Top Smelly Water Culprits and How to Fix Them

If you’ve ever turned on your faucet to find a strong, smelly odor, then you’ve probably been alarmed. Even if you’ve never experienced this personally, your mind is probably jumping to the worst conclusions possible. Possible contamination, sewage leaking into your water pipes – these are possibilities, of course, but there are actually a number of reasons why your home might have smelly water. Each of these reasons has their own unique smell. By examining the different smells you will be able to decide how to best proceed in dealing with the problem.

1: Rotten Eggs

You might think that rotten eggs mean that organic material has somehow gotten into your water pipes. However, the real answer is much more mundane and less potentially dangerous. The most common cause of a rotten eggs smell in your water is bacteria that give off sulfur. These bacteria are extremely common and won’t harm you or your family’s health. The only reason you notice the smell is because of a lack of oxygen in a water well.  On rare occasions, chemical reactions between the sulfur and groundwater. 

The best way to fix this problem is to call a professional to install an aeration system within your plumbing. This will pump dissolved oxygen into your water, which will combine with the sulfur and filter it out. The bacteria that causes this type of smell isn’t dangerous at all. Therefore, there’s no need to take more aggressive measures. Your water will no longer smell like rotten eggs.

2: Earth

If your water smells earthy, musty, or dirty, you might be surprised to learn that the smell almost certainly has nothing to do with actual dirt. Instead, the most common culprit is iron bacteria. Like the sulphur bacteria mentioned above, iron bacteria isn’t harmful to humans, feeding on iron when iron and oxygen mix. It produces a gross slime when alive and smells earthy when it dies, and it can also result in nasty tasting water. It thrives in the high temperatures of your water heater.

Unfortunately, there are only a few ways to fight this bacterium. Installing a chlorine feed is one way, since chlorination will kill off these bacteria and prevent them from returning. There are also iron filters that will oxidize your water and filter out any iron particles that make your water heater a tempting place for iron bacteria to grow.

3: Fish

If your water smells fishy, the most common culprit is organic material at your water source. While this might sound scary, it is most likely harmless, since as long as your water goes through public works then it is treated with a variety of chemicals that will neutralize the harmful bacteria that organic material can bring to your water. In fact, one of the main reasons for a fishy smell can also be higher levels of some of these chemicals, such as chloramine. 

Using water filters is the best way to deal with a fishy smell, since you won’t be able to deal with the source of the smell directly. Getting a whole-house reverse osmosis filter will allow you to filter out the contaminants that cause the smell before the water hits your pipes. If there’s still an off-putting taste, carbon filters can also help.

4: Sewage

One of the most severe bad smells water can have has been described as a sewage smell. This smell doesn’t necessarily indicate that your sewage lines have contaminated your water, and in fact can be caused by a multitude of factors. One of the most common is bacteria growing in the food and soap buildup in your drains. The bacteria then gives off a gas that will float up into your faucet and give your water that nasty smell.

Pouring a quarter cup of baking soda followed by a quarter cup of white vinegar is one DIY solution to the problem of bacteria in your drains. Allow this mixture to froth and bubble for around 10 minutes, and then follow with a potful of boiling water. This will disinfect your pipes. If this home solution doesn’t work, it could indicate more serious contamination. You’ll need to contact a water testing lab to find out what the contaminants are and where they’re coming from.