why does my water smell like sulfur

Imagine going to cook food, rinse your dishes, brush your teeth or take a shower, only to discover your water smells like rotten eggs. This foul, sulfur-smelling odor is enough to cause anyone concern — and for good reason. While it’s not immediately dangerous, water that contains too much sulfur presents health issues.

Since city water supplies are chlorinated, sulfuric water can only occur in water from a well or another still water supply. If you’re noticing your water source has a strange smell, it’s time to find a solution. Here’s a look at why this odor problem happens and how to fix it.

What Causes the Sulfur Smell in Water?

What does sulfur smell like? First, water should never have a smell, whether yours comes from an outside source or you use well water. If you begin to smell a rotten egg odor every time you turn on a faucet, you likely have sulfur in your water. This smell is so distinct that it’s very difficult to miss.

Thankfully, it’s generally easy to figure out why your water smells like sulfur. To narrow down the cause of the issue, you should run both the hot and cold water in your house. Doing so will help you understand the problem’s source:

  • Only cold water smells like sulfur: The major culprit behind cold water smelling like rotten eggs or sulfur is sulfate-reducing bacteria. Poor aeration and corrosion are often factors that increase the growth of this type of bacteria. Often times, this is the reason why your cold water smells like sulfur when you first turn it on.
  • Both hot and cold water smells like sulfur: If the odor is present in both your hot and cold water, the most common cause is the presence of hydrogen sulfide in your water supply. Essentially, sulfur bacteria create hydrogen sulfide gas as a result of feeding on sulfates in the water. This gas ends up getting trapped in underground water sources — and eventually, the bacteria make slime that can help other bacteria grow.
  • Only hot water smells like sulfur: If the sulfur smell is present only when you use hot water, the problem could be caused by chemical reactions coming from your hot water heater and you may wonder why does my hot water heater smell like rotten eggs. That is because most hot water heaters contain a metal rod called an anode. These rods help eliminate corrosion in your water heater tank. This rod contains either magnesium or aluminum, so the metal can react with sulfates in the water to cause the hydrogen sulfide odor. The hot water heater can also produce a warm environment where sulfur bacteria thrive which can create a rotten eggs like smell.

No matter the cause, you should note that sulfur bacteria don’t have to be present in large amounts to be an issue. It only takes a low level of hydrogen sulfide in your water for the odor to be present which can have a direct impact on your water quality. That distinct rotten egg smell is noticeable when concentrations of hydrogen sulfide are less than 1 part per million.

implications of too much sulfur in water

Is Sulfuric Water Safe to Drink and Use?

Is the sulfur-smelling water coming from your tap safe to drink and use? Different water types can affect your health in various ways. In most cases, hydrogen sulfide in your water is not a threat to your health. However, a water supply containing too much sulfur can cause the following implications: 

  • Diarrhea: If you drink water containing too much sulfur, you may experience stomach issues like diarrhea. These effects can be especially detrimental to the health of infants and young animals.
  • Dehydration: Those who experience diarrhea often become dehydrated, so sulfuric water is risky in that regard, as well.
  • Taste: Alongside the foul aroma, sulfur can impact how water tastes.
  • Pipe corrosion: A water supply with high levels of sulfate can wear away metals such as iron, steel and copper, causing plumbing issues.
  • Discoloration: Thanks to sulfur in your water, you may notice discoloration on your silverware, utensils and sink fixtures.

While it’s uncommon for sulfur levels in water to become so high that you experience these issues, you should still understand the risks of high levels of sulfur in your water. Ignoring sulfur-smelling water can be extremely detrimental to your family’s health. As a result, it’s crucial to find a solution before the sulfur becomes an issue.

How to Fix the Sulfur Smell in Water

Depending on the cause of your water problem, you can try a few fixes to remove the sulfur smell from your water. Keep in mind that it’s best to contact a professional to get an assessment of the situation. However, you may be able to eliminate the issue in the meantime.

If your problem is stemming from your water heater, you can try to:

  • Remove the anode rod: Remove the anode from the water heater. Note that this option could void the warranty on your water heater.
  • Disinfect water heater with chlorine: Consider chlorinating your water heater to remove the sulfuric bacteria. While this option can be effective, you may find that the problem returns over time.
  • Increase water heater temperature: Increase your water heater temperature to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours to destroy the sulfur bacteria. Keep in mind that this option requires extreme caution.

If you smell sulfur while running both the hot and cold water, you’ll likely have to treat the water using a chemical feed or a similar solution, as the issue lies with your water source.

Whole-House Water Filter System

Ultimately, one of the best options for removing sulfur from your water source is with a whole-house water filter. This system will remove hydrogen sulfide and kill sulfur bacteria, eliminating the rotten egg smell and taste completely. As a bonus, water filters for your home provide other benefits, including:

  • Improved water taste
  • Removed toxic substances
  • Softened water
  • Spotless drinking glasses
  • Brighter and longer-lasting clothing
  • Healthier skin and hair
culligan of mechanicsburg sulfur solutions

Culligan of Mechanicsburg Sulfur Solutions

With over 80 years of experience, our team of experts here at Culligan Water has the solution you need to fix the sulfur smell in your water. Our Sulfur-Cleer Whole-House Filter System uses an advanced filtration process that oxidizes the hydrogen sulfide in your water, eliminating that funky odor and taste. It also works to reduce rust stains on sinks, fixtures, dishes and clothes that result from the sulfur. Our system’s design and durability will ensure you have fresh water for years to come.

Never worry about hydrogen sulfide or other contaminants in your water again with optional automatic service notifications to your local Culligan dealership when your filter needs service. There are also ways to monitor the system from home. Install the handy remote display to see the status of your water filter system whenever necessary. Keeping tabs on your filter will give you added peace of mind.

Let Culligan Water help you with our water solutions. Purchase a water filtration system for better smelling and tasting water, or contact your Local Culligan Water expert for a free in-home water test today.