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Water Quality

Taste and Odor Problems

When your water tastes or smells funny, the problem might be in the water or it might not!

Odors may actually be coming from your sink drain where bacteria grow on hair, soap, food and other things that get trapped. Gases in the drain that smell get stirred up when water pours into the pipe. Odor can also come from bacteria growing in water heaters-usually ones that have been turned off for a while or have the thermostat set too low.

The list below tells where many odd tastes and smells come from and how to get rid of them.

Chlorine (or bleach)
Chlorine is added to tap water to make sure that any harmful germs in the water are killed. When you can taste or smell a bit of chlorine, your water has been properly treated. There are regulations that limit the amount of chlorine added to tap water so that it keeps the water safe to drink.

An easy way to get rid of the chlorine taste and smell is to let water sit in a glass or pitcher for a few minutes. Then, put the water in a covered container and chill it in the refrigerator. Cold water tastes and smells better than water at room temperature. Point-of-use (POU) carbon filters can also remove chlorine from drinking water (see “In-home Filtration and Treatment Devises” page for more information).

Earthy or musty
Algae, which are plants that live in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and other bodies of water, naturally make substances that can give your water an earthy or musty smell. This is rare, but can be a seasonal issues. There is little that can be done about this except with POU carbon filters. Another reason your water may seem to have this smell is because of bacteria that can grow in your drain pipe when things like hair, soap and food get trapped and decompose. When water is run from your tap, it enters the drain pipe and releases gases produced by decomposing organic matter in your drain. Periodically pouring a cup of bleach down the drain and letting it sit there overnight can resolve this issue.

Rotten eggs or sulfur
This smell can occur when the source of the water is underground. The smell is from a chemical made by a bacteria and is not harmful in the small amounts found in water. The same smell can also be made by bacteria that grow on hair, soap and food in your drain. Remedies for this is discussed in the paragraph above.

Petroleum, gasoline, turpentine, fuel or solvent odors are rare and potentially serious. It is possible a leaking underground storage tank may be near your water supply. Do not use the water. Immediately contact your water utility or local health agency.

*Used by permission from Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

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