With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.

Many people experience bad tasting or foul smelling water at some point, and these problems may be solved with cleaning and sanitization. But, if this occurs on a daily basis and you cannot seem to fix the problem, the water itself may be at fault. Installing a water filtration system can help, but it’s important to understand the makeup of the water. For this reason, we recommend water testing to help you make informed decisions about water filtration for your home. In this article, we will look at the causes of poor quality drinking water and some ways to improve the problem.

8 Reasons Why Tap Water Tastes Bad

The taste of your drinking water can give you some valuable clues about the contaminants that are present in your water supply. This is not a substitute for laboratory water testing, but it can be helpful to understand the tastes and smells. Let’s take a look at eight indicators and what they represent:

1.   A Bitter Taste

When the tap water has a bitter taste, the cause is often high concentrations of Total Dissolved Solids or TDS. This is typically hard water that contains elevated levels of dissolved minerals. Another common cause is aging copper piping that has become corroded.

The solution to these problems is a ceramic filter or reverse osmosis or RO filter to clean the water to a higher standard. If the problem lies in the plumbing pipes, a pipe replacement may be necessary.

2.   A “Fishy” or Dirty Taste

Private well water users can experience a mineral heavy earthy taste that could be categorized as dirty tasting. City water users may experience a fishy or earthy taste caused by untreated algae left behind after water treatment.

The solution for private well and municipal water users is a ceramic filter or a RO filtration system.

3.   A Gasoline or Diesel Odor

If the tap water has a gasoline or diesel odor, there are a number of possible causes to explore, and none of them is an easy fix. The most common cause could be an intrusion into the water supply from a nearby fuel storage tank. There could be runoff into a private well from parking lots and driveways. Any obvious chemical contaminants in the drinking water are serious, and it’s important to stop using the water.

The solution is to get the water professionally tested, and the local utility company should be contacted to see if there are any broken pipes in your area.

4.   A “Swimming Pool” or Bleach Taste and Odor

Water treatment plants add chlorine and chloramine (chlorine mixed with ammonia) as a disinfectant to remove microorganisms from the water supply. To maintain efficacy as the water travels through the water delivery network, more chlorine is added. This is fine if you live further away from the plant, but if you live closer, it is more noticeable. Excessive chlorine can be identified as a bleach taste and odor that is not harmful, but it does make the water unpalatable.

The solution is to install a granular activated or GAC filtration system to clean the water and remove the chlorine taste and odor.

5.   A Metallic Taste

If there are elevated levels of dissolved minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, and iron, they can cause a metallic taste. These metals cannot harm your health, but they can damage the plumbing pipes and fixtures in your home.

The solution is to install an ultrafiltration or RO filter system.

6.   A “Rotten Egg” Odor

This is caused by hydrogen sulfide gas that’s very noticeable when the tap is turned on, and it may seem stronger when the hot water is running. This is a common problem in private wells, and it can cause corrosion in the plumbing pipes.

The solution is to install a ceramic filter.

7.   A Sweet Taste

A common cause of sweet tasting drinking water is dissolved minerals, such as iron or calcium. Another possibility is an alkaline or pH imbalance that needs to be corrected. This water is not harmful to health, but it can affect the taste of your favorite beverages and cooked food.

The solution is to install an alkaline ionization filter to boost the pH level, a RO system to reduce the pH level, or a ceramic water filter or CWF to remove bacteria and viruses.

8.   A Salty Taste

The most likely cause is a high concentration of chloride ions, and this is common in coastal areas. Another possibility is sulfates that occur naturally in soil, and they can be added to the makeup of the water as it passes through the soil. Rainfall and snowfall can flush road salt into the drains, which can travel to local reservoirs too.

The solution is to install a RO filtration system to remove the chlorine ions, sulfates, and many other contaminants.

Contaminants That Cannot be Detected

There are many contaminants that cannot be detected by taste or smell. The most dangerous examples include bacteria, viruses, cysts, and other microorganisms. Waterborne illnesses are a source of misery for many people around the world.

The solution is to install a RO filtration system or ultraviolet disinfection system to remove or eliminate the microorganisms.

In Conclusion

Under normal circumstances, there should be no discernible taste or odor in the water that comes from your tap. Bad tastes or odors are always a sure sign that there is something wrong, and these problems cannot be ignored. There are many possible sources of bad odors, including bacterial growth in the water heater, corroded plumbing pipes, mold growth, or a cracked well.

Investigating these possible causes can take time, and if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, it’s hard to identify the source of the problems. For this reason, we recommend that you contact your local water treatment specialist to speed up the process. Water testing is also important, and professional testing is more accurate than the kits that you can purchase in many stores.