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.

We all rely on a source of clean and fresh drinking water every day to stay fit and healthy. But, what if you water looks disgusting or it has an odor of bleach or rotten eggs, is this potentially harmful to your health? Sure, drinking water with these qualities will make the water unpalatable, but many people may be worried about the health consequences. In this article well will look at some ways to identify and correct some of the common household drinking water issues.

The Health Consequences

It’s important to understand that different drinking water odors can mean different types of contaminants. Some of these contaminants are safer to drink than others, and we will explore each in detail later. Suffice to say; there is no general yes or no answer on the safety of poor smelling drinking water. If the water looks and smells bad, you may want to avoid it anyway to be safe.

The Source of the Odor

The source of the odor can give you some valuable clues on the potential contaminants.

  • If the odor occurs when every faucet is open, and the problem disappears when the water has run for a few minutes, the problem could be in your plumbing system.
  • If the odor comes from every faucet and the smell persists when only the hot water is running, the source of the odor may be the magnesium rods in the hot water tank.
  • If the odor comes from every faucet and the smell persists when the hot and cold water is running after a few minutes, either your plumbing system or the water source itself could be affected.
  • If the smell only occurs in some faucets and it dissipates when the water has been running for a few minutes, the source of the odor is likely to be in the plumbing fixtures and pipes supplying those faucets only.

3 Common Bad Water Odors and How to Fix Them

  1. A “Swimming Pool” Smell

If your water smells like a swimming pool or bleach, it’s likely that you’re receiving water with a higher concentration of chlorine or chloramine. We’ve relied on chlorine as a disinfectant for public water supplies for many years, and it is effective in that role. But, chlorine and chloramine do have some side effects, and recent research suggest that they may not be as safe as we think. Many people dislike the taste of chlorine; the water company adds more to ensure the water stays disinfected until it reaches outlying homes. If your drinking water smells strongly of chlorine, it’s likely that you live closer to the water treatment plant. In some homes, the chlorine can mix with existing organic materials, and a reaction takes place that imparts a musty bleach odor in the drinking water.

The Fix: Running your water until the “swimming pool” odor dissipates will get rid of the smell from water that’s standing in your pipes. But, this is very wasteful, and you will see the results of this quickly with higher utility bills. The best way to remove chlorine and chloramine is to install an active carbon water filtration system at home.

2.A “Rotten Egg” Odor

If you have a rotten egg or raw sewage type of odor in your drinking water, this is caused by sulfur reducing bacteria that’s growing in your drain, well or water heater. This type of bacteria feeds on sulfur; as it feeds, a chemical change occurs in the sulfates in your water, and it’s transformed into hydrogen sulfide. This is the source of the rotten egg smell, and this bacteria must be removed to fix the underlying problem.

The Fix: The first step is to get a hydrogen sulfide bacteria testing kit and confirm the presence for yourself. Hydrogen sulfide is more of an aesthetic water issue, the water isn’t harmful to consume, but many users will not find the water palatable. There are a number of possible treatments available, depending on your circumstances. Oxidation can increase the oxygen levels to inhibit the growth of the bacteria because it thrives in low oxygen environments. In some cases, chlorination or a potassium permanganate filtration solution can remove the hydrogen sulfide. The most common fix is to install a point of entry (POE) carbon filtration system to filter all of the water coming into the home.

3.Bacterial Growth in Your Water Supply

In some cases, the source of the bad smells may be the water source itself. The water coming into your home may contain harmful bacteria, and it should not be used for drinking or cooking until the issue is resolved. It’s important to get a comprehensive laboratory water test for contaminants, such as algae, bacteria, protozoa, cysts, and other potentially harmful microorganisms that may be present.

If you have a private well, it’s important to treat the affected well with chlorination to disinfect the contents. Remember that the natural chemistry inside your well may be promoting and supporting this bacterial growth. Another potential problem is a poorly located septic system that could be affecting your water well. Contact your health department if you think that leaching from a nearby septic system is lowering your water quality.

If you get your water from a public utility, it’s important to contact your supplier and inform them that your water supply contains microorganisms. This could have occurred because of a recent switch over to a different water source where an algal bloom has adversely affected the water quality.

The Fix: If you want to ensure the health of your drinking water, it’s a great idea to install your own water treatment system at home. This could be a point of use (POU) system that supplies a single kitchen faucet or a point of entry (POE) system that supplies clean and fresh water to every faucet and fixture in the home. There are water treatment systems such as reverse osmosis (RO) and ultraviolet (UV) that are highly effective at removing contaminants and purifying your water supply.

If you have any water issues in your home, ask your local water treatment professional for expert help and advice.