The last thing you’ll want to notice when you go to take a shower, do the dishes, or get a glass of water is the putrid smell of rotten eggs- but it does happen, and it’s more common than you think!
A water supply giving off an awful smelly egg pong is a regularly-reported issue, and it can really freak people out.
You might be wondering if your supply is tainted or if something else has gone wrong- and you might even be afraid to turn on the faucet!
There’s no need to panic though! Take a deep breath, relax.
In the vast majority of cases, an eggy smell from your water supply has a perfectly innocent cause, and apart from the smell the water is still perfectly fine- even for drinking.
So what causes this nasty smell- and more importantly, can you get rid of it? We get to the bottom of this quite pungent issue.
What Causes A Rotten Egg Smell From Water?
The smell of rotten eggs rarely has anything to do with the cleanliness of your water- it’s actually a telltale sign of the presence of a sulfur gas.
In Iceland, they draw their hot water directly from geothermal sources deep in the ground, so an eggy aroma from the shower is perfectly normal, as the water contains sulfur dioxide from volcanic activity.
In your case, the cause of your smelly water will typically be hydrogen sulfide. Even a very trace amount of hydrogen sulfide in your water can make a strong, eggy aroma.
Hydrogen sulfide becomes present in your water via sulfate. Sulfate is a naturally-occurring mineral salt found all over the environment, including in water.
In your pipes, sulfate-reducing bacteria in your pipes feed off of the sulfate, converting it into the smelly gas hydrogen sulfide.
There may be food, soap or other waste trapped in your drains, which has become a breeding ground for this bacteria- although this isn’t the only possible cause.
Is It Harmful?
No, your water should still be perfectly fine to use and drink! An unpleasant smell occurs if even the most trace amounts of hydrogen sulfide is present, which is completely acceptable for water quality.
Chances are though, you’re still not particularly fond of the smell of rotten eggs permeating in your home every time you take a shower.- and you’ll be looking for ways of sorting it out.
Thankfully, there are a number of different things you can try before you bother the water company.
Determine The Source Of The Smell
Firstly, we need to determine which part of your plumbing the smell is originating from.
Your Water Heater
If your water only smells eggy when you use the hot water functions of your home, then your water heater is the root cause of your hydrogen sulfide issue.
This is a common problem as an enclosed warm water environment is a perfect breeding ground for all manner of bacteria, and usually signifies that your heater simply isn’t getting hot enough and may require repair or replacement.
If this is the case then you may wish to thank that eggy smell, which could be the least of your worries.
Many other more harmful bacteria, such as legionella, may also be growing in the tepid conditions of your faulty water heater. You’ve just caught it before it caused serious damage to your health.
Your Personal Water Supply
If the smell occurs from both hot and cold water, then the hydrogen sulfide is probably being created in your broader plumbing. This can be determined by running the taps for a period and seeing if the smell eventually dissipates.
You should also try different water sources around the house. If the smell is coming from a faucet downstairs but not the one upstairs for example, you’ve just localized the problem- which will make it easier to treat.
Your Neighborhood Water Supply
If the smell does not dissipate while running the water, this suggests that the problem is much larger than your own plumbing.
Speak to neighbors to see if they are experiencing the same issue, and if so, immediately call your water supplier for advice and follow all of their instructions.
Solutions If Your Supply Is Affected
So hydrogen sulfide is a minor issue, but it’s still unpleasant and if left untreated could cause corrosion damage to your plumbing. Handily, there are several methods of treatment you can try yourself:
Clear Your Pipes
The first thing you should try is running all the faucets in your home for an extended period (such as ten minutes or so) until the smell clears. This could very simply clear the built up gas from your plumbing.
Flush Your Water Heater
If you have determined that your heater is the cause, you can try to flush it yourself.
Leave your water supply connected. Take a length of hose, and run it from the drain valve of your heater to somewhere outside where you can let excess water flow. Allow the water to drain for ten minutes or so.
At ten minutes, take a sample of the water by filling up a cup from the hose. If the water is fully clear of sediment, you’re good to go!
Disinfect Your Water Heater
This is achieved by turning your heater up high (over 160 degrees) and allowing it to run for a few hours.
If your heater isn’t reaching these temperatures, then it needs to be repaired or replaced, or you could be tainting your water supply with dangerous bacteria.
If after trying all of these methods you are still noticing an eggy smell, then it’s time to call in a water treatment expert.
This is also true if your water supply comes from a groundwater or well source – the solution requires expert hands to solve as the source itself must be treated.