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.

A water softener is a popular choice to improve water quality around the home. Although many people use a water softener with no issues at all, some homeowners report a strange, fishy odour that develops when the water has been treated. Here we’ll explore what causes this unpleasant odour and what you can do to correct it.

Resin Issues:

A water softener is typically a whole house system that is designed to soften the water and improve its taste and smell. This process requires the correct type of resin that can be used in the ion exchange process. Unfortunately, water chemistry varies a great deal, and your water chemistry could be reacting with the resin to create a fishy smell. In most circumstances, this can be correct with some slight changes to your resin composition, but you will need advice and guidance from your local water treatment professional.

Stinky Tank:

Another reason why your water may have developed a fishy or unpleasant odour after it has been softened is issues with your softener tank. Regardless of whether you’ve invested in a top of the line appliance or just bought a cheap, generic device, softener tanks can develop bad smells if there is an infestation of sulfur bacteria.

In many cases, sulfur bacteria are attracted to the sodium used inside your water softener tank. When the bacteria develops, hydrogen sulfide gas is released as a waste product to create a rotten egg odor or unpleasant smell.

Fortunately, there is a relatively simple fix for this issue; thorough, regular cleaning. Softener tanks create an ideal environment for bacteria to develop and thrive, so it is crucial it is kept as sanitary and clean as possible.

Most softener manufacturers recommend professional services for brine tank and softener cleaning at least once each year. Experienced professionals have the tools, skills, and expertise to ensure any sulfur bacteria is eliminated to get rid of any nasty smells.

Water Contaminants:

If your resin is correct and your softener tank is clean, you will need to delve a little deeper into your water odour issues. Your water may have an unpleasant smell due to contaminants in the water supply. For example, if your water contains sulfur, hydrogen sulfide, iron, or other contaminants, you’ll need additional filtration. The installation of pre filters may be able to eliminate problematic contaminants specific to your geographic area. An experienced water treatment specialist will be able to check your water supply, testing for contaminant levels. This will allow your water treatment system to be tailored to your specific water characteristics. While this may cost a little more initially compared to a generic softener, it will eliminate the headaches of failing to deal with underlying water quality issues.

If you have concerns about water smells or any other water quality issue, be sure to speak to a professional water treatment specialist. An experienced technician will be able to test your water and guide you through the treatment options best suited to your specific requirements.