Whether you prefer the subtle smell of musk or the bold fragrance of tropical flowers, you probably don't want to smell like rotten eggs when you step out of the shower. You may fear that you do, however, if you experience the not uncommon phenomenon of water that smells like sulfur.
If you soften your water, this unpleasant sulfur smell can come from the water softener itself. It can also come from your water heater or from your water source. You can solve the problem whatever the issue, but each problem requires a different solution.
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The Cause of the Problem
Water that smells of sulfur is extremely unpleasant, and you're likely much more concerned with making it go away than worrying about where it comes from. Understanding the latter makes it easier to solve the problem, however, so it's time for a quick chemistry lesson. When water reeks of sulfur, it's because the water contains hydrogen sulfide gas.
Sometimes, naturally occurring bacteria in well water break down sulfides, creating hydrogen sulfide gas. Hydrogen sulfide is often the result of these natural processes, leaving the water smelly but safe. In some instances, however, hydrogen sulfide can indicate sewage or other contamination. If you narrow the sulfur smell to your well water, have it tested to make sure you don't have other problems as well.
Sometimes, hydrogen sulfide gas occurs due to reactions inside water heaters and softeners. In this case, it's not necessary to have your water tested. Instead, you can simply take steps to remedy the issue.
The Water Softener Smells
When the problem is your water softener, you'll likely notice a strong odor in and around the appliance. If you only soften some of the water in your home, odor that is only in the softened water points to a stinky water softener. To solve the problem, you must clean and disinfect your water softener. Your water softener instructions can explain how to do this, but you can always call the manufacturer or visit its website if your manual is missing.
Generally, the process involves soaking the brine in a bleach solution for at least an hour. To make sure you disinfect the entire system, you'll then want to add bleach to the brine well and backwash the water softener.
You may also opt to call in a professional to clean the water softener for you. It can be difficult to remove sulfur bacteria once they take hold, so you may find this is your best and easiest option. To avoid future problems, you may wish to invite a pro back about once a year to prevent the bacteria from building up again over time. A maintenance plan can often be purchased for around $150 to $250 a year and should prevent a sulfur smell from developing.
The Hot Water Smells
If only your hot water smells bad, your issue is likely in your water heater. Water heaters create a warm environment that sulfur enjoys. They also sometimes contain an anode. An anode is a metal rod, usually made of magnesium, that is installed to protect the water heater tank from corroding. Unfortunately, magnesium can help transform sulfates into odorous hydrogen sulfide gas.
If this is the issue, try turning up your water heater temperature to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for a few hours. This should be hot enough to kill any sulfur bacteria. If that fails, you can try disinfecting the water heater with bleach or replacing your water heater's anode with one made from a different metal. When working with your water heater, always remember to turn off the water and release the pressure in the tank to keep yourself safe.
There's Something in the Water
If the water softener and heater aren't to blame, it means your water is picking up hydrogen sulfide before it comes into your house. This is usually an issue with well water as opposed to a city water supply. If you've narrowed the problem to the water itself, test your water to verify the problem and see what else the water might contain.
Once you know what you're dealing with, you can consult a water treatment professional about the best way to deal with the issue. There are myriad water filtration systems available, and each has its own pros as well as cons. A specialist can help you pick the system that's best for the amount of hydrogen sulfide you're dealing with as well as filtering out any other contaminants your water test may find.