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What Causes Smelly or Yellow Well Water, and How Can It Be Fixed?

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There are few things more refreshing than a glass of clear, cold, crisp water. But what happens when your tap water begins to smell or taste differently than it used to? If the water begins to carry a green or yellow tint, does that mean it’s unsafe? Depending on where a home is located, problems such as a sulfur smell, or “rotten egg smell,” and water discoloration can affect the quality of the well water. However, there are usually ways to address the rotten egg smell and discoloration issues, and a professional well drilling company will know best how to use water purification systems, or other methods, to make your water the best that it can be.

What Causes the Rotten Egg Smell in Water?

The primary cause of the rotten egg smell in water is hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is caused by “anaerobic digestion,” the process by which microorganisms break down organic material in the absence of oxygen. This process can occur in the mud and clay of swamps as well as sewers and wells. In addition to being unpleasant to the senses, hydrogen sulfide gas can be both poisonous and flammable in large quantities, though this is rare in domestic situations. Hydrogen sulfide also corrodes pipes, which can cause a myriad of problems in the home.

Hydrogen sulfide dissipates quickly from water. To perform a simple home test, the homeowner can fill a glass with water. If the smell dissipates in roughly ten seconds, hydrogen sulfide is likely the cause of the rotten egg smell. To make certain, the homeowner should have a professional either test the water on-site or take a stabilized sample back to the lab. Once it is determined that hydrogen sulfide is indeed the problem, there are several steps that can be taken to alleviate that nasty sulfur smell from the water.

How Can Smelly Water be Fixed?

First, the homeowner must determine whether the sulfur smell is present when both hot and cold water are running, or only when hot water is running. If the rotten egg smell is detectable only when the water is warm, the problem is likely what is called the “sacrificial anode rod” in your water heater. If this is the case, the sulfur smell is not being caused by anaerobic digestion, but is created when the water reacts with the anode rod.

If the smell is present whenever the water runs, the homeowner may want to have a professional well drilling and installation company install a fiberglass, bladderless water tank with a venting system. These systems are highly effective in removing both the hydrogen sulfide and its attending rotten egg smell from the water. If the water has a high iron concentration, and iron filter may be able to effectively remove the excess iron and smell. Yet another option is a carbon-based filter, which can remove smells from well water. Contact a professional well drilling company to determine which solution will best fit your needs.

What Causes Yellow or Greenish Discoloration in Well Water?

In addition to smelly water, discolored water can also be a problem for homeowners who get their water from underground wells. In general, there are two main causes for cloudy water. The first possibility is that iron is oxidizing in the water. This results when ground from which the well water is drawn contains a relatively high concentration of iron. A second possibility is that the cloudy water contains a high concentration of tannic acid. Tannic acid is particularly common if the well is located near or around a swamp, as tannic acid is caused by decaying vegetation near your water source.

A simple home test can help determine whether the discolored water is a result of iron or tannic acid. First, allow the water to run for about fifteen minutes. Then, fill up a clean, white bucket with tap water. If the water is immediately discolored, tannic acid is likely the culprit. However, the water is initially clear, but increases in discoloration with time, the result is probably iron.

How Can Discolored Water be Fixed?

If the water in the bucket discolors slowly, the homeowner should have the well water tested for high iron. If it turns out to be the case that the iron levels are high, the installation of an iron filter can usually alleviate the problem. If the problem is tannic acid, the solution may not be so easy. There are water conditioners that have tannin beds, but these systems are generally expensive and not extremely effective. In most cases, the best option is to drill a new well in a different aquifer if at all possible. A professional well drilling company will be able to determine what the best option is for each individual home and well.