Why Does My Water Smell Like Rotten Eggs?

by Michael Franco
A hose empties into a bucket the dirty water and debris that comes out when you flush your water heater, water heater, hot water heater, dirty water, filthy water, dirty, filthy, hose, spraying, bucket, debris, maintenance, cleaning flushing, draining

Your home’s tap water gets used every day for all sorts of tasks. Yet we don’t tend to give our home’s water much thought — that is, unless our water starts to look or smell weird. And when it comes to funky smells, a rotten egg smell is probably the one stench you least hope to get a whiff of in your water.

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But what causes your water to reek of rotten eggs? And, perhaps more importantly, how can you make it go away?

Is That Sulfur I Smell?

Many folks know that sulfur can produce a rotten egg smell, and the same goes for your home’s water. Hydrogen sulfide gas is what gives water a rotten egg smell (and taste). Even very small amounts of this compound can result in an unpleasant smell.

Hydrogen sulfide is a naturally occurring gas that has chemical reactions with rocks and dirt and accompanies decay. It can be caused by sulfur bacteria that are found in a well, plumbing system or the groundwater itself.

Aside from the signature eggy smell, there are other signs you may notice when sulfide gas is present. There may be bacterial slime, black stains on your plumbing fixtures and silverware and corrosion on pipes.

Hydrogen sulfide most often occurs in homes with well water, but occasionally the sulfide bacteria can result from sewage or other types of pollution. To be safe, you can test your water to make sure there aren’t other harmful bacteria present.

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Why Does My Hot Water Smell Like Rotten Eggs?

Sulfur bacteria can also grow in your water heater. If it’s only your hot water that smells like rotten eggs, you likely have sulfur bacteria in your water heater. This sulfur bacteria can grow when warm water is left in the tank for long periods of time. The sulfur bacteria can cause your hot water to smell like sulfur, and it can also enable other types of bacteria to thrive, creating slime buildup and blockages in your tank.

Although it’s not as common, you can also sometimes get a sulfur smell with your hot water as a result of having a magnesium anode rod along with water softener inside your water heater.

Can I Fix This Myself or Do I Need to Call a Plumber?

If your well water smells like sulfur, you’ll want to know how to fix it and get rid of that rotten egg smell in your house once and for all. The good news is that there are ways to remove the sulfur smell from your water, regardless of where it originates.

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If Your Water Heater Is the Culprit...

There are several things you can try to rid the water of its sulfur content and smell.

Increase the Temperature

To kill the sulfur bacteria, you can try increasing the temperature of your water heater to 160 degrees for at least a few hours. You can then flush the dead bacteria out of the tank to get rid of the sulfur odor.

Caution! Increasing the temperature in a water heater can be dangerous, so make sure to consult your manual beforehand. You can also hire a professional for this task if you’re at all unsure about how to safely proceed. You also want to make sure to return the temperature to its normal setting after the bacteria has been destroyed.

Remove the Magnesium Anode

Turn off the water to release pressure, then unscrew the anode’s plug. You’ll want to be sure to plug the hole. Removing the magnesium anode rod can decrease your water heater’s lifespan rather significantly, so it may be worth checking to see if another anode made of a non-magnesium material can be used instead to protect from corrosion without the sulfur smell.

Disinfect Your Water Heater With Bleach

You can also try cleaning and disinfecting the water heater’s tank by flushing with bleach. Three pints of bleach should be used for every 100 gallons, but you may want to double this if the sulfur is at super high levels and the smell is really strong.

If Your Well Water or Plumbing System Smells Like Sulfur...

Addressing the problem will be more involved. In this situation, you’ll probably need to scrub and disinfect your well and plumbing system with bleach and possibly other chemicals. You’ll likely want to call on a licensed well professional to handle this intensive cleaning and disinfection process.

If the Problem Is the Groundwater Itself...

A whole-home water filtration system can remove sulfur from your home’s water and will remove other contaminants too. Carbon filters can block sulfur gas at levels less than 1 milligram per liter.

Sulfur No More

Let’s be real. No one wants their shower or drinking water to smell like rotten eggs, even if the water is still safe to ingest. To get rid of the smell of sulfur, you’ll need to determine its source. From there, the removal process should be pretty straightforward, although some sulfur removal steps will probably require calling in a professional. Still, it’s well worth it to get your water back to being something you don’t even think about.

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