespan of the pH probe.

What Any Dealer will Tell You -

Any multi-brand water ionizer dealer should tell you the same thing I’m about to say – these units DO produce quality alkaline water with good -ORP numbers.  I’ve tested many units over the past 2 years in many areas with many different source waters, units ranging in price from $650 to $4,000.  The lowest negative ORP reading I’ve seen has been a -250 at the lowest pH setting.  Most of the water ionizer companies will tell you how unreliable ORP meters, from ANY company at any price point, can be.  I’ve talked with technicians at Tyent, Water for Life USA and Chanson many times – we’re ALL looking for a good, reliable ORP meter.

When talking with Ronnie Ruiz at Chanson Water USA last week about another issue, I decided to ask if he’d found an ORP meter that he felt was more reliable.  Ronnie has spent a LOT on different meters from different companies around the world.  He said that right now his favorite ORP meter is from American Marine.  I’ve ordered the one he recommended for myself.  I’ll do an update when I get it in and put it through the paces.  Ronnie has also found that cleaning the probes with a special paper used by jewelers seemed to help improve performance/accuracy.  The only downside to this is repeated cleaning like this can shorten the lifespan of the probe.

Still Want an ORP Meter?

Here are some tips when shopping around -

  1. Get the ORP Probe Conditioning Kit from Milwaukee Instruments – and a bottle of Coke or Pepsi.  If you get one of those meters that gives you questionable readings right out of box you’ll have what you need to condition the probe to get more accurate results.  They are very helpful, based in North Carolina and you can reach them at 252-443-3630.  Be sure to tell them that you are testing alkaline ionized water.
  2. Before just ordering a meter online, call the company and ask if there are any conditioning, storage or cleaning solutions/products that they recommend for the meter you are considering.  I suggest getting what they recommend or you may be disappointed should you need tech support.
  3. Once you’ve found the meter you want to order and know what additional supplies you may need, ask about any available “bundles” that include additional supplies or a replacement probe.
  4. If you find a nice discount or discount package from a 3rd party dealer, be sure to ask who to call if you need technical support.

Summary

If you’re planning on doing presentations that will lead to sales through an affiliate or independent distributor/mlm program, meters can be helpful.  You’ll want to get a

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good feel for how reliable the meter is and decide whether or not you need to have a back-up (or two) on hand for presentations.  That being said, the pH testing/reagent drops that come with water ionizers can also impress at a presentation.  My son took his to school to show the other kids the difference between the water they were drinking and the alkaline ionized water he brought from home in his GoodLife bottle.

If you just want to check the performance of your unit, give a little more thought to buying a pH, ORP or pH/ORP combo meter.  These are pricey little high-maintenance gadgets and to me, not worth the time, effort and expense if you’re just testing a few times a year.  The ORP meters/probes in particular – the conditioning process you go through when the meter doesn’t read accurately is time consuming.  My oldest unit is 2 years old now – I’m still getting the same readings today that I got when it first arrived.  Were I not in this industry trying to provide reasonably accurate information for consumers I wouldn’t own an ORP meter.  pH meters are kinda fun and much more reliable, but I’m not a fan of calibrating them.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $80 (if you find a good sale) to $130 for a decent portable pH or pH/ORP combo meter and you’ll want to add at least $20 to that for storage and calibration solutions.  ORP meters start at around $100 and go up from there – the last time I bought the ORP conditioning solution kit from Milwaukee Instruments it cost me about $15 and has lasted for about a year.  You can reuse the solutions but when you’ll lose a little of the solutions through evaporation and “drips” each time you use them.

As soon as my new ORP meter comes in and I try it out I’ll do an update – maybe I’ve found “the one.”  I hope so.  As soon as I come across a reliable ORP meter I’ll start offering them for sale here so that EVERYONE can see for themselves just how well these water ionizers perform when it comes to producing antioxidant water.  Until then, I offer full technical support on all of the water ionizers that I sell – that keeps me busy enough without taking calls about disappointing ORP readings from meters that I *know* produce more inaccurate results than reliable results.

Romi Sink
Water Ionizer Authority