Why does my water smell?
We often think of water as a pure substance because we use it to clean so many things: our dishes, our clothes, even our own bodies! But sometimes the water we use in our homes doesn’t seem very clean. It might have visible particles in it or smell bad. Odor can occur in household water drawn from city/municipal water sources or private wells. Sometimes a strange smell in water is harmless, but other times it can indicate the presence of lead or dangerous bacteria. Keep reading to troubleshoot the cause of your smelly water.
Does it smell like Rotten Eggs?
The characteristic rotten eggs smell is caused by a gas called hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide may occur naturally in groundwater, or it can also be produced by certain types of bacteria found in groundwater, the well, or the water distribution system. Don’t panic; sulfur bacteria are not harmful, but they do produce a slime that can promote the growth of other bacteria. Hydrogen sulfide in water can stain or corrode silverware, plumbing fixtures, and pipes.
The rotten egg smell is very distinct, but your sense of smell quickly becomes used to it, so the best time to check for the smell of hydrogen sulfide is right when you return home after being away for several hours.
Does it smell like Fish?
“Fishy” odor can be caused by naturally occurring organic compounds, metals such as barium or cadmium, chloramine, or algae blooms in the water. Barium occurs naturally in mineral ores and may seep into groundwater. Cadmium can enter the water supply through fertilizer contamination or industrial runoff. Chloramine is a compound of chlorine and ammonia commonly used as a disinfectant. These compounds are generally not harmful unless ingested in large amounts, but the resulting smell and taste can be very unpleasant. You may be able to reduce or remove the fishy odor caused by organic compounds and chloramines with an activated charcoal filter. Barium and cadmium levels are regulated by the EPA so your water provider is required to take steps to reduce the levels of these metals in your water supply.
Does it smell like Metal?
A metallic taste or smell is usually caused by trace metals such as iron, manganese, zinc, or copper that have leached into the water supply through old, rusty pipes made of iron, brass, copper, or galvanized steel. While these trace metals are generally not harmful, there is the possibility that the metallic smell is from lead in the water. There is no safe level of lead in drinking water, so if your water smells like metal, it is best to test it for lead right away.
Another possible source of metallic smell or taste is low pH. Water that has a lower pH, or soft water, is more acidic, which produces a sour taste that may seem metallic. Soft water is not dangerous but you may need to switch laundry, cleaning, and bathing routines and products to compensate. You can obtain a pH test kit and easily test the pH of your home’s water.
>Does it smell like wet dog?
Even if you love your furry friends, the smell of a wet dog is not something you want in your drinking water. The smell of an actual wet dog comes from volatile organic compounds produced by the bacteria and yeasts living on your pet that go into the air as water evaporates from their fur. Water that smells like wet dog can be caused by bacteria, organic compounds or certain metals in the water, similar to fishy-smelling water. (See above.) If your water comes from a municipal or community water system, it is regulated by the EPA and you likely have nothing to worry about. But if you have water from a private well that smells like wet dog, you should get your water tested for the presence of harmful bacteria.
Does it smell like chlorine?
Chlorine is a powerful disinfectant used to treat municipal water supplies, but no one wants to drink water that smells like chlorine or bleach. The smell of chlorine is detectable at levels less than the EPA-recommended health threshold of 4.0 mg/L, so chlorine smell is not an uncommon occurrence and not an automatic sign of danger. Overexposure to chlorine can cause health issues, however, so any overchlorination should be addressed quickly. The shower is the most common form of chlorine exposure because the gas is vaporized from the heated water and inhaled. You can test for chlorine at home using home test kits to determine whether you need to treat your water or request that your municipal water supplier address the issue. Treatment for drinking water can be as easy as refrigerating or boiling water, or you can install an activated carbon filter through the whole house or at point of use.
Does it smell like Dirt?
Some people enjoy the earthy smell of dirt after it rains, but few people want to smell that odor in their drinking water. The cause of the “after rain” smell is a compound called geosmin, which can also cause an earthy smell in drinking water. Geosmin is produced by a group of soil-dwelling bacteria called Actinobacteria, which release geosmin when they die. An earthy smell or gritty texture in water can also be caused by the presence of actual sediment in the water. Be sure to test every faucet in the house for the smell of dirt. If only a few taps give water with an earthy smell, there may be dirt or bacteria in the aerator. If the smell is coming from all taps, it may be a problem with your water source and you will need to contact your supplier.
Test your water to determine the source and cause of the smell.
Your nose may know if something is off about your water, but a water test kit can provide quantitative evidence about what is in your water. It is also important to identify the precise source of the smell in order to remedy the issue, so make sure you test both hot and cold water at multiple faucets and fixtures throughout your home. If you have questions about water testing, feel free to contact us any time!