In Brief: Why Water Tastes or Smells Bad
The reasons behind water tasting and smelling bad can be an increase in the concentration of chemicals, and metals in water, biological growth or algae bloom at the source, infiltration of industrial waste of agricultural runoff into the drinking water supply, or infiltration and leakages in the sewage system. Sometimes chemical water treatments can also give a bad taste and smell to the water.
The taste of water can differ from one locality to another, and one filter to another.
It is dependent on several factors including but not limited to the source of the water, the type of filtration you use, any chemical treatment you may subject it to, etc.
However, unpalatable water, or water that tastes and smells bad, immediately catches our attention.
The reasons behind this can be many, added chemicals to the water, infiltration of industrial waste and agricultural runoff in the water system, etc. it may sometimes indicate an imbalance in the composition of water.
Though not always a health threat, it is important to know why your water tastes / smells bad, and how you can fix it, and in this article, we will tell you exactly that.
Why water can taste and smell odd
Source: University of Georgia
Bad tasting and smelly water have become a common problem. There are many reasons why your water may taste weird, most of which have to do with the type of contaminants present in your water.
Some of the common contaminants that give a bad taste and smell to water include hydrogen sulfide, dissolved solids, chlorine that comes from water treatment plants, and metals like mercury, lead, iron, and arsenic.
If you use municipal water, you need to understand the various stages it goes through to fully know why it may taste bad. Municipal water takes a undergoes a long journey before it reaches your home. If you are interested, here is a link to drinking standards and regulations by EPA.
It travels from the source to the water treatment plant, the city’s plumbing systems, and then to your house. The nature and build of all these stages can affect the taste in your water.
Sometimes the concentration of metals in the water becomes high because of old, corroding plumbing pipes, contributing a bad taste and smell to the water.
Why does my water taste like metal
If your water tastes like metal, the most plausible reason is that its metal content might be high. If your water is coming from municipal pipes, old or corroding pipes may be contributing to this taste.
If your water is coming from a well, the metallic taste might be because of the low pH level of water.
In the case of the well, the problem is most likely a high iron content. But with plumbing pipes, the makeup material will define the contaminating metal content in water.
There are two ways to solve this problem depending upon the source of your water. If your water is coming from a well, get a pH test kit to test the pH level of your water. The normal pH range for water is 6.5 to 8.5.
If the water is coming from a municipal source, you can get your water tested for contaminants in a water testing lab. This will give you the names of metals that are causing this taste.
You can accordingly get a reverse osmosis filtration method in place as it successfully removes metals and minerals from water.
Why does my water taste like bleach
The reason behind your water tasting and smelling like bleach is the presence of chlorine.
Chlorine is added to water to disinfect it. As disinfectant chlorine helps in eliminating bacteria and parasites and thereby reduces the risk of waterborne diseases.
The recommended level for chlorine addition in water is 4 mg/ L. when this level is exceeded, the water starts to smell and taste like bleach.
Sometimes, more chlorine is added to water as water has to travel a long path before reaching your house, and extra chlorine may be needed to affect proper disinfection.
If you want to rid your water of the taste and smell of bleach, you can look for a filter system that uses carbon filters. Activated carbon can bind chlorine, thereby, removing its smell and taste from filtered water.
Why does my water taste like blood
Blood tastes metallic because of the presence of iron in the blood. If your water is tasting like blood, the most probable reason is that its iron content is high.
Iron occurs naturally in some water sources, while in others it may be coming from plumbing fixtures and pipes.
High iron content in the water has not been known to cause any ill effects on health.
However, if you still want to get rid of the taste and smell, the first step for you is to get the water tested at a water testing lab to check if it is indeed iron that is giving it that taste or some other metal which might be harmful to health.
Once you have ascertained the facts, you can get yourself a water filter that is equipped with the technology to remove metals from water. Reverse osmosis is your best bet for this.
Why does my water taste salty
There can be several reasons why your water tastes salty.
A high amount of sodium in water can lead to salty taste. This may result from saltwater getting into the drinking water supply due to reasons of leakages, etc.
A higher concentration of chloride ions can also lead to salty taste in water. The reasons behind a higher concentration of chloride ions are most likely industrial waste or irrigation drainage.
A higher concentration of sulfates, like magnesium sulfate or sodium sulfate, can also make water taste salty.
As water moves through the ground, naturally occurring sulfate can make its way into the water.
While it is not fatal to humans, sulfates in drinking water can create a laxative effect on humans and have been associated with diarrhea.
Salty water can also damage your pipes and boilers causing corrosion over time.
Your very first step should be to get the water tested to determine the source of the problem. You can then look for water filters that are equipped to remove these contaminants.
For the removal of sulfate from the water, you will have to go with reverse osmosis, distillation, or ion exchange-based filters.
Why does my water taste like rotten eggs
The rotten egg smell and taste of your water are probably coming because of the presence of hydrogen sulfide (H2S).
It may have become mixed in the water when groundwater passes through rocks or soil. Decaying organic matter contains sulfur-containing minerals.
Sulfate-reducing bacteria can also convert naturally occurring sulfate or other sulfur compounds to hydrogen sulfide gas.
In spite of the offensive smell, this water is not unsafe to consume. However, if you still want to get rid of the rotten eggs smell, you can use carbon filters for your water.
Activated carbon absorbs the hydrogen sulfide. Chlorination and aeration systems are also a good remedy for this.
Chlorine reacts with H2S to form an odorless, tasteless, yellow particle, which can be removed with the help of sand or aggregated filter.
In an aeration system, compressed air can be injected into the water system which will convert H2S into a yellow particle. This yellow particle then has to be removed.
Why does my water taste like fish
The most likely reason for the fishy smell from your water can be the presence of Barium and Cadmium. Both of these are naturally occurring organic material found in the water source.
Barium is a metal that comes from mineral ores and can find its way into wells and pipes, while cadmium can find its way into pipes through industrial waste or fertilizers.
There is not much you can do yourself to fix this issue as it is being caused by organic material in your pipes and wells.
You can contact the water authorities and bring their attention to the problem. You can also try chlorination. Increasing the chlorine level in your water can balance out the influx of organic material.
Why does my water taste sweet
Even though a lot of people do not point out or worry about sweet-tasting water, it can indicate an imbalance in the pH levels of water or even a high concentration of naturally occurring minerals.
A higher concentration of calcium in water can be a reason behind sweet tasting water.
Sometimes the taste of water is also affected by what you have just eaten. If you’ve had something sweet, then water tasting sweet is not much of a surprise.
Alternatively, when you eat something sour, your saliva processes a chemical reaction which may make water taste sweet on drinking it immediately afterward.
The sweet taste can also come because of your pipes. If pipes are old and rusting, they may sometimes give off a salty or even sweet smell and taste to the water passing through them.
In such cases, you can just run the water for some time through your pipes and let them get cleared.
Chlorination, filtration, and pH adjustment are other solutions depending upon the source of the problem.
Why does my water taste moldy
Moldy tasting water has been associated with algae bloom in the water source. Bacterial growth can also give your water a moldy taste.
Both algae bloom and bacterial growth are more frequent during summertime as these microorganisms tend to grow in a warmer climate.
If you want to get rid of this taste and smell, get a microbiology screen test and iron-related bacteria test done for your water.
This will take you to the source of the problem. From there on, you can consider a filtration system that can filter out these microorganisms and restore the taste in your water.
Chlorination can also help in reducing microorganisms in water.
What to do when water smells bad
Decision Matrix of Identifying Problem in Water
It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is causing the problem in the water as there are so many stages involved.
Here is a quick flow chart that can help determine where the problem may be –
Let’s discuss this in more detail –
There are multiple reasons why your water may be smelling bad.
It is likely due to an increase in chemical or biological contaminants. These contaminants can have various sources.
Leakage in the plumbing system can lead to the infiltration of sewage water, industrial waste, or even unfiltered water at the source.
If the water has a high concentration of organic compounds, it is likely due to an increase in biological contamination. An increase in the concentration of chemical contamination can result from agricultural run-off, industrial waste, or infiltration from the sewage system.
The first step to take when your water smells bad is to get your water tested. Once the water has been tested, you will be able to locate the source of the problem.
If the problem is that of bacterial or algae growth you will have to disinfect your water system. In case your source water is contaminated, you can report the problem to the water authorities and ask for their water to be tested.
In case of bad smell in water due to an increase in the concentration of certain chemicals, you can consider buying targeted water filtration systems like reverse osmosis, distillation filters, carbon filters, or filters that use the ion exchange method to remove contaminants from water.
Problems with drinking smelly and bad tasting water
Though smelly water is not always a matter of grave concern, at times it can be a sign of possible contamination that is not good for your health.
If the water in your house has suddenly changed its taste and smell, it could indicate a problem.
Sudden change in the smell and taste of water may also indicate a possible leakage from the sewage system, or infiltration of agricultural runoff, or industrial waste.
Drinking this water can pose a potential health risk.
If your water smells odd or bad, it is highly advised that you get it tested.
The presence of contaminants like lead and sulfur, or even bacteria in high concentrations may lead to harmful effects on health.
Though bad smell and taste in water are not always associated with a health risk, it is always recommended that you get your water test if there is any sudden change in the taste and smell of water.
We hope that this article helps you in identifying the reason behind the bad taste and smell in your water and acting on it.