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We take it for granted, but there’s really nothing quite as enjoyable as being able to run fresh, clean water, right from your tap into your glass. It is extremely unpleasant, however, when you turn on the tap to get a glass of water, only to be assaulted by a musty water smell, or to find that your water smells like rotten eggs or bleach. You might also discover that your coffee tastes bad, or you may turn on the shower and find that your water smells like sewage. What causes unpleasant water odors? More importantly, what can you do to stop them?

The first thing to do, if your water smells bad, is to try and ascertain the cause of the odor. Different smells have different sources, and you need to get to the bottom of it before determining the correct solution.

  • When water smells like bleach, it’s actually because of disinfectant. Just as you’d add chlorine to a swimming pool to remove bacteria, public officials have been adding chlorine to municipal water supplies for over 100 years, beginning in 1908. It’s an effective, proven disinfectant, useful for ridding the water of viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other contaminants. The reason it’s so widely used is that it is not harmful to humans, animals, and birds when it’s used in low concentrations. It should be noted, though, that it can be damaging to reptiles, amphibians, and aquatic pets. Usually, chlorine does not create a discernible smell. If your tap water is suddenly reminiscent of the public pool, that probably means your levels are too high. Consider installing a water filtration system in your home, to rid your water of chlorine odors and flavors.
  • If you notice a rotten egg smell, it’s likely that your water smells like sulfur. Sulfur bacteria in your plumbing feeds on decomposing organic material and creates hydrogen sulfide gas. The smell is present with sulfur bacteria and hydrogen sulfide gas, but the gas can actually be hazardous to your health. Hydrogen sulfide can cause you to feel nauseous, have a headache, or even experience delirium or convulsions. The important first step is to determine where the smell originates. To do this, turn on the hot and cold taps, and run water from each side into water glasses. Walk away from the sink, swirling the water in the glasses, and then smell the water. If there’s no odor in either glass of water, the problem is likely in your drain. You can clean and disinfect the drain by flushing it out, first with baking soda and vinegar, then with boiling water. If the smell is coming from the glass with the hot water, but not the one with cold water, it could be an issue with your water heater. Sometimes bacterial growth can occur in a water heater that’s been turned off, and the water heater will need to be flushed out with chlorine to fix the problem. It could also be that your magnesium anode has degraded, and you can call a plumber to fix this problem. However, if both your hot and cold water smell bad, you need to look to your water source. If you have a well, you may be able to treat bacterial growth the same way it’s treated in the water heater, with shock chlorination. If you get your water from municipal source, contact your water utility or local health agency. Until the issue of sulfur smell is resolved, do not drink the water.
  • Sometimes, people misinterpret the sulfur smell for a sewage odor. If you think you detect sewage smell, proceed the same way you would for a sulfur smell, smelling the water, then cleaning the drain or calling a plumber or the water company, based on what you find out. If you are really sure that it smells more like sewage than rotten eggs, and you have a septic tank, that might be where the problem is originating. A leaky septic tank can cause a sewage smell, a detergent smell, or foamy water, and you need to have a plumber or septic tank technician come out right away to determine the problem and find a solution.
  • A musty or fishy smell in water indicates the presence of organic matter. Bacteria could be growing in your drain, or organic material from decaying plants or animals could have somehow gotten into your water supply. Sometimes, with the municipal water supply, even if safe levels of organic compounds are maintained, the water can still taste and smell unpleasant. Installing a filtration system in your home can clean your water of the contaminants that cause these bad odors.
  • Some odors are uncommon but can be dangerous. If you have old pipes, your water may taste and smell metallic. In rare cases, a leaking fuel tank, runoff of pesticides from agriculture, or discharge from factories or landfills can cause an odor that smells harsh, like a fuel, a solvent, or some other chemical. These odors are rare, but they can cause myriad health problems, including an increased risk of cancer. If you smell anything strange, do not drink your water, but contact your water supplier and the health department as quickly as possible. Once the issue is resolved, you can protect your home from future issues by installing a filtration system.

Whenever something seems iffy about the smell or taste of your water, your first step should be to have the water analyzed. For a free water analysis and consultation, trust Kinetico Quality Water to test your water and help develop a treatment plan. Kinetico is Phoenix, Arizona’s local source for water treatment, providing the cleanest, greenest, most efficient water systems ever made. We understand the challenges in the Valley of the Sun, and our systems use less water than traditional water softeners. What’s more, we stand behind our products with the most comprehensive warranty coverage in the industry. Call or contact us for a free quote.

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