How to Test Soil Acidity-Alkalinity Without a Kit

Create an inexpensive homemade soil pH test

Man wearing jeans and boots holding dirt in hands

Compassionate Eye Foundation / Steven Errico / Getty Images

You can find out if your soil is acidic or alkaline without purchasing a pricey test kit. This simple DIY test will give you immediate results and is easy to assemble and use. The whole process will take just 15 minutes or less.

Materials

To create your homemade soil acidity-alkalinity test, you'll need just a few common household items. Gather together the following:

  • A soil sample
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Two sample containers (such as disposable cups)

Administering the Test

To test your soil, follow these simple steps:

  1. Scoop some soil into a container. Then, add 1/2 cup of vinegar. If the soil bubbles or fizzes, it's alkaline. The chemical reaction that you're seeing occurs when an acid (vinegar) comes into contact with something alkaline (soil).
  2. If no reaction occurs, scoop a fresh soil sample into a second container. Add half a cup of water, and mix. Then, add 1/2 cup of baking soda. If the soil bubbles or fizzes, the soil is highly acidic. The reaction you're seeing is the result of acidic soil coming into contact with an alkaline substance (baking soda).
  3. If your soil doesn't react to either test, it has a neutral pH and doesn't require any tweaking. Just keep adding organic materials such as compost and leaf mold to maintain that balance.
  4. Amend your soil with wood ash or lime if it tested acidic. Amend your soil with sulfur or pine needles if it tested alkaline.

Remember that good pH is only one aspect of healthy soil. To improve the health of your soil, add the correct free soil amendments to your garden.

Tips and Hints

  1. If you want a precise pH measurement, buy a soil test kit from your local home improvement store or university extension office. An extension office kit is likely to be the more expensive of the two options, but it'll also provide you with more information. Expect your test results to include information about any mineral deficiencies that your soil has, along with recommendations on how you can make improvements.
  2. Soil amendment takes time, so make small changes and wait for them to take hold before making further amendments.
  3. You may have different types of soil in different parts of your yard, so consider testing each of your garden beds.
  4. Choose plants that will thrive in your soil. Hydrangeas and blueberries, for example, love acidic soil. Sometimes, it's just easier to work with the soil that you have than to fight it.
  5. Continue to test and tweak your soil over time. Maintaining healthy soil is an ongoing task.

Ways to Improve Your Soil for Free

You don't have to spend money to improve your soil. There are free materials that you can add to your soil to improve pH, water retention, soil structure, and nutrient content. You can get free coffee grounds for your garden, use leaves in your garden, and even get free mulch.