Homeowners may sometimes notice foul scents in their home water. In many circumstances, water testing cannot pinpoint the particular origin of the odor; nonetheless, this paper includes a few general pieces of advice for correcting some frequent cause of home water smells.
Locating the Source of the Odor
The issue is most likely in the main water supply if the odor is present in all water faucets. If it only happens with particular faucets, the issue is most likely with the fittings or pipes that feed that specific faucet.
If the issue goes away after a few minutes of running the water, the fault is in the domestic plumbing system. If the odor persists, the cause of the issue might be the water supply or a combination of the water supply and the plumbing system. Figure 1 outlines the possible sources of odors in water.
Figure 1. A decision tree to aid in the identification of causes of home water odor.
Corrective procedures are recommended for smells emanating from the plumbing or thriving system. Contact your water provider if you get your water from a public water supply (PWS) and the odor is thought to be coming from the water source line. This is particularly true if your neighbors are also experiencing odor issues.
Drinking Water: Common odor problems, probable causes and suggested corrective measures
If an odor issue in your home water and its cause is not listed here, speak with a drinking water expert from your water provider (if you use public water), county health agency, or UGA Cooperative Extension agent (1-800-ASK-UGA-1).
a. Bleach, Chemical or Medicinal Odor
To avoid bacterial development, public water providers often chlorinate the water. The typical amount of free chlorine in PWS drinking water is 0.2 – 2.0 parts per million (ppm), although values may reach 5.0 ppm. Odors caused by chlorine addition typically disappear within a few minutes of exposure to air.
Adding chlorine to water by shock chlorination of a well or plumbing system produces a distinct bleach (chlorine) odor. When the chlorine has entirely dissipated, the bleach smell will disappear. Turning on outdoor faucets and letting the water flow until the odor is gone is required.
In rare situations, the additional chlorine may interact with organic compounds in the plumbing system, causing the water to smell. After a few minutes of running the water, the stink should be gone. Figure 1 shows how to find the source of the odor. If you get your water from a well and the issue seems to be in your plumbing or healthy system, your complete water system should be cleansed, ideally by a qualified well driller or pump installer. Contact your water supply authority if you are on a PWS and the issue is with the water supply line.
b. Rotten Eggs (Sulfurous), Decayed or Sewage-like Odor
A rotten egg (or sulfurous), rotted, or sewage-like stench in-home water is often caused by bacterial activity, which may be caused by:
- Bacteria developing in the drain: The most prevalent source of unpleasant scents. Organic stuff like hair, soap, and food waste may collect on the drain’s walls over time. These deposits provide food for bacteria to thrive on. Bacteria can create a gas that smells like rotten eggs or sewage. Take the following two actions to address this issue:
- First, be sure that the scent is present in cold and hot water and that it comes from one or more faucets, but not all. Fill a glass with the smelly water from the sink, then move away and swirl the water within the glass a few times. If the issue is in the drain, the tap water in the glass should be odorless.
- If the water in the glass does not smell, disinfect the drain and flush it.
- Bacteria in the water heater: Bacteria in the water heater may generate a rotten egg or sewage odor. This is common when hot water is left unused, the water heater is switched off for an extended period, or the heater’s thermostat is too low. The germs that cause this condition are not generally harmful to one’s health; the taste and odor may be highly unpleasant. The following measures are proposed to resolve this issue:
- Check that hot water stinks, but cold water does not. The stench is often caused by a magnesium heating rod in the hot water tank.
- A qualified plumber may replace the heater’s magnesium rod with a suitable substitute, such as an aluminum rod.
- Bacteria in the well: If issues with the drain or water heater have been checked out, the stench might come from the water source. The water should not be used since it may contain hazardous microorganisms. The following measures are proposed to resolve this issue:
- If you are on your own well, the natural groundwater chemistry may support bacterial growth in the well. Shock chlorinate the well and pump out water until the chlorine odor disappears. For a step-by-step shock chlorination procedure, refer to the University of Georgia publication “Disinfecting Your Well Water: Shock Chlorination.”
- A faulty or incorrectly situated septic system might be near your well. Contact the health department in your county.
- If you are on a PWS, notify your water supply authority or county health department immediately.
For more information about rotten egg odor, refer to the University of Georgia publication “Your Household Water Quality: Hydrogen Sulfide and Sulfate.”
c. Musty, Moldy, Earthy, Grassy or Fishy Odor
Although these scents are innocuous, human taste and smell are extraordinarily sensitive, even at low levels. These scents might be caused by the following:
- Decaying organic matter in the drain
- Pollution of well water from surface drainage
Bacteria are frequent in both instances. The rotting organic debris accumulated in the drain over time is the most typical source of this issue. Fill a glass with tap water, then move away from the sink and swirl the water within the glass a few times to ensure the issue is not in the well. If the issue is in the drain, the tap water in the glass should be odorless. The stink should be eliminated by disinfecting, cleaning, and flushing the drain.
The odor may be coming from the reservoir/pressure tank. Cleaning and maintaining the reservoir/pressure tank regularly may prevent germs from developing to the point where they generate odor in the water. Less often, some forms of algae, fungus, and bacteria growing in the water supply, particularly during warm weather, might change the odor of the water.
If the issue is in the well, shock, chlorinate it, and pump out much water until the chlorine smell disappears. If the issue continues, think about installing the following:
- An activated carbon filter OR
- An activated carbon filter is used after an automated chlorinator.
If you have a PWS and not enough chlorine is used to disinfect the water, some bacteria may develop in the supply line and generate unpleasant smells. Contact your county’s health department or the water supply authority.
d. Petroleum, Gasoline, Turpentine, Fuel-like or Solvent-like Odor
Even though these odor issues are uncommon, they may be dangerous. These scents might be caused by the following:
- A gasoline tank that is leaking or an underground fuel storage tank near your well
- Factory or landfill discharge compromising the water supply
- Agricultural run-off damaging the water supply
Stop drinking the water since it may have several negative health effects, including but not limited to:
- Increased risk of cancer
- Liver and kidney problems
Remedial actions include:
- Inform your county’s health agency about the situation.
- Eliminate the source of the problem
- After verifying the kind and source of the chemical pollutant, install an activated carbon filter system.
If you are on a PWS, notify your water supply authority and county health department immediately.
e. Other Odors
|Odor||Probable Cause||Possible Health Effects||Suggested Remedies|
|Detergent odor or foaming water||
|Methane gas odor||