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The jar test is used to determine dosage requirements for chemicals added to remove small
particulates from water or wastewater. Raw drinking water comes from groundwater well supplies
or surface water sources such as lakes, rivers, or reservoirs. While groundwater tends to be quite
clear, surface water often has a lot of suspended particles that make it appear turbid. Particulates
are also often responsible for some of the color, taste, and odor problems associated with raw water
supplies. Industrial wastewater may be treated for particulate removal to prepare it for reuse or to
recover valuable material from the captured particles.

Turbidity, in the context of water and wastewater treatment, refers to the light-scattering
properties of a water sample. It is measured in a turbidimeter and reported in turbidity units (TU).
There are a variety of methods for measuring turbidity, but the instrument most commonly used is
the nephelometer. A water sample is poured into a clear glass cuvette and inserted into a darkened
sample holder. A light beam is passed through the cuvette, and a photocell oriented at a 90o angle
to the beam path is used to detect any scattered light. The more particles present, the more light
will be scattered and detected. Measurements are reported as Nephelometric Turbidity Units

Many of the particles in surface water supplies are colloidal in nature. Colloids are particles
that are so small in diameter and mass, that they remain in the water column no matter how much
settling time is allowed. Clay and microorganisms typically behave as colloids. Clay colloids tend
to have a net negative surface charge, which causes them to mutually repel each other and prevents
any contact or agglomeration.


A major goal of water treatment is turbidity removal. The jar test is a simulation of the
treatment processes that have been developed to accomplish turbidity removal. A group of
chemicals has been identified that can serve as coagulants; their addition brings about the clumping
together of colloidal material. The mechanisms by which this is accomplished are quite complex
and have been the subject of intense study. Which of four major mechanisms of coagulation
predominates will depend on the coagulant used, the dosage, and the raw water characteristics
including turbidity, alkalinity, and pH. By charge compression or adsorption, the coagulant may
act to reduce the net negative charge on each particle, allowing closer proximity of particles and
ultimate contact. In other cases, the coagulant acts by forming a heavy, sticky precipitate that
enmeshes the colloids and pulls them down as it settles to the bottom. Alternately, the coagulant
may act as a chemical bridge, binding to several colloids at the same time. Consult your text for
details on the various mechanisms.

There are two key processes that must occur for efficient turbidity removal with coagulants.
First, there must be rapid and complete mixing of the colloids and the chemical coagulant. This is
typically done in a “flash” or rapid mix chamber for a detention time of about 30-60 seconds. The
second important step is the flocculation process, in which clumped particles are mixed slowly to
allow larger and larger aggregates (floc) to form. Mixing speed is maintained at a level sufficient
to keep the particles suspended without shearing them. After about 30 minutes of flocculation, the
water passes into a long sedimentation tank. During the two to four hours it takes the water to
cross this tank with very slow velocity, the floc particles settle by gravity to form a thick sludge
blanket at the bottom of the basin.

Alum, ferrous sulfate, and ferric chloride are three common coagulants. Because their
mechanism of action is complex, “more” is not always “better”. Sometimes better turbidity
removal will be achieved with a low dose than with a higher one. The best dose will also be a
function of pH. The optimum pH for alum coagulation is usually between 5.5 and 6.5. There is no
way to “calculate” the best dose. It must be determined by trial and error; hence, the jar test. The
reaction chemistry varies according to the pH and alkalinity of the test sample. Alum coagulation
proceeds according to the following equation if there is enough alkalinity in the water to react
with the amount of alum dosed:

Al2(SO4)3 • 14H2O + 6HCO3- ↔ 2Al(OH)3(s) + 6CO2 + 14H2O + 3SO4-2

If there is insufficient alkalinity, the reaction will proceed according to the equation:
Al2(SO4)3 • 14H2O ↔ 2Al(OH)3 + 3H2SO4 + 8H2O

An alkalinity test is usually performed before initiating a jar test to determine whether alkalinity
supplements might be required.


The jar test is performed on a “gang stirrer”. Six axial mixing blades are operated by a single
motor, so mixing conditions can be replicated in six one liter samples simultaneously. Each beaker
is filled with a one liter sample of the turbid water. Alkalinity and pH adjustments are made, if
required, and a range of coagulant doses is tested. At time zero, the coagulant doses are quickly
added, and samples are mixed at about 100 rpm for one minute. Then, the mixing speed is reduced
to only 30 rpm, and flocculation is allowed to proceed for about 30 minutes. Finally, all mixing is
discontinued, and the floc is allowed to settle for 30-60 minutes. A plot of turbidity readings versus
dosage reveals the optimum dose.

There are several important points about the optimum dose. First, it may change from day to
day. If there are high raw water turbidity fluctuations, a jar test will be required with each major
change. Further, the “optimum” dose does not always refer to the dose that achieves maximum
turbidity removal. If a 10 mg/L increment in dosage produces only a slight improvement in
turbidity removal, the increased chemical costs may not warrant the higher dose. Therefore, the
optimum dose is more practically thought of as the one that achieves the best turbidity removal “for
the money”.

The jar test may be used to test variables other than dosage. For example, all beakers might
be tested with 30 mg/L alum, but the initial pH in each beaker might be varied over a range of 5.5
to 7. The effectiveness of coagulant “aids” (polymers which sometimes enhance the agglomeration
of colloids) could also be evaluated using a jar test.

1) Measure the initial pH, alkalinity, and turbidity of the sample to be tested. Make any pH
adjustment necessary for the protocol you are following. Refer to the reaction equation for
alum coagulation below and calculate for the maximum alum dose you plan to use, what
alkalinity concentration is required to prevent significant pH reduction (see Davis, p. 164:
Peavy p. 140). Compare this required amount to the amount measured in step 1, and
supplement the sample with alkalinity if necessary.

Al2(SO4)3 • 14H2O + 6HCO3- ↔ 2Al(OH)3 (s) + 6CO2 + 14 H2O + 3SO4-2

2) Apportion one liter of well-mixed representative sample to each of 6 one liter beakers.

3) Measure out all alum dosages in advance. Adjust the dial to begin stirring at 100 rpm. Once all
beakers are being mixed uniformly, add the appropriate dosage to each beaker simultaneously.
After chemical addition, continue mixing for one minute, and then reduce the stirring speed to
35 rpm. Allow the contents to mix at this speed for 15-20 minutes. Record your observations
of the floc: e.g., none, smoky pinpoint, moderate, heavy.

4) After the flocculation period, discontinue all stirring, and allow the contents of the beakers to
settle for 30 minutes. Record your observations of the settling process in each jar.

5) Carefully insert a pipette tip just below the surface of the settled water in each beaker and draw
samples for final turbidity measurement.
NOTE: Do not disturb the floc that may be floating on the surface.

6) Record the final pH.

7) Prepare a graph of alum dose vs. remaining turbidity in order to identify the dosage that
produced optimum turbidity removal. Consult your text for examples of typical jar test results.


1) Davis, Mackenzie L. and David A. Cornell, Introduction to Environmental Engineering, 2nd

Ed., McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York, 1991.
2) Hammer, Mark J., Water and Wastewater Technology, 2nd Ed., John Wiley & Sons, New
York, 1986.