Informational Guide

Why Does My Water Smell Like Sulfur?

If you’ve noticed that your water smells like sulfur and your sink smells bad, this guide is for you. We look at common causes & best fixes.

by Ian Haynes

It’s crucial to have good, clean potable water in your home that is free from any odors to keep you and your family clear of health risks. If you’ve noticed that your water smells like sulfur and your sink smells bad, this guide is for you.

Here, we’ll talk about the causes, the health risks associated with it, and most importantly, how to fix it.

If you’ve asked yourself, “why does my water smell like sulfur?” it’s due to hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S). In your water supply, there is a naturally occurring ion called sulfate. In moderate concentrations, this sulfate is virtually undetectable.

There are, however, instances where it can turn into hydrogen sulfide:

  1. 1
    High sulfur-reducing bacteria within the water supply
  2. 2
    A corroded magnesium or aluminium anode rod
  3. 3
    Naturally occurring – a result of decay and chemical reactions within soil and rocks
  4. 4
    Sulfur bacteria or any chemical reactions that occur within water heaters
Water Smells Like Sulfur

Below are some ways hydrogen sulfide gets into specific water sources.

  • 1
    Well Water
    If you’ve asked yourself, 'why does my well water smell like sulfur?' It's because hydrogen sulfide gas occurs naturally in some groundwater. The sulfur smell in well water is not pleasant and is typically formed from decaying plant material found in deep or shallow wells. The hydrogen sulfide gas is the reason why your well water smells like sulfur.
  • 2
    Tap Water
    Wondering why your water smells like sulfur in one faucet and not the other? If the smell is from your hot water, it’s likely from the water heater in your house. If only your cold water smells like sulfur, the problem likely exists within your drains or pipes. If your tap water smells like sulfur or your sink water smells like sulfur, it could be an issue with the plumbing or groundwater.
  • 3
    Water Heater
     What causes a sulfur smell in hot water? A water heater can cause that sulfur smell as it provides an ideal environment for sulfate to become hydrogen sulfide gas. This can be produced in two ways:
  • A reaction between the sulfate in the water and the water heater anode
  • A naturally warm environment where sulfur bacteria can thrive

Typically, if your hot water smells like sulfur, it’s likely attributed to the magnesium metal anode, which has electrons that help to convert sulfate to hydrogen sulfide gas.


Shower Water Smells Like Sulfur

How to Tell If Your Water At Home Contains Hydrogen Sulfide?

Below are some ways you can tell if your water at home contains hydrogen sulfide.

  • Rotten egg smell – Hydrogen sulfide gas emits a foul odor that’s most noticeable when water is first turned or when hot water is used.
  • Bad taste – If you’ve noticed a bad taste in your water, it likely contains hydrogen sulfide.
  • Corrosion – Corroding of metals such as iron, steel, and brass can also be a tell-tale sign.
  • Stains – If you’ve noticed yellow or black stains on your kitchen or bathroom fixtures, it can be due to hydrogen sulfide.
  • Tarnish – Notice that your silverware or cookware is tarnished? Hydrogen sulfide is likely the culprit.

Is Sulfur Water Safe To Drink?

It depends on exactly how much sulfate or hydrogen sulfide is in your water. Likely, you won’t have serious health issues unless they’re found in very high concentrations. In high concentrations, however, hydrogen sulfate can cause the following problems:

  • Diarrhea – In large amounts, hydrogen sulfide can cause diarrhea which can eventually lead to dehydration.
  • Nausea – In high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide can also lead to nausea and illness, especially if it concentrates in a confined area.
  • Eye irritation – Even at lower levels, hydrogen sulfide can sometimes irritate the eyes, nose, and throat.

How to Remove Sulfur from Water

Here are some ways that you can remove sulfur from water.

From Well Water

Wondering how to get rid of the sulfur smell in well water?

Disinfecting the well and plumbing system with a strong chlorine solution should remove the sulfur smell from well water. You can do this on your own or hire a professional to help you.

In some cases, you might have to do pre-work (scrubbing the well casing and using special treatment chemicals). In such instances, try to contact a professional to help you.

If the bacteria is in the water softener or other treatment devices, you can contact the installer for help.

Why Does My Water Smell Like Sulfur

From Tap Water

Whether you’re getting rid of a sulfur smell in the water of your new house or a place you’ve been living in for a while, here are some ways to remove it:

  • Start by getting your water tested by a professional to determine the exact cause. Once you’re aware of the reason, it’s much easier to find the best way to remove the sulfur smell from the water.
  • You can add air to the water to reduce the levels of hydrogen sulfide. You will need to install an aeration system to do so.
  • Use hydrogen peroxide to neutralize the smell of sulfur.
  • Install an iron removal filter that will remove moderate levels of hydrogen sulfide.
  • Use an automatic chlorinator to feed chlorine bleach into the water system.
  • You can also choose to install a water treatment system in your sink or a new well.

From Water Heaters

Thinking about how to fix the sulfur smell in your hot water? It could be due to your water heater. With water heaters, try not to do it on your own and instead have a plumber or professional assist you.

  • Replace or remove the magnesium anode. Note that removing your anode can decrease the life of your water heater, so you’d want to get that checked beforehand.
  • Disinfect and flush your water heater with a chlorine bleach solution. Chlorination helps in killing bacteria.
  • Increase your water heater temperature to 160-degrees Fahrenheit for several hours to destroy the bacteria. Flush it afterward, and it should solve the problem. This can be dangerous, however, so make sure you consult with the manufacturer or dealer beforehand.

Other Bad Water Smells & Causes

Other foul smells can come from water, and we’ll briefly discuss them below:

Dirty or Earthy Smells

Dirty or earthy smells can be attributed to iron bacteria in your water supply. While not harmful, it can also have a bad taste. You’d likely also notice slime in your toilet’s tank or plumbing fixtures. An effective way to treat it is to use a chlorine chemical feed system to reduce bacteria effectively.

Fishy Drinking Water

Most of the time, fishy drinking water is due to naturally occurring organic material. You could be dealing with increased levels of barium, cadmium, or chloramine. To remove these contaminants, you want to utilize reverse osmosis water filters to leave you with clean and fresh water.

Bleach, Chlorine, Pool Smell

If you’ve got a bleach or pool smell, you likely live in the city. Typically, chlorine is added to public water for disinfection purposes. You may also have this issue if you’re close to a distribution plant. To remove chlorine, you can do so with most types of household water filters.


People also Ask (FAQs)

Can you shower in sulfur water?

It is generally safe to shower if your shower water smells like sulfur, but it depends on the sulfur levels. If you have a high amount of sulfur in your shower water, it could irritate your skin.

Is sulfur bad for hair?

Interestingly, sulfates help to strip oil and dirt away from your hair. Too much sulfate, however, can leave your hair dry and unhealthy. They can also cause your scalp to be prone to irritation.

How can I test water with hydrogen sulfide? Can I send samples to a lab?

Hydrogen sulfide is detectable by taste and smell, so you don’t need to send your water to a lab to detect it. However, if you want to determine the amount of hydrogen sulfide in your water, you will need to send it to a certified lab.

Does hydrogen sulfide get into the body?

Hydrogen sulfide does not accumulate in the body, but prolonged exposure can result in side effects such as headache, loss of appetite, and more.


Conclusion

If your water smells or tastes like sulfur, the next step is determining where it’s coming from. Once you’ve got a good idea of the source, you can either solve the issue on your own or seek the help of a professional. Having your water smell like sulfur is not a pleasant experience but is an issue that you can easily rectify.

Ian Haynes is an expert writer who has successfully deployed over 500 plumbing pages and other related content. He has an excellent understanding of home plumbing issues and translates his experiences via Plumbing Lab so readers can have a better understanding of common household problems. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador.

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