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Why Does My Tap Water Look & Smell Bad?

By 20 March 2021Winnipeg plumbers

brown water running from a sink tapWe all know how water is supposed to taste. It’s supposed to taste like almost nothing, with maybe some hint of mineral or chlorinated taste.

It’s supposed to taste clean.

As to how it’s supposed to look? Well, it’s supposed to look clear. And as many Winnipeggers who’ve experienced brown tap water know, when it doesn’t look clear, it’s certainly not tempting to drink.

Having foul looking or smelling tap water can be a pretty disconcerting experience – water is life, after all. You shouldn’t drink tap water that looks or smells off unless you’re absolutely certain it’s safe. With that said, we figured it would be nice to take a look at some of the many reasons your water might look or smell a bit off.

There are different causes for the two things – you might have water that smells bad but looks fine, and you might have water that looks bad but smells fine. Let’s break it down:

Why your water smells bad

Your water could smell bad for a number of different reasons. One of the most common culprits? It’s your sink that smells bad, and your water is actually fine. That would mean a backup in your drain is the likely source of the bad smell. Pour your water into a glass, move it away from the sink, then smell it again. If it’s fine, it’s the sink.

If you’re on well water, a rotten egg smell might mean there’s bacterial growth that you need to take care of. On the other hand, if you’re getting a mouldy or musty scent, it could be because of surface drainage polluting your well. In either case, you’ll want to stop using your well water, and get it tested and treated.

There are a lot of other smells you want to avoid – for example, if you smell gasoline, there’s likely a leaking fuel tank or gas line nearby, and you’ll need to call the authorities to have things checked right away. Basically, if your water smells bad, figure out the source of the odour as best as you can, and call for help if you need to.

Why your water looks bad

In Winnipeg, we’ve had a number of events in which our water turned brown. The City addresses this in their discoloured water FAQ. To save you the trouble of reading it, the discolouration was caused by manganese created by our water treatment process. The City has switched up its process to produce less manganese.

There are other potential causes for discoloured water, of course. Sometimes sediment in the water main will find its way to your taps, especially if water pressure has changed. The City advises you run cold water from your bathtub for a few minutes until the water runs clear. If it doesn’t ever run clear, keep trying every 30 minutes, then call 311 after 3 hours.

You want to run cold water instead of hot water because if you run hot water, the sediment that’s discolouring the tap water could end up in your hot water tank. We can do hot water tank repairs in Winnipeg, and we’re here if you need us, but it’s best to avoid the problem in the first place.

For those who aren’t on the City’s water main, the cause is likely internal. Something might be discolouring your water at the source, or you might have corroded pipes that are leaching metal into the water. In either case, you’ll want to get the problem checked out.

To cap this post off, we want to mention that there are a lot of reasons for your water to look or smell a bit off. If you’re not sure your water is safe, don’t drink it – feel free to give Clean Line Plumbing a call, or call 311.

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