9 Reason Why Water Stinks & Perfect solutions to Fix it

Water is necessary to sustain life. One can hardly go through a day without water. However, water is considered pure when it is contaminant-free and odorless. The water you are using for drinking or washing may contain contaminants or have an unpleasant odor. You can’t help feeling repulsed if you take a mouthful of stinking water. According to Consumer Reports, half the U.S. population has to deal with foul-smelling tap water. Smelling water is not harmful to your health in most of the cases. However, it is better to be cautious and curious about why your water stinks.

Reasons of Stinking Water

Research suggests that 256 Million Americans use water consisting of 316 contaminants. These impurities can be the culprit of stinking water. The most common causes of stench in water are discussed below:

Chlorine: Water supplied to your home is probably chlorinated. According to the Water Quality Association, 80% of households use municipal water. Water treatment plants add chlorine to get rid of several disease-causing germs. A small concentration of chlorine in water is negligible and does not alter the taste or smell of water. But if your water suddenly smells like medicine or chemical, it might be because of the high level of chlorine in your water. The common levels of chlorine in the water range from 0.2 – 2.0 parts per million and can even reach 5.0 ppm. However, if the amount of chlorine is quite high in the water, exposing it to air for a short while can get rid of the odor.

fungi in drinking water

Algae, Fungi, or Microorganisms: Algae, fungi, or other microorganisms can also grow in your water supply and cause an earthy, moldy, or grass-like odor. Particularly in warmer seasons, algae can proliferate. Even if the water treatment facilities disinfect the water to get rid of microorganisms, the tiny particles left behind can cause an unpleasant odor. The smell in the water does not pose any danger to health.

Iron or Manganese: The metallic taste of water can occur due to the presence of Iron or Manganese. Over time, the water flowing through the pipes can lead to corrosion of the metallic structure. Bits and pieces of the metal can peel off and react with the water. Iron and manganese are also found in naturally occurring water and fortunately not dangerous to health. The presence of iron also leads to foul-smelling water.

Sulfur Bacteria: Sulfur bacteria are the primary reason for rotten egg smell coming from your water. These bacteria thrive in an oxygen-lacking environment, such as water heaters or wells. When the bacteria form hydrogen sulfide from sulfur, the water may take on the foul odor and pass it to your faucets. Hydrogen sulfide is not harmful, but it can cause dark stains on dishes and deteriorate the plumbing system.

Chloramines, Barium, Cadmium: If your water has chloramines, barium, or cadmium, you will likely catch a fishy stench coming from the water. As mentioned earlier, chlorine is used to treat the water supplied to your homes. If the water consists of ammonia, it can react with chlorine to form chloramines. Barium and cadmium are found in natural deposits and can travel to the main water supply through corroded pipes. These compounds can be harmful to your health as well.

Lead: If the pipes in your house are made of lead, then it could be a plausible reason for the metallic taste of water. As with iron, lead can also come in contact with your water through the plumbing system. As water corrodes the lead pipes and faucets, metal bits are chipped away and give a sharp metallic taste to water. Houses built before 1986 have a higher probability of lead plumbing constructions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared lead as harmful material. It is considered toxic, even in small concentrations. Therefore, it is wise to replace the lead pipes to permanently get rid of the metallic taste and odor from water.

Chloride: If your water is giving a salt-like smell or taste, it is likely due to the chloride ions such as sodium chloride in the water. Chloride can travel to the water supply in the form of industrial, agricultural, or sewage waste. From there, it can get mixed with the water. Chloride can also be found naturally. If sea or rainwater flows through the ground, it can reach your main water supply. Saltwater coming from industrial areas and sewage systems are harmful to health.

Tank Leakage, Agricultural or Industrial Waste: Most of the time, if your water smells bad, it is not dangerous to health. But if you experience particularly bizarre odors coming from your water, you may have to take extra precaution. Fuel like smells, for example, petroleum or gasoline is not common occurrences. It may be an indication that a fuel leakage happened nearby from where it has seeped into your water supply. Industrial or agricultural wastes can also be the contributing factors of these foul odors. Kidney diseases and cancer can develop from consuming this type of water. It is strictly advised to contact your local water authorities as soon as possible to address the issue.

House Drainage System: It is common when food particles, soap residue, or other organic substances block your drainage. Along with blockage, the unbearable smell starts to originate from it. The clogged organic matter provides the bacteria a suitable environment to develop. These gas-emitting bacteria will make your sink and kitchen smell like sewage. Properly disinfecting and flushing the drainage can help solve the problem.  These bacteria can also travel to your plumbing system and cause foul smells in the water.

Finding the Source of Smell in Water

Before looking at ways to get rid of the awful smell in your water, it is important to know what is causing water to smell. Is it the bacteria-emitting gases in water or the kitchen drainage not working well? After identifying the source, you will be able to use the right solution for your problem.

Check the Source of Smell: If you want to find out whether the problem is with the water or the drainage system, the isolation technique can be used. For this purpose, take a glass and fill it with tap water. Now, step away from the sink and smell the water. If there is no odor coming from the water, the problem is in your drainage system. Thoroughly cleaning and flushing the drainage or running the tap for a few minutes can solve the issue.

Check the Water temperature: If there is a problem with the water and not the drainage, check whether it happens with only hot water. If it is only hot water, check your water heater. If all faucets emit smelly water and the odor does not go away after running the taps for a few minutes, there may be a problem with the main water supply. If the water is from a well, then you may have to test its water content.

Water Heater Problems: If only the hot water is foul-smelling, it could be because the heater is turned off for too long, water remains unused, or the thermostat is set too low. You can flush out the water by attaching a pipe to the drainage system of the water heater or increase its temperature to kill bacteria. Be careful not to scald yourself with the hot water. If the smell persists due to some other reason, you need to get your water heater serviced.  The magnesium rod in the water heater may need replacing with an aluminum rod. Rotten egg smell is mostly caused by the sulfur bacteria thriving in water heaters.

Test water

Laboratory Testing Method: You can also seek expert opinion and contact local water testing certified laboratories, particularly if you own a private well. The experts can provide a detailed analysis of the contaminants present in your water. Also, see our guide to test hard water at home.

Water Test Kits: You can also opt for test kits to check the level of chlorine, sulfur bacteria, iron bacteria, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfates.

Water Softener: Another reason for stinking water can be the water softener at your homes. You can check if the water treated by the water softener has an odor, and the untreated water remains unaffected. In this case, the solution in the water softener might need replacing.

Contact Local Authorities: If you use water from public water supply (PWS) and people in the vicinity face the same issue, you should contact the local water authorities immediately to get it resolved.

How to Get Rid of the Smell in Water

Ozone Gas

It is an effective but expensive method to treat sulfur odors in foul-smelling water. In this method, ozone gas is injected under pressure in the water to eliminate the odors.

Aeration Systems

Water purifying system

This involves exposing the water to large amounts of air under pressure to eliminate odors like iron, manganese, and sulfur.

Water Filters Pitchers

Water filters pitchers can be used to get rid of the smell of chlorine in the water. A variety of water filters are available in the market and online. Some filters even claim to remove lead from the water.

Distillation or Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis water filters can get rid of the fishy smell in the water caused by barium and cadmium. For a small quantity of sulfate smelling water, distillation or reverse osmosis can also be used.

Ion Exchange Treatment

This is a useful method to treat a large concentration of water that has sulfate odor. It works like a water softener, and the ion exchange resin present in it absorbs the sulfate present in the water.

Water Filtration System

Water purifier

One of the most convenient, time-saving, and reliable ways to prevent foul-smelling water is to install a whole water filtration system in the house. This prevents other contaminants and bacteria from entering the water. The system is installed at the main water supply of the building and supplies filtered water through the whole plumbing mechanism.

Useful Tips

Some important things to keep in mind:

  • If water heaters cause foul-smelling water, do not leave the water longer in the heater to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Prevent agricultural waste on farmlands from going into well water.
  • Perform regular testing and maintenance of water in private wells.
  • Clean sinks, faucets regularly and thoroughly. Disinfect drainage system after a month or two.
  • If your house has been left for too long and the water starts smelling, try running the taps for a few minutes to let the water out.


Unpleasant odors in water can occur for several reasons. Even if there is no harm caused by the odors, it is good to be prudent. Water odor-reducing methods discussed in the article can be used before proper analysis of the source of the smell in the water. It is advisable to seek professional help if you use well water, and the smell in water persists. However, if you are using water from a public water supply and come across foul-smelling water, contact your local water treatment center immediately.

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