Why Does My Water Smell Like Sulfur?

Why does my water smell like sulfur? This is a smell that’s familiar to most people who use tap water or well water at home.

Everyone knows and loathes the smell of opening a carton of eggs, cracking some open, and realizing that they were well past the expiration date. It is one of the reasons why the odor of rotten eggs has become a general descriptor for something that smells bad. There is also a mineral out there that is notorious for having the stench of rotten eggs: sulfur.

Imagine turning on the tap to get a glass of water to go with your breakfast and realizing that the water in your tap smells exactly the same as rotten eggs. Nobody really wants this to happen and if it does end up happening to you, then chances are that you will want to know how to get rid of it. Understanding why your water smells of sulfur is important but what is even more important is knowing the source and knowing how to get rid of it. Thankfully, the answers to these questions are fairly straightforward, meaning that it will be easy for you to return your water to normal.

Is Drinking Sulfur-Smelling Water Dangerous?

If you know that your water smells of sulfur, you might think that there is sulfur gas or the mineral sulfur in the water itself and that the water is no longer safe to drink. For the most part, though, it is not dangerous for you to consume. The smell will certainly make things unpleasant, however. In fact, sulfur and sulfur gas is considered not harmful because both the taste and the odor, even at low levels, will prevent people from drinking enough of the sulfur for it to become hazardous. In a way, this means that you should be grateful for such a putrid stench.

However, it does pose a danger to the metal in your pipes. Sulfur is corrosive to certain metals, such as iron, steel, copper, and brass. It can tarnish silver and it can discolor copper and brass. It can stain the tiles in your kitchen and bathrooms and your tea and foods might be tainted in appearance and taste off. Most of the danger that sulfur poses is toward your comfort, although once the sulfur is gone, you should have a professional check your pipes to make sure that too much corrosion didn’t happen.

Why Does My Water Smell Like Sulfur?

Your first thought when realizing that there the smell of sulfur in your water might be “Why?” The truth is that sulfur is a common gas that is found underground, typically where water pipes and well water comes from. It doesn’t actually mean that there is sulfur in your water, for the most part, although it does mean that you should get your pipes checked and cleaned because sulfur is dangerous for other reasons.

There are three main culprits causing sulfur-tainted water. It could be that organic matter is decaying or chemical reactions are occurring in the soil and rock that surrounds the well or pipes near your water. It could also be caused by a certain type of bacteria, known as sulfate-reducing bacteria, that converts naturally occurring gasses into hydrogen sulfide gas. (Hydrogen sulfide is the sulfur that smells bad.) And, finally, it could be caused by a faulty water heater.

In a faulty water heater, one of two things could be happening. It could be that your water heater is actually producing a warm, moist environment for sulfate-reducing bacteria to live and thrive. It could also be that the magnesium anode in the water heater is supplying electrons that have a reaction to the sulfate in hydrogen sulfide gas.

To put things simply, the reason why your water smells of sulfur is because something is decaying or reacting around the source of your water, bacteria is producing hydrogen sulfide gas, or your water heater is having some issues. Thankfully, all three of these situations are relatively easy to fix.

Contacting a Professional

More often than not, you cannot fully or properly get rid of the sulfur without the equipment and expertise of a professional who specializes in treating water. Of course, you should usually make sure that you contact a professional if your water smells completely different than normal but for sulfur, you should absolutely get in touch with professionals. These professionals will not only be able to treat the water to remove the sulfur and sulfur gasses but they will also be able to find the cause of the problem for you and help you deal with that as well.

When it comes to rooting out the source of the problem, the professionals have the tools and the equipment to figure out if the sulfur is caused by bacteria, a faulty water heater, or simply just a natural reaction happening a little too close to your water source. Although, with a water heater, you will be able to tell if there is an issue if it is only the hot water that is affected. Once the professional finds the source of the problem, he or she will be able to begin working on treating the water and getting rid of the source so that before you know it, you will be drinking fresh, sulfur-free water once again.

Getting Rid of the Sulfur

First things first; if you know that you are having a sulfur problem with your water, you should rule out mechanical causes. In this case, you should make sure that your water heater is not the cause of the issue and you should also contact a professional about treating the water as well. A professional can also help with removing the bacteria from your pipes or your well water. If something is decaying or a chemical reaction is occurring, there isn’t much you can do except treating the water, unfortunately.

As for getting rid of the sulfur, there are three main ways to remove it from your water and water supply: chlorination, aeration, and carbon filters.

Chlorination is sometimes referred to as a chlorine injection because that is literally what it is. A quick injection of a small amount of chlorine into your water will remove much of the sulfur. A chemical reaction will happen and the hydrogen sulfide will turn into a tasteless and odorless yellow particle. The only thing that you will have to be wary of is that these particles can still create a yellow film on clothing and other fixtures; however, sand or aggregate filters can remove these particles.

Aeration is the process of using oxygen. Pure oxygen will also react to the hydrogen sulfide to produce an odorless form of sulfur called sulfate. This process will still leave the yellow particles and it probably won’t taste very good but at least the smell will be removed. Once the source of the problem is gone, you won’t have to worry about smelly water again for a long, long time. Sometimes a professional will also use compressed air injected into the water system to get rid of the sulfur.

And, finally, there are carbon filters. This is a process that you can use while you wait for a professional to come down to your home to remove the source of the problem. Carbon filters and activated filters will remove small amounts of hydrogen sulfide from the water. The particles of the gas are absorbed onto the surface of the carbon particles on the filter. This means that you will have to replace the filters occasionally, depending on just how much sulfur is in your water.