What’s that awful smell? Is my water safe for use? These are some questions you will ask if you ever perceive the dreaded smell of rotten eggs coming from your sink or shower at home. Well, here’s good news: most often, the water is quite harmless. But is there something you can do to fix it? Let’s find out!
What Causes Water to Smell Like Rotten Eggs?
Across the United States, there are about 316 chemicals present in the water people drink. So for some people, when water smells like rotten eggs, it may not be new. However, if this is the first time you are experiencing it, the odor is caused by hydrogen sulfide gas and sulfur bacteria if the supply is cold. If you run the hot tap and you perceive the foul smell, it’s probably due to a chemical reaction in the heater, not the supply itself.
What Are Hydrogen Sulfide and Sulfates?
Hydrogen sulfide occurs naturally. It comes from various underground sources like bacteria or rotten plant material. It also comes from wells that were drilled in shales and heaters containing magnesium rods. Therefore, whether you run hot or cold water, you will notice the foul smell more when running the hot tap because it will release the gas faster.
Sulfates, on the other hand, occur naturally and you can find them in soils and rocks. Over time, they dissolve and diffuse into groundwater sources like wells. Sulfates do not produce gas; therefore, they are odorless.
Is Sulfur Water Safe to Use?
If the amount of sulfur is minimal, it may not result in health problems. However, extremely high sulfates can result in the following:
- Ineffective bleach – the sulfates will reduce the strength of your bleach, making it difficult to wash clothes properly.
- A slimy clog in pipes – the slime in the pipes can also stain your clothes when you run your tap.
- Bitter taste – this is caused by the scale deposits.
- Dehydration and diarrhea – the water acts as a laxative, leading to both dehydration and diarrhea.
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Furthermore, hydrogen sulfide causes health problems as well as other problems like:
- Tarnished utensils – it can leave a black tarn on silverware. It can also stain brass or copper utensils.
- Stained fixtures – it may cause a black or yellow stain on your kitchen or bathroom fixtures.
- Corroded metal – it wears away copper, steel, iron, and other metals. Therefore, it can affect your plumbing system by reducing the useful life of pipes.
- Poor taste – it negatively affects the taste of food and drinks.
- Foul odor – it makes drinks and beverages unappetizing and gives off rotten egg smells in the water. You can also read this article to know the health effects of drinking sulfur in your supply.
What Can You Do About the Strange Smell in Your Supply?
If you are experiencing strange smells in your supply, you need to pinpoint the source by checking the water supplies and taps around your building. You need to get help from a certified professional who will test the water for hydrogen sulfide and sulfates. But you also need to be sure that there is no contaminant in your supply like bacteria.
In some cases, sewage pollution may be the real cause of the strange smell. It contains toxic contaminants such as nitrates and coliform bacteria. Hence the need to test the water. This test will also expose the concentration of sulfur.
Even if you are not worried about the amount of sulfur in your supply, it is good practice to test for bacteria every year. When you know what is contaminating the supply and the level of contamination, you will know the most appropriate steps to take.
There are different water treatment methods to try, depending on the concentration of sulfate or hydrogen sulfide. They include:
1. Chlorine Bleach
Chlorine reacts with the hydrogen sulfide, removes it, and automatically destroys the odor. Here, an expert uses an automated chlorinator to introduce chlorine in the supply system. Afterward, they will set up filter systems to remove the sulfur, including any sediment it forms.
2. Using a Filter for Iron Removal
You can get a filter that removes iron. It will help to remove some of the hydrogen sulfides. In this case, the filter reacts chemically with the gas and converts it to insoluble sulfur. It will then remove it in this state.
This method introduces air to your water, thereby, reducing the hydrogen sulfide present in it. You need to install an aerator or a system that will add air to the supply before it flows into your home.
Another thing you can do is to install a system to treat your water. But if the strange smell is coming from the rod in your heater, you can fix the problem by simply replacing it. If the rod was magnesium, replace it with either zinc or aluminum. You will need assistance from a boiler inspector to fix this problem.
Furthermore, if you notice the smell after using water softeners, not when the water was untreated, then there may be a problem with the softener. You can change the product and check if it makes any difference.
Sometimes, the smell may be stronger when you turn on the cold and hot faucets, then it goes away or diminishes after running the water for some time. Or the smell may vary over time. In this case, there could be sulfur in the distribution system, which indicates a bigger problem in the supply. You can visit extension.uga.edu/publications/ to find out what you can do about the problem.
Some foods like poultry, eggs, and fish naturally contain sulfur. Therefore, if you eat a balanced diet, you will consume the required amount that your body requires. But if you consume it in excess, you will develop gastrointestinal symptoms.
So if your water smells like rotten egg, ensure you get a professional to test it. That way, you will be sure of what you are consuming. You can also get test kits to check the level of iron bacteria, sulfur bacteria, sulfate, and hydrogen sulfide.