Why is my tap water smelly?

Pure water is supposed to be odourless, colourless, tasteless, and neutral. However, tap water is not pure; it has added mineral and chemical impurities that can offer health/safety benefits. Therefore, sometimes our water may not taste, smell, or appear the same as the neutral liquid you are used to.

Some changes in taste, smell and look of tap water are more worrying than others, while not all changes in these characteristics signify a health risk. Nevertheless, you might need to stop drinking tap water in certain situations and have it tested by an expert. The smell is an important part of taste and as part of our taste series, we’ll be going over all reasons why your water may have a distinct aroma and how to fix it.

Note: Some spring waters are highly sought after for their unique mineral properties.

Types Of Smells In Tap Water

Below are a few common distinguishing smells that tap water sometimes has.

Common Reasons Behind Smelly Tap Water- Precise Explanation

Now that we have established the different type of smells that originates from tap water, let us look at the causes behind each of them.


The pipes that carry water to the taps are made of metal and deteriorate over time. In the same process, there may be remnants of the metals used to make your water pipes in the tap water if it tastes or smells like iron or copper. After years of use, manganese, zinc, iron, or copper may be rusting away. These metal residues are often not hazardous, but they might give your water an unfavourable taste. Iron in clear water is noted to taste metallic in particular.

There is a chance that Lead is present in the water, even though Lead often has no taste or odour and can be quite hazardous. Due to its toxicity, most cities stopped utilizing lead plumbing in the 1920s. Lead pipes weren’t, however, outlawed under national plumbing rules until 1986.Therefore, aA filtration system that eliminates Lead can help alleviate any worries if your house was constructed before 1986.

While drinking iron-containing water is acceptable, drinking too much copper-containing water can result in copper poisoning, which can induce unpleasant headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and jaundice (a condition marked by yellowing skin).

An old copper pipe

Rotten Eggs

The smell of rotten eggs characterizes the smell of sulfur. Therefore, if you get a whiff of rotten eggs in your tap water, it’s probably sulfur or sulfur bacteria that you are smelling. Hydrogen sulfide is most likely present in tap water if it tastes or smells like rotten eggs or sulfur.

Hydrogen sulfide is released when a specific type of bacteria is present in the water or anywhere in your water system. Bacteria can be found inside pipes, wells, water heaters, drains, and water heater tanks. Organic material, such as food scraps, eventually builds up on the drain’s walls and serves as a food source for the bacteria. The bacteria feed on this degrading organic material, which produces hydrogen sulfide gas trapped in the plumbing system, causing the smell.

Swimming Pool Like Smell or Chlorine Smell

Most municipal water supplies will add minute portions of chlorine to disinfect the water supply and pipes. This addition can make your water smell like a swimming pool.

Chlorine is a cleaning or purifying agent employed to clean the water and makes it fit for consumption. It eliminates viruses, germs, parasites, and much more. Chlorine is safe for people, other mammals, and birds to consume in small amounts. The EPA mandates that the chlorine concentration in water is less than 4 mg/L; however in most cases, it is usually around 1 mg/L. Occasionally during periods of high stress on the system (spring runoff) you may detect more elevated amounts of chlorine.

Chlorine tasting or smelling tap water is typically nothing to worry about as chlorine used to disinfect tap water makes it clean and safe to drink. If the scent and taste bother you to remove the chlorine all you need to do is let it sit in a jug for a few hours as it will off gas naturally.

Fishy Odor

A fishy odor can be difficult for many people to withstand. One should never drink water directly from a pond or lake. There are too many microscopic bacteria swimming around that could get you sick. If your home’s water smells fishy, the same bacteria could be infiltrating your water supply.

There are three possible reasons why this smell could originate in your tap water. First, if there’s decaying organic matter deposited in the drain. Second, decaying organic matter in the main storage that is your tank or well. Third, if surface drainage has polluted your water source. In the tank, specific kinds of bacteria, fungi, and algae can develop and may even impact the odour of the water, especially in warm weather.

A fish

Sewage Smell

The scent can be revolting and intolerable when garbage, grime, and dirt get into your water supply. You might smell sewage in your tap water for several reasons. There could be bacterial growth in your water pipe or bacterial growth in the primary water source. Perhaps, an improperly located septic system might be the culprit.

It can be the bacteria that food and soap have left behind in your drain. The stench from your faucet may be the smell of bacteria in your drain living off food waste, which can give your entire sink a bad smell. The water in your water heater may have been unused for too long, which is another reason your water smells like sewage.

Musty Smell

The water should not smell dated and musty like it has been sitting in the cellar for a week, but rather fresh and clean. The water may not smell like mould, but a musty odour can be slightly familiar.

Organic pollutants may be at blame if your water has a musty odour. Solid organic stuff in your water source or system is probably decomposing.

If your water has been sitting for some time, you may fix it by flushing the entire system.

Smelly Tap Water Treatment- What You Can Do?

Water specialists assist in identifying typical aromas in drinking water, ascertaining their origin, and providing basic suggestions on how to remove foul tastes and odours from your water permanently. Each scent may have a different cause. View the rest of our taste series to find out how to treat each type of water contaminant.

Water pouring on a rock

Metallic Odor Treatment

Installing a reverse osmosis system is a way to get rid of Lead and the metallic taste in your drinking water. Water softeners can also assist in eliminating the metallic taste associated with clear water iron.

A neutralizing filter, which will bring your water’s pH level back to neutral, can be necessary if you want to balance the pH level of your water supply. Although, it is preferable to get metallic tap water tested by a licensed laboratory. One should also consider recommendations from your neighbourhood health organization.

Learn more about how to fix a metallic taste or smell in your water with our taste series “Why does my water taste like metal?“.

Rotten Eggs Smell Treatment

Your water heater is most likely to blame if the stench occurs only when warm or hot water is dispensed from the faucet. The heater has an element within that prevents corrosion, but when this element ages, it can start to smell like rotten eggs. This element is the magnesium anode. Get in touch with a water system expert to get a new magnesium anode. The plug on top is where this attachment is attached. The production of hydrogen sulfide gas may be reduced at the source if the original anode rod is replaced. However, the lifespan of your water heater would most certainly be shortened if the rod is removed without replacement.

To determine if this is the case, speak with a plumber. Stop drinking the water and get in touch with your regional health department if you’ve ruled out the heater and drain as the source of the rotten egg stench. The water heater can also be cleaned out with a solution of chlorine bleach. Use caution because this solution can be challenging. It is advised that you get advice from a specialist.

Treating Swimming Pool Like Smell or Chlorine Smell

The best strategy to eliminate chlorine in your home is to install an activated carbon filtration system with activated carbon filter since the filters adsorb toxins like chlorine. A whole-house or under-sink filtration system can be bought and installed to provide effective carbon filtering. Try cleaning your hot water tank to eliminate mineral build up. Sometimes using a magnesium heating rod can cause the chlorine odor.

However, if you have the time, the easiest method is to just put the water in a jug and let it off gas naturally over the course of a day. The next day you’ll have a chilled and refreshing pitcher of water.

Test the tap water to determine the amount of free chlorine in the drinking water. Contact your county health department or water supply authority if the reading is higher than 2.0 ppm. The water is safe to drink but may smell bad if it measures more than 2.0 ppm.

Learn more about how to fix a metallic taste or smell in your water with our taste series “Why does my water taste like chlorine?“.

Pineapple floating in fresh water

Fishy Odor Treatment

Swirl a small amount of water around in a small glass before sniffing it. If swirling the water causes the smell to go, the sink drain is presumably where the rotting debris lies. After whirling, if the odour is still there, the decayed material is likely inside the water source itself.

If your tap water smells fishy, contact your water provider. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) mandates that municipal officials keep the amounts of organic compounds in the water system at safe levels for consumption if you utilize a city water system.

You can take it a step further and take some action in your own house by installing a water filtering system, whether you’re trying to get rid of fishy smells or any other aromas mentioned above. There are numerous ways to filter your water and eliminate offensive odors that restrict you from utilizing the supply in your home.

Sewage Smell Resolution

Fill a glass with the odour-containing water from the sink, then move away and swirl the water in the glass a few times. The glass of tap water shouldn’t smell if the issue is in the drain. Pour ½ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of vinegar down the drain to clean and disinfect it. Add hot tap water after waiting 15 minutes. If the hot tap is the only source of the odour, a water treatment specialist can assist you with flushing and disinfecting your water heater with a chlorine bleach solution.

 If cleaning the water heater doesn’t cure the issue, a water treatment expert can also conduct tests for pollutants and hydrogen sulfide. The smell of sewage is frequently confused with that of hydrogen sulfide or rotten eggs.

Musty Smell Remedy

Sanitizing your plumbing system, including your water softener, is one way to get rid of musty odours, and a water treatment specialist may help with this. In addition, using a reverse osmosis (RO) system might lessen the musty smell in your drinking water if it frequently occurs in your home.

Other Uncommon Odor

Above, we’ve gone through some of the more common reasons for your water to smell. Below are some of the less common reasons you may have smelly water.

Gasoline (Petroleum-like) Smell

Fuel or gasoline odours are uncommon, yet they can be quite dangerous. If you use public water, contact the local county health department immediately and your water provider. If the water in your home smells like these substances, there may be an underground storage tank that is leaking gasoline, paint, detergent, or ink leftovers. A factory or landfill discharge could contaminate the water supply, or likely run-off from farmland contaminating the water supply might all be the cause of fuel-like aromas. Ensure that there’s no underground fuel storage tank in contact with your water supply.

Filling gasoline

Bleach, Medicinal, & Similar Odor

It is unsettling to smell bleach in your drinking water, or for that matter, any medicinal odour. The best thing to do in such cases is to contact your plumber or your water provider in case you cannot find the smell’s source. Contact the required professional and implement whatever is necessary.


Water is an essential part of life. Drinking clean water is not only a requirement, but it’s an absolute mandate. Therefore, the water you drink should be free of unhealthy impurities. If your water is smelly or of a different color, then this calls for your attention and concern. If you can locate the source and solution of your problem, that’s great, but if you can’t, contact a professional in any case for any help.

Learn more about how contaminants can affect the taste of water with our “Taste Series”:

Adam S

Adam S

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