We get asked about this all the time, so once again we will address the topic of rotten egg smells in water… this time for a woman who suspects something has gone wrong with either her or her neighbor’s septic tank.
Sandra77D wrote in and asked, “Hi. My water stinks like something awful. Rotten eggs and nasty smelling funk. Especially the hot water. A neighbor says he has teh same problem and blames his old septic tank. Our houses were built in the same year. Should we blame the septic tank, too?”
In all honesty, Sandra, we do not have the credentials or knowledge to answer that question for you. We can, however, give you a quick education on hydrogen sulfide in drinking water.
Water containing dissolved hydrogen sulfide gas produces an offensive (and VERY unpleasant) “rotten egg” or “sulfur” odor and will also have a similar taste. In a lot of cases the odor seems a lot stronger when one first turns on the water or runs hot water from the faucet.
Higher temperatures result in the generation of hydrogen sulfide gas at a faster rate and this can make showering in water that contains hydrogen sulfide particularly unpleasant!
Blame it on the hot water heater?
Occasionally water that smells like rotten eggs will actually have acquired that smell from a corrosion control rod in the hot water heater. Over time the magnesium-based rod can chemically reduce sulfates in source water to hydrogen sulfide.
If you only get the rotten egg smell from your hot water tap, check the corrosion control rod in your hot water tank.
Can the rotten egg smell harm people?
Aside from its noxious nature, it really does not present all that much of a danger unless the hydrogen sulfide fumes build up in confined spaces. High concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas in the air can cause headaches and make people pass out… pretty much like any other gas.
The bigger problem people face when dealing with hydrogen sulfide comes from its tendency to corrode iron, steel and copper — three commonly used metals for plumbing fixtures. It also tends to tarnish silverware and discolor copper and brass cooking utensils.
In houses with hydrogen sulfide problems kitchen and bathroom fixtures will typically develop yellow or black stains and beverages such as coffee and tea will have odd discoloration. Foods cooked with hydrogen sulfide water may have unusual appearances and/or tastes.
I’ve heard that water softeners can create rotten egg smells, too?
While not as common as problems with the corrosion control bar in the water heater, yes, water softeners can serve as the source of hydrogen sulfide smells in water. Certain types of bacteria can flourish in the bed of a water softener where they will reduce any sulfate that passes through the bed to hydrogen sulfide.
If you get a black slime on the inside of your water softener and a rotten egg smell to your water despite having no hydrogen sulfide detected in your source water, you may have a problem with bacteria in your water softener.
Hydrogen sulfide from sewage?
Definitely possible! While water containing hydrogen sulfide by itself most likely will not cause disease, hydrogen sulfide smells can possibly come from sewage that certainly CAN can contain disease-producing contaminants.
For that reason, health officials and water experts suggest testing for bacterial contamination when investigating a hydrogen sulfide smell in drinking water.
Getting rid of hydrogen sulfide smell in water
Several different methods for getting rid of hydrogen sulfide in water exist, but as you can see, you must first figure out the source of the gas. Did it come from the source water (if you have well water)? Does it only show up in hot water? Do you have well water and a septic tank? Do you smell it outside of your home on not-so-windy days?
Depending upon the source AND amount of hydrogen sulfide in water, shock chlorination, water heater alteration (changing the metal of the corrosion control rod), activated carbon filtration, oxidizing filtration, or oxidizing chemical injection may reduce or eliminate hydrogen sulfide in water.
In certain cases the preferred method for reducing or eliminating hydrogen sulfide levels in water also has the added benefit of reducing/removing iron and manganese at the same time.
After consulting with a certified water testing professional…
If you have very concentrations of hydrogen sulfide originating from your source water, a filter such as the Crystal Quest Faucet Filter may get rid of the smell using on of its 5 stages of filtration.
If you have higher concentrations of hydrogen sulfide in your source water, you may need to use a much larger systems such as the Crystal Quest Whole House Iron & Hydrogen Sulfide Filter which uses three stages of filtration to filter out unwanted contaminants… including up to 5 ppm (parts per million) of hydrogen sulfide, 15 ppm of total (ferrous & ferric) iron and 10 ppm of manganese. This particular water filter system works well as an add-on to aeration, chlorination, ozone or other pretreatment methods in cases where extremely high levels of hydrogen sulfide exist.