The following chart is intended to serve only as a general guide for determining the cause of problems with water. In some cases, these symptoms may indicate a serious problem–in others, only the taste and smell (its aesthetics) may be affected, but not its safety.

Although information below will help you identify your concerns about your water, we believe that it is safest to have your water tested.

SymptomPossible CausePossible Health EffectsMeans of Treatment
Soap scum in sinks and bathtub, or yellow or whitish scum on flower potsCalcium (limestone) and magnesium salts (hard water)Aesthetic onlyWater softener
Abrasive texture to water when washing or residual left in sinkExcessively fine sand, silt in waterVarious (sand could trap contaminants leading to health risk)Point of use sediment filter or whole house filter
Musty, earthy or wood smellGenerally, harmless organic matterAesthetic onlyActivated carbon filter or reverse osmosis
Chlorine smellExcessive chlorinationCould occur from formation of disinfection byproductsDechlorinate with point of use activated carbon filter or whole house filter
Rotten egg odor, or tarnished silverware1. Dissolved hydrogen sulfide gas2. Presence of sulfate reducing bacteria in raw waterVarious effects1. Manganese greensand filter constant chlorination followed by filtration/dechlorination.2. Constant chlorination followed with a point of use activated carbon filter or whole house filter
Hot water, rotten egg odorAction of magnesium rod in hot water heaterVarious EffectsRemove magnesium rod from heater
Detergent odor, water foams when drawnSeepage of septic discharge into underground water supplyDisease-causing microorganisms may be present1. Locate and eliminate source of seepage–then heavily chlorinate well
2. Activated point of use carbon filter or whole house system will adsorb limited amount
Gasoline or oil (hydro-carbon) smellLeak in fuel oil tank or gasoline tank seeping into water supplyFuel components may be toxic or carcinogenicNo residential treatment. Locate and eliminate seepage
Methane gasNaturally occurring caused by decaying organicsVarious effectsAeration system and repump
Phenol smell (chemical odor)Industrial waste seeping into surface or ground water suppliesVarious–compounds may be carcinogenicPoint of use activated carbon filteror whole house system will adsorb short-term.
Salty or brackishHigh sodium contentAesthetic only1. Deionize drinking water only with disposable mixed bed–anion/cation resins
2. Reverse osmosis
Alkali tasteHigh dissolved mineral containing alkalinity (Stained aluminum cookware)Aesthetic onlyReduce by reverse osmosis
Metallic taste1. Very low pH water (3.0-5.5)2. Heavy iron concentration in water above 3.0 ppm Fe3. Leaching of lead and copperVarious depends on cause1. Neutralizing calcite filter down to pH of 5.52. Calcite/ Magnesia–oxide mix (5 to 1) for higher flow rate and to correct very low pH water
3. Soda ash chemical feed followed by filtrationFor Iron1. A water softener can remove 0.5 ppm of Fe+ for every grain/gal of hardness to 10 ppm with a minimum pH of 6.72. Over 10 ppm Iron, chlorination with sufficient retention tank time for full oxidation followed by filtration/ dechlorination3. In warm climates residual aerator and filtration will substantially reduce iron content
Dirt, salt, claySuspended matter in surface water pond, stream or lakeTurbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms“Calcite” or Neutralize (media) type filter–up to 50 ppm
Sand grit, silt or clay substancesWell sand from new well or defective well screenTurbid water may contain disease causing microorganismsSand trap and/or new well screen
Rust in waterAcid water causing iron “pick-up”Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganismsNeutralizing calcite filter to correct low pH acidity and remove precipitated iron
Gray string-like fiberOrganic mater in raw water algae, etcTurbid water may contain disease causing microorganismsConstant chlorination followed by a point of use activated carbon filterto or whole house system to dechlorinate
Green stains on sinks, or, blue-green look to waterWater which has high carbon dioxide content (pH below 6.8) reacting with brass and copper pipes and fittingsCould lead to health effects if acid water causes leaching of lead and copper1. Neutralizing calcite filter down to pH of 5.52. Calcite/ Magnesia–oxide mix (5 to 1) for higher flow rate and to correct very low pH water3. Soda ash chemical feed followed by filtration
Brown-red stains on sinks or clothing. Water turns brown-red when used for cooking1. Dissolved iron in influent (more than 0.3 ppm Fe+) water appears clear when first drawn at cold water faucet. Above 0.3 ppm Fe causes stainingVarious effects1. A water softenercan remove 0.5 ppm of Fe+ for every grain/gal of hardness to 10 ppm with a minimum pH of 6.72. Over 10 ppm Fe+ chlorination with sufficient retention tank time for full oxidation followed by filtration / dechlorination3. In warm climates residual aerator and filtration will substantially reduce iron content
 2. Precipitate iron (water will not clear when drawn)Various effects1. Up to 10 ppm iron removed by manganese greensand filter, if pH 6.7 or higher2. Manganese treated, non-hydrous aluminum silicate filter where pH of 6.8 or higher and oxygen is 15% of total iron content3. Downflow water softener with good backwash, up to 1.0 ppm Fe. Above 1 ppm to 10 ppm use calcite filter followed by downflow water softener Calcite media type filter to remove precipitated iron
Brownish cast does not precipitateIron pick-up from old pipe with water having a pH below 6.8. Organic (bacterial) ironVarious effects1. Treat well to destroy iron bacteria with solution of hydrochloric acid then constant chlorination followed by a point of use activated carbon filter or whole house systemto for dechlorination2. Potassium permanganate chemical feed followed by filtration
Reddish color in water sample after standing 24 hoursColloidal ironVarious effectsConstant chlorination followed by a point a of use activated carbon media filter or whole house systemfor dechlorination
Yellowish cast to water after softening and/or filteringTannins (humic acids) in water from peaty soil and decaying vegetationVarious effects1. Adsorption via special macro-porous Type I anion exchange resin regenerated with salt (NaCl) up to 3.0 ppm.2. Manganese greensand or manganese treated sodium alumino-silicate under proper set of conditions
Cloudiness of water when drawn1. Some precipitant sludge created during heating of water2. High degree of air in water from poorly functioning pump3. Excessive coagulant-feed being carried through filter1. Various effects2. Aesthetic only3. Various effects1. Blow down domestic or commercial hot water heater tank periodically2. Water will usually clear quickly upon standing3. Reduce coagulant quantity being fed, service filters properly
Blackening and pitting of stainless steel sinks1. Excessive salt content2. High temperature drying creates high chloride concentration accelerating corrosionVarious effects1. Use other chloride resistant metals2. Reduce total dissolved solids by reverse osmosis.

Source: EPA Office of Water

Learn more about common water quality problems that can affect your life. To find out what is in your water Request a No Obligation Water Analysis.

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