What Does It Mean When Water Smells Bad?

If you’ve ever turned on the tap and thought that the water coming out smelled bad, you’re not alone. Many people have this problem in their homes, but few know what it means, and what to do about it.  Sometimes, the issue at hand can be identified by the type of smell that’s emitted when the faucet is turned on, and how long the odor persists.

First, as a test, turn on the tap, fill a glass of water, and then walk away with it. Smell the water from the other side of the kitchen. If it still has an odor, there is a problem with the water itself, but if the smell is gone, it may be an issue with the drain or sink. Try cleaning them both with drain cleaner and bleach, and with some like the smell will go away.

If the water smells like rotten eggs, it may be an issue with the hot water heater, but if cold water has the same odor, then hydrogen sulfide contamination may be the problem. This is usually only an issue found with well water and can be solved with activated carbon filters, installed either at the faucet or in line with the main water supply to the house. They will need to be replaced periodically but can last anywhere from months to years, depending on the style.

When the sulfur odor only comes from hot water, then there is likely a problem with the hot water heater. On the inside of the heater, there is a magnesium rod, which is used as an anode to help minimize corrosion to household pipes. When the magnesium reacts with aluminum, it created hydrogen sulfide gas, which is then dissolved into the water and smells like rotten eggs. Checking to make sure that the gas is being properly vented from the water heater can prevent it from ending up in the water as it flows from the tank to your faucet.

Water that has a musty smell is indicative of decaying organic matter leeching into the water. This can be an issue for those with well water, or even city water if there is a break somewhere in the water line. Even a small amount of rotting plant matter making it into the water supply can cause a terrible odor, and some significant health risks, as well. As with the sulfur issue, a filter can be installed for those with well water, but those with city water should investigate where the organic material is entering the water line, and attempt to fix the problem.

An odor of oil or gasoline means there is likely a leak somewhere near by, and that those products are seeping into the ground water. Leaking storage tanks, industrial dumping, or improper disposal are all possible sources for this kind of contamination. This is one of the most serious forms of water contamination, and it means the water is no longer safe to drink or use until the issue is rectified. Contact a professional to come inspect your plumbing and water source, and rely on either bottled or boiled water until notified otherwise.