Taste & Odor Issues
Common Questions About Taste & Odor Issues
What Causes Taste and Odor Problems in Water?
Taste and odor issues are caused by contaminants in the water supply. These are either organic (think bacteria and vegetation) or inorganic (chemicals, metals, minerals, and so on), and are either effects of water treatment methods or something untoward making its way into your water source.
Because problematic odors and terrible tastes have different causes, we outline these individually below.
Is it Safe to Drink Smelly Water or Water That Tastes Bad?
Foul smelling or tasting water can be a sign of a more serious issue, and you should treat it as such.
As one example for anyone relying on city water, trihalomethane (THM) can be a byproduct of the municipal water treatment process. Treatment plants inject chlorine into the water supply to eliminate bacteria, but this can have a side effect if it reacts with natural organic matter in the water supply, producing THM, a known carcinogen.
What are Some Common Taste and Smell Issues?
Bleach / Chlorine Smell
One of the biggest complaints we receive is that homes using city water have a chlorine smell or taste.
Municipal water treatment plants add chlorine to the water supply to remove bacteria and keep the supply lines between the plant and your home clean. These supply lines can get build-up on the inside of the pipes and the chlorine helps flush that out. The unfortunate side effect is that your water can have a smell to it, sometimes being stronger the closer you are to the treatment plant.
Rotten Egg Smell
Another one of the biggest complaints we receive is that homes relying on well water have a rotten egg smell.
If your water smells like rotten eggs or sulfur, it indicates your well may contain decaying vegetation. When vegetation breaks down, the bacteria that feeds on it produces hydrogen sulfide as a byproduct of the process, causing that smell. However, if you only notice that sulfur smell when you turn on your hot water, it is a sign that you instead have a bacteria issue in your hot water heater.
In Maryland, Anne Arundel (near the bay), St. Mary’s, Charles, and Calvert Counties tend to have rotten egg smell issues.
Fishy / Musty / Earthy Smell
If you are relying on city water, fishy, musty, and earthy smells indicate an algae bloom likely happened, producing geosmin, the culprit behind that smell.
Algae is typically removed by the water treatment process, but your local plant cannot eliminate the smell produced by that dead algae. While the smell is unpleasant, it is generally not harmful to your health.
Wet Dog Smell
If your water smells like wet dog, it indicates you either have a build-up problem, a bacteria problem, or both somewhere in your water supply.
Significant concentrations of metals in your water cause that smell. In addition, if your plumbing has build-up somewhere, that provides bacteria an ample opportunity to thrive and multiply, giving off that untoward odor. Lastly, if you rely on well water, your well itself may have a bacteria problem.
Water that smells like fuel indicates a methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) problem. Tanker spills can happen and the homes in the surrounding area require treatment to eliminate this issue.
Sweet tasting water has multiple culprits. Hard water (a heightened presence of calcium in your water) or iron water can make your water taste sweet. If this is the case, you’ll have a good idea you have these problems by the other signs they manifest in your home.
Additionally, pH issues can make your water taste sweet, as well as the material your pipes were made from.
Metallic tasting water is a sign your pipes may be corroding. If you’re also noticing red-orange or blue-green stains near faucets, it can be another sign of this issue. If this is the case, you likely have acidic water issues.
Want to Know What is in Your Water?