Water is the most crucial component of life and is key for sustenance. It helps our bodies perform specific metabolic tasks and regulates body temperature, explaining why it’s considered the most important nutrient.
So, when you notice that your water smells like rotten eggs, you have all the reasons to be worried. But is this really a call for an alarm, and if so, can the unpleasant odor be removed?
In this article, I’ll discuss everything about the sulfur smell on water, including what causes it and how to get rid of it.
What is the sulfur smell in water?
The foul sulfur smell in water is caused by Hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S) that occurs naturally in wells. The gas results from decay and chemical reaction with rocks and soil.
The smell is the compound’s most offensive characteristic, and it can be dangerous for human consumption. The gas causes nausea or eye tear at low concentrations or death in very high concentrations.
Although rare, the smell may also be a result of iron bacteria. These bacteria appear on surface waters and deposit ‘rusty’ bacterial cells with an unpleasant smell.
Getting rid of the sulfur smell out of water
Let’s face it: no one likes the smell of rotten eggs, whether on the sink or in the shower. And if you’re looking to get the sulfur smell out of your water, this is your lucky day.
Here are four steps you may use to get rid of the sulfur smell from your water:
Step #1: Find the source of the problem
The first thing you need to do to stop the foul sulfur smell is find out where it’s coming from. You may use two methods to tell the source of the stench, as discussed below:
a. Compare your cold and hot water
If you discover that the cold water tastes and smells fine, but the hot water has a rotten egg odor, then your hot water heater is the reason for the foul smell. Specifically, the anode rod is causing the sulfur smell.
b. Inspect your water source
If both the cold and hot water have an unpleasant smell, your water source is most likely the problem. To confirm this, inspect the various water sources you have, including the well water, water heater tank and even your water softener. Basically any water system or water filtration system you have needs to be checked. Also be sure to check your water filter too.
Although the foul sulfur smell is an indicator of a presence of hydrogen sulfide, you can also confirm the presence of the chemical by:
- Using a sulfur stick
- Taking a water sample to a certified laboratory technician
- Implementing a Biological Activity Reaction Test using a test kit to test sulfur bacteria
You may then choose a solution that works for you, based on where the problem is occurring and the hydrogen sulfide levels. Below are some of the methods you may use to treat the water source.
Step #2: Replace Your Anode Rod
If only the hot water has a foul sulfur smell, the problem is in the magnesium anode rod. You might want to remove or replace the anode rod to get rid of the smell in your water.
The anode rod is found in the water heater tanks, and it helps reduce rust build-up. Thus, replacing it, rather than removing it completely, is advised to avoid accumulating rust in your water tank.
Step #3: Treatment Options
If the problem is not the water heater, you may want to find a way to treat the water source. You need to look into the well or water tank and find a solution that will help remove the sulfur smell.
Here are a few methods you may use to remove the sulfur smell in water:
Method #1: Chlorination or Peroxide Shock
You may use a peroxide or chlorination shock to disinfect the water source. Although both chlorine and peroxide will kill the bacteria present, a peroxide treatment is more effective in removing the unpleasant smell.
If you choose to use chlorine, you’ll need to replenish the tank regularly and install a carbon filter to remove the excess chlorine in the water. In the end, the chlorine will effectively remove the hydrogen sulfide in your water.
The chlorination and peroxide shock are temporary and will work for about one to two months. However, if the method works, you’ll know that hydrogen sulfide is to blame for the filthy smell in your water.
Method #2: Continuous Chlorination and Filtration
If used properly, the chlorine will help you get rid of medium to high levels of hydrogen sulfide through oxidation. Using a feed pump, you may add chlorine to the water source to remove hydrogen sulfide.
Chlorine converts the soluble hydrogen sulfide into insoluble sulfur through oxidation. You can then use a filter to remove the sulfur stones before getting into your water pipes.
Unlike the chlorination and peroxide shock, this method will continuously sanitize your water source. Even better, the chlorine will keep your water supply clean and safe.
Method #3: Use Potassium Permanganate
Like chlorination, potassium permanganate will clean your water source by making the contaminants insoluble. This includes the Iron, Manganese, and Hydrogen Sulfide in your water.
You can then use a filter to remove the solid contaminants. Also, make sure to continuously replenish and clean the water source and filtration system to remove the stench.
Note: Potassium permanganate is poisonous and will irritate your skin. Thus, ensure you handle it carefully and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Method #4: Baking Soda
Baking soda is undoubtedly one of the best compounds for erasing odors. And when it comes to removing the foul sulfur smell in your water, you can trust baking soda to do the job.
Sprinkle baking soda in your water to get rid of the sulfur scent. It diffuses the odors in the water and the house.
Note: This method will not remove the Hydrogen sulfide from your water – only the smell.
Method #5: Aeration
If the levels of sulfur in your water are low (2 mg/L or less), a little bit of fresh air can do to remove the foul smell. Circulate, mix, or dissolve air in the water to eliminate the unpleasant sulfur smell.
The sulfur bacteria do well in oxygen-deprived areas. Injecting oxygen into the water source will displace hydrogen sulfide gas, making the environment less hospitable to sulfur bacteria.
Note: The aeration method may not clear all the sulfur stench in the water source and surrounding areas. However, you may use ventilation to minimize the reduce the sulfur smell.
Method #6: Ion Exchange
Though not entirely the same, this process is similar to the one used to soften water. Here, you use a charged resin to remove hydrogen sulfide from the water – in exchange for chloride.
Use a salt solution to replenish the resin charge after the process completes.
Note: Some resins may not withstand sulfides. Thus, you may want to consult a professional before buying a resin for use in your water source.
Method #7: Ozone
Another relatively efficient, effective, and safe method of oxidizing hydrogen sulfide is ozone. You’ll not be required to add any chemical or get a filtration system.
All you need is to inject the ozone into the water supply and watch the magic happen. Ozone oxidizes hydrogen sulfide forming solid sulfur that can be filtered out.
Method #8: Activated Carbon Filters
This method is perfect for removing small concentrations (1 mg/L or less) of sulfur from your water. A carbon filter is installed under your sink to treat the cooking or drinking water.
Note: This method demands that you replace the carbon filters regularly for better results.
TIP: The sulfur bacteria are a stubborn nuisance to deep water sources. As such, you should give the inside of the water source a thorough scrubbing with the right cleaning kit.
Step #4: Determine if the Water is Safe to Drink
The taste and smell of water with hydrogen sulfide are so offensive that many individuals find it undrinkable. But is the water safe to drink?
Many individuals often ask, “Can sulfur water make me sick?” Or, “what’s the effect of sulfur water on my skin and hair?”
The right answer depends on the amount of sulfur in the water. If the level of sulfur in the water is too high, you may experience nausea, stomach pains, and in the worst-case scenario, death.
But it’s hard to find high concentrations of Hydrogen sulfide in water systems.
If all else fails, you can hire a plumber to come take a look at your water. They can offer water treatment options along with give you peace of mind that your water is free from water contaminants.
The bottom line
The ‘rotten egg’ odor coming from your water can really put a damper on everything around you – from morning showers to pasta nights. However, the good news is that the unpleasant smell is treatable and can be removed.
The smell comes from Hydrogen sulfide gas, produced by the sulfur bacteria.