When you turn the water in your home on, you obviously expect it to smell and taste normal. Unfortunately, there are often situations where your home’s water will start to have an unpleasant odor similar to rotten eggs. Should you ever experience this problem, here is everything you need to know about why it happens and how to overcome it.
What Causes the Rotten Egg Odor?
The rotten egg odor you’re smelling is due to the presence of hydrogen sulfide in the water. Even a tiny amount of hydrogen sulfide is enough for most people to easily detect. The good news is that hydrogen sulfide doesn’t pose any health risks and your water is completely safe to not only cook and bathe with but also to drink. That being said, that rotten egg smell can be quite unpleasant and may make you not want to drink it.
The main reason that hydrogen sulfide is present in water is bacterial contamination. Water naturally contains many sulfates, and it can also sometimes contain sulfate-reducing bacteria that feed on these particles and produce hydrogen sulfide as a by-product. These bacteria are generally harmless, but they will cause the water to smell bad.
In order to fix the problem and eliminate the odor, it is first necessary to determine where it is coming from. There are generally three possible sources. Most commonly the issue is related to your water heater, and this is easy to test. If your hot water smells bad, but your cold water is fine, the issue obviously has something to do with your water heater.
The smell can also mean that there is hydrogen sulfide in the water coming into your house, which will affect both your hot and cold water. The problem is typically more common in buildings that use well water, but it can also happen in municipal water systems. This issue indicates that the water supply is contaminated with sulfate-reducing bacteria.
Although the sulfate-reducing bacteria is harmless, we highly recommend having your water quality tested if you use well water to make sure it also isn’t contaminated with other, potentially harmful bacteria.
The rotten egg smell can also sometimes be confined to one single faucet or part of the home. This means that the problem will be localized and caused by bacteria in that part of the plumbing system or only those pipes.
Flushing Your Plumbing
If you only notice the rotten egg odor when using a specific faucet or in one part of the house, this is something that is typically fairly easy to take care of. All you need to do is flush the affected fixture or fixtures. To do this, simply open up the faucet or tap and let the hot water run for 5 to 10 minutes. This should work to flush out anything from those pipes and thus eliminate the odors.
Disinfecting Your Water Heater
If only your hot water smells bad, it indicates the presence of sulfate-reducing bacteria inside the water heater tank. Disinfecting the tank is also fairly simple. All you need to do is turn the heat up to 160 degrees and let the unit sit for a few hours without using any hot water. This should get the water hot enough to kill off the majority of the bacteria inside the tank.
You can also prevent this issue by making sure to always leave your water heater set to at least 120 degrees. Anything below this increases the chance of bacteria surviving and growing inside the tank.
While disinfecting your water heater should help, it may not always fully get rid of the smell. For this reason, we recommend having your water heater flushed first. Flushing the tank will remove all of the sludge that collects at the bottom. Not only will this help to ensure no bacteria remains in the tank, but it can also improve the efficiency of your water heater and help to extend its lifespan.
Replacing the Water Heater Anode Rods
All traditional gas and electric water heaters have anode rods that help to protect the tank from rust and corrosion. The only exception is for units that have stainless steel tanks as these are resistant to corrosion.
Most anode rods are made of zinc oxide, but they can also be made from magnesium or aluminum. Over time, aluminum and magnesium rods can corrode and result in free electrons being released into the water. These electrons act as a catalyst that speeds up the rate at which the sulfate-reducing bacteria react with the sulfates in the water. As a result, the bacteria will produce much more hydrogen sulfide in a shorter period and the water will smell worse.
Turning the temperature up to disinfect the heater should kill off most of the bacteria and eliminate the problem. However, if the anode rods are corroded, the issue will quickly return when more bacteria enter the tank. If you notice that your hot water frequently smells bad not long after disinfecting the tank, it indicates that the anode rods are corroded and need to be replaced.
Installing a Whole-House Water Filter
If the hot and cold water throughout the entire home smells bad, it indicates that either sulfate-reducing bacteria are present or the water supply contains some hydrogen sulfide. In municipal water systems, this issue will often only be present for a short time before going away. If the problem persists, you’re only real option is to install some type of water filtration system. This will work to filter out any bacteria and other contaminants to help improve the taste, smell, and overall quality of your water.
There are a number of different types of whole-house filtration systems that will work to filter out the water as it comes into your home. These systems typically use carbon filters, reverse osmosis, or sometimes both in order to remove the vast majority of particles and contaminants. A reverse osmosis filter will work to filter the bacteria out of the water, while a carbon filter will get rid of the hydrogen sulfide to improve the water’s smell and taste.
You can also choose instead to install point-of-use filtration systems wherever needed. These are smaller units that are designed to filter the water at one particular faucet or fixture. For instance, you could install a unit under your kitchen cabinets to filter the water for your sink and also your refrigerator and ice machine. You could install another unit in the bathroom to filter the water for your shower, or the water that flows into your washing machine so your clothes don’t come out smelling like rotten eggs.
Indianapolis’ Plumbing and Water Quality Experts
If your water smells like rotten eggs or you’re experiencing any other water quality issues, Cooper’s Water is ready to help. We install and service a range of different water filtration systems, and we also offer a water delivery service. In addition, our team installs and repairs water softeners, and we rent units and offer softener salt deliveries. We work on a range of other plumbing equipment and fixtures as well, including water heaters, sump pumps, garbage disposals, and hose bibs. If you’re experiencing any issues with clogged drains, we also specialize in drain cleaning and inspections for residents in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas. To learn more about your options for water filtration or any of our other services, contact us today.