No, you’re not paranoid–or, at least, you’re not just paranoid. If your seems like it has a strange or bad taste lately, trust your instincts. Despite the rigorous purification process water undergoes, sometimes a foul-tasting pollutant can sneak through with it.
These pollutants come from all kinds of different places and create all kinds of different tastes. Some are totally harmless, some… are not. No matter what taste you have, don’t panic! We’re here to help! Just tell us what your water tastes like, and we can help you figure out how to fix it. Here’s what your particular flavor might mean.
If your water tastes like dirt, the culprit is probably algal blooms. Also known as Geosmin, algal blooms are produced when a common waterborne bacteria called Streptomyces dies. Sometimes, dying lake algae releases so much geosmin that municipal filtration can’t filter it all out. When that happens, your drinking water may take on the smell or taste of Geosmin. It’s also possible that dying bacteria in your pipes released the Geosmin you’re tasting.
It only takes 10 nanograms of Geosmin per liter of water for humans to detect its dirt-like taste. It’s not toxic or dangerous to consume, but obviously most people find it unpleasant. If your water only tastes weird coming out of a particular faucet, then that faucet probably has bacteria in it. Unscrew the small cylinder at the end of the problem faucet (the aerator) and soak it in vinegar. If that doesn’t solve the problem, replace the aerator entirely. If all your water tastes like dirt, then your local water treatment plant probably hasn’t filtered out all the Geosmin yet. Until they do, you could try using a water filter.
If your water tastes bitter, it’s probably for one of two reasons. If you don’t have a water softener, it’s probably the presence of dissolved solids in your water. Flowing water naturally scrapes away at surrounding mineral deposits in the earth. These minerals flake off over time as they wear away, eventually collecting in the water stream. The presence of several different water tastes can be attributed to mineral deposits. Bitter water usually contains a lot of sulfate minerals.
If you do have a water softener but your water still tastes bitter, then there’s a chance your water is corrosive. Corrosive water wears away at the inner walls of pipes, dissolving metal and minerals over time. Eventually, tiny particles of the worn-down metal chip away from the pipe and collect in water as metal particulates. Corroded copper particulates taste bitter. Unfortunately, the most permanent solution to this problem is replacing your pipes. Failing that, however, turning down your water softener’s settings, using a neutralizing filter, or flushing your pipes could help.
Iron, zinc, manganese, and copper are the usual suspects when water tastes metallic. These metallic minerals occur naturally underground. Like copper, they chip away and dissolve into water over time. Iron and zinc are particularly common in well water. Most metallic minerals aren’t dangerous to drink. Lead is very dangerous to drink, however, and metallic tastes could be produced by lead contamination. If you taste metal in your water, the first thing you should do is make sure your pipes aren’t made of lead.
If you use city-supplied water, then the most likely cause of metallic tastes is pipe corrosion. Most homes no longer use iron or steel pipes, but they’re common in older homes. If you don’t have steel pipes, it’s also possible that your water softener is doing its job a bit too well. If your water softener lowers your water’s pH level too far, it may produce the metallic taste you’re experiencing. Finally, try flushing your water heater. Minerals collect in water heater tanks all the time and may eventually leak into your hot water.
The saltiness of water usually directly relates to its chloride content. Chlorides are soluble mineral compounds that water naturally dissolves as it filters through the earth. Chlorides are natural and largely unavoidable in water, and they’re not dangerous to drink. The only time chlorides may be a problem is when they change the way your water tastes suddenly. If your water suddenly starts tasting way more salty than usual, there could be a problem.
Industrial waste, irrigation drainage, and sewage all contain huge concentrations of chlorides. If your water tastes very salty all of a sudden, nearby industrial or sewage seepage may have contaminated it. Chlorides still aren’t dangerous in high quantities, but they could be an indication that your water contains more dangerous contaminants. If you worried about the condition of your water, use the EPA’s website to find a local testing lab. It’s also possible that your water softener is adding too much sodium into your water while treating it. Sodium isn’t dangerous to drink, either, but consuming too much sodium can be unhealthy.
Don’t let reading about all these scary-sounding contaminants get under your skin too much. Yes, all kinds of gunk can seep into the water you drink–but you don’t have to watch out for it all on your own!
In addition to our city’s meticulous water filtering protocols, you also have us. The next time you’re worried about a weird water taste, give Ben Franklin a call. We’ll be able to tell you what the taste is, where it’s coming from, and how we’re going to fix it for you. Don’t put up with weird tastes; call today and clear it up.