What Does It Mean When There's Sulfur Smell in Water?

Have you noticed a sulfur taste or smell in your water? Here's what it means and whether or not you should be concerned.

Sulfur Smell in Water Sulfur Smell in Water

Rotten eggs.

It's a smell that we all know, but a smell that none of us ever wants to know is in our water.

A stinky, rotten-egg scent coming out of your faucets and sinks is never a good sign and is almost always indicative of a high amount of sulfur being in the water.

Getting rid of that smell, though, will take some detective work. You've got to figure out why your water has that sulfur smell so you can fix it.

That's Rotten! Dealing with a Sulfur Smell in Water

The first thing to know that may put your mind at ease is that sulfur is not a heavy metal.

Some people think if they drink water with sulfur, they're drinking toxic heavy metals that can create neurological disruption, but this isn't the case.

The fact is sulfur is an extremely abundant element found in nature. In fact, it's known for a handful of beneficial things such as the preservation of wine and medicinal purposes like healing acne and aiding in relaxation.

Still, you never want to taste or smell sulfur in your water.

Why Does My Water Smell Like Sulfur?

That sulfur scent coming out of your water indicates the presence of sulfur bacteria in the water source or in the delivery apparatus. When this bacteria breaks down, it releases hydrogen sulfide gas, which is actually a fairly common occurrence with groundwater and is not a threat to anyone's health.

The sulfur smell very rarely, if ever, comes from treated city water. Since the sulfur bacteria is something that originates from groundwater, those with well water or other still water supplies are more likely to experience this stinky phenomenon.

Here are a few reasons why you may be experiencing the sulfur smell in the water.

Well Water Woes

Some residential homes and areas rely solely on well water instead of treated city water.

Since sulfur is a relatively abundant element that lives in the ground, there's a good chance some of it will find its way into a well-water supply, especially for those who live in an area where the ground contains high amounts of shale and sandstone.

If this is the case for you, a great place to start is testing the quality of your well water. Some water providers offer a free water-quality test to check the various levels of trace elements in your water supply. You can even contact a certified drinking water laboratory to do the testing.

Well-water tests are different than city water tests because they measure different components. For example, well water or other still water sources may not have traces of chlorine or other chemicals because they don't go through treatment plants.

Find out how much hydrogen sulfide is in your water. Once you know the levels that you need to correct, you can install a water treatment system to eliminate that stinky scent forever.

Water Heater Mishaps

Occasionally, faulty water heaters can cause the rotten-egg smell. The magnesium anode rod inside the water heater that's used to combat corrosion can be the culprit.

A great way to determine whether the sulfur smell is coming from your well/water source or your water heater is to turn on your sink.

If the smell only happens when you're using hot water, the issue is probably the water heater. If the smell comes from both hot and cold water, then the smell may be coming from your well or other water source.

If you discover that your water heater is the issue, you may not have to replace the entire thing. Try these cheaper, easier solutions first:

  • Replace the anode rod(s).
  • Clean the water heater with hydrogen peroxide.

If you aren't familiar with this process, it may be best to call in a trained professional. Fixing a hot water heater can become dangerous for the inexperienced do-it-yourselfer.

Pollution or Chemicals

As stated before, for those who use public treated water, the occurrence of sulfur smell in water is very uncommon.

However, if it happens to you, it could be caused by pollution, sewage, or some other contamination of your water supply. Research has shown that there are over 300 potential contaminants that can creep into our water.

If you haven't heard from your city or local water provider about any contamination issues, have your water checked.

Many people think that the filters on their refrigerators will remove sulfur, but keep in mind that they're probably not designed to do so. Check your fridge's specs to make sure.

How Can I Fix My Stinky Water?

Thankfully, there are all kinds of ways to treat both city and well water.

The first step is to have your water tested. You can call in a professional or you can order a do-it-yourself water tester online. Both options should give you much of the info you need, but in general, having your water provider or some other professional test your water will yield more accurate results.

If the testing finds low, safe levels of contaminants, minerals, and bacteria, then you may only need a smaller fix for the sulfur taste. Try one of the following solutions:

  • Water softener
  • Water conditioners

If the testing finds higher levels of contaminants, minerals, or bacteria, you may want to consider a more extensive water purification system.

These options may have a higher cost and more involved installation, but they should remove all sulfur taste and smell from your water, as well as filter out other contaminants.

With any of these options, you will no longer need to buy water in disposable plastic bottles, which would help recoup some of the cost in the long run.

Chase that Stink Away!

If you've noticed sulfur smell or taste in your water, know that you have options. To get more information, please check out our other article about sulfur in water. Drink safe to stay safe!

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