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The Causes and Solutions for Smelly Water

So your water's been smelling a little off lately.

Depending on your water source, municipal, cistern or well, the type and origin of the smell is caused by different factors.

The most common complainants I hear are from people on cistern water or well water, so I'll start there.

Cistern Water
If you live in the country and have a large concrete tank buried underground for your water supply, then you have a cistern. Typically your water will be delivered by a water truck on a regular basis to fill it up. Some homeowners also collect rainwater from their eavestroughs. Collecting rainwater is a great way to save money on water, and it also has its challenges. I've lived in a rural home for over 20 years and have had cistern water from the day we moved in. We chose to collect rainwater and filter it. When it rains, we’re ecstatic- free water! I also know how that water can suddenly turn and begin to smell horribly. That's when I know it's time to change the water filters.

The smell you're experiencing is a combination of rotting organic material and bacteria. When water becomes stagnant and the temperature  increases, it creates the perfect condition for brewing up some nasty bacteria- aka smell. 

The Solution:
Having a whole home water filtration system with ultraviolet disinfection that kills e.coli and other bacteria is critical to ensure your water is safe. This solution is a chemical free way of treating smelly water. It does require some maintenance (i.e. changing filters regularly) or you can opt for a self cleaning system. The self cleaning system requires much less maintenance and you’ll experience more consistent water quality. 

LEARN MORE About Cistern Water


Well Water
Well water is another rural water alternative. Well water is untreated groundwater. A well driller will drill down to a water aquifer and install a pump to bring the water into your home. If you tap into a “good” aquifer the water requires little treatment and you’ll have an unlimited supply. If you reach an aquifer that has acquired groundwater contamination along the way, it can be full of iron, hard water minerals, bacteria and sulphur. 

The smell is typically caused by hydrogen sulfide ( a.k.a sulphur), sulphates and/or bacteria.  Hydrogen sulphide isn't harmful on its own, however it's aesthetically displeasing. What is of concern here is the bacteria- e.coli and coliform.  Farm runoff is a huge contributor to well water contamination as well as septic seepage. The runoff seeps into the groundwater and contaminates the well water supply with bacteria and sulphur. If you've ever had food poisoning, e.coli  poisoning is just as nasty, if not worse, and often requires hospitalization and months of recovery time.

The Solution
Although some wells can be a bit more complicated in their treatment requirements, ultraviolet disinfection combined with a sulphur removal system will greatly improve the smell and safety of your water. Both are chemical free and are proven in their effectiveness. 

Disclaimer: Have your well water tested prior to installing any water treatment system to ensure it will be effective for your unique water composition. 

LEARN MORE About Well Water and Well Water Testing


City Water

Lake or ground water treated by the municipality for safety is the easiest water to work with. City water is treated by chlorine and/or chloramines as well as alum (aluminum sulphate) in order to kill bacteria and improve water clarity. Regionally the quality can differ greatly. One of the biggest complaints I get is about the high level of chlorine in city water. This causes an offensive chemical smell and can be very irritating to the skin. 

Since city water is already free from bacteria the best solution for ridding your water of the chlorine smell is to add carbon filtration to the whole home water supply. Carbon absorbs the chlorine and other contaminents as the water passes through the filter leading to clean, clear, smell free, great tasting water. Many combinations are available at various price points to maximize the benefit for your individual needs. From self cleaning-low maintenance systems, to cartridge style filters, you can choose what best serves your needs. 

The important note here is that the mere presence of chlorine in your water means you’re absorbing it through your skin every time shower. Chlorine is a harmful chemical that kills organic tissues and cells. Removing it is crucial for optimal health. 


LEARN MORE About City Water