Bad Water Tastes and Odors

The most common causes of drinking water taste and odor issues stem from high levels of algae and bacteria present in the water, often as a result of algal blooms (algae and cyanobacteria). Sometimes drinking water can have a strong chemical taste due to traces of chemicals used in the water treatment process, or from chemical contamination of water sources by chemical spills, discharge of industrial chemicals, or leaching of chemicals through soils.

Water that smells or tastes strongly of chlorine or bleach, may have been treated with high levels of chlorine at the municipal water works, or the chlorine used in the water treatment process may have reacted with organic substances in your pipes. There are a number of things to look for to ascertain whether the problem stems from the public water supply, or whether it is confined to the household plumbing. If the taste and odor symptoms are only noticeable from some of the household taps, rather than all of them; and if the taste and odor disappears after running the taps for a while, then it is likely to be due to an issue with your household plumbing. If, on the other hand, a strong bleach or chorine taste or odor is experienced from the water from all the faucets in your home, and does not disappear after the tap is left to run, then it is more likely to originate from the public water mains.

Water that has a strong sulfur taste and odor, or smells like rotten eggs, is usually caused by a build up of bacteria either in the drain or in the hot water cylinder. If the bacteria buildup is the drain, a strong odor is released as water runs from the faucet into the drain, but in actual fact the smell is coming from the drain rather than the water. If bacteria has built up inside the hot water cylinder, the water itself may give off a strong sulfur taste and odor. However, a strong sulfur taste and odor could also indicate the presence of a more serious bacterial contamination of your drinking water as a result of a leaking septic tank or sewage spill. Bacteria stemming from these sources can pose a severe health risk, and consequently sulfur taste and odor symptoms should be reported to the authorities, who then have a duty to test the water for pathogenic contaminants.

The presence of bacteria flourishing in your drain, or in the public water supply, can also impart a musty, earthy, grassy, or fishy taste and odor on drinking water. This can be as a result of bacteria that is thriving on organic deposits in your drain, releasing a strong smelling gas, which makes the water appear to have a strong odor. It can also caused by an algal, fungal, or bacterial build-up in the public water supply. While these symptoms usually do not impose any health risk, they give water an unpleasant taste, and make it unappetizing to drink.

On rare occasions, drinking water may have a strong petroleum, gasoline or fuel-like taste. This can be caused by a leaking underground fuel or gas tank, and is very serious. Do not drink or use the water if is smells like fuel. Contact your local water or health authority immediately, to have the source of the contamination investigated.

If your drinking water has a strong metallic taste, this is most likely to be caused by acidic water that has a greater potential to leach metals, such as copper and iron, from household plumbing and pipes.

Sometimes drinking water may have a salty taste, which can be caused by a number of issues. If you live near the coast, your well water may be contaminated by seawater intrusion. Well water can also become contaminated by road salt in runoff. More often a salty taste in drinking water is due to high levels of sodium, magnesium, or potassium, which are minerals that occur naturally in water.

Depending on the type of tastes and odors that you are experiencing in your water, determines the action you need to take. Household drinking water filters may remove most tastes and odors from drinking water to make it more appealing to drink, however, it is advisable to have your drinking water tested to ascertain what contaminants are present, at what levels, in order to assess the health risks, and to determine how best to deal with them.

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