Does Your Well Water Smell?

by Rachel Laurendeau on December 11, 2012

Have you ever noticed that your well water smells off or musty, sort of like rotten eggs? If so, you may have naturally occurring hydrogen sulfide gas or a bacteria problem. Typically, these odor-causing bacteria do not affect the taste of the water and are not a health risk but if you’ve had a sudden change in your water quality, it is best to have your water tested, to rule out any potential health hazards.

The Bacteria
These smelly bacteria are sometimes called “iron-reducing bacteria” or “sulfur-reducing bacteria” because they use iron or sulfur in their life cycle and then emit hydrogen sulfide gas. It’s the gas that smells like rotten eggs. The main issue with these bacteria is the smell but they can also stain laundry and form slimy colonies in your toilet tanks or pipes, corrode iron, steel or copper parts of your system and cause your silverware to turn black.

How do the bacteria get into the well?
These bacteria typically live in the soil around the well or in the aquifer. They can enter your water supply in a number of ways:
• during well maintenance to piping, water tanks, water pumps, or casings
• during work to indoor plumbing
• during the installation of a new water heater
• from flooding or heavy storms
• from groundwater or surface water seepage

How can you eliminate the bacteria and the smell?
It can be extremely difficult to eliminate these bacteria from your well once they are established. Disinfecting your system can help reduce the bacteria and make the smell more acceptable. However, you may need to disinfect your system repeatedly using shock chlorination to get it to the right level. This is not a “just for fun” home improvement so make sure you calculate the amount of chlorine required very carefully, or have this done by a professional well maintenance technician or contractor.

Don’t take chances with your health or the health of your family. If there are any changes to your water supply, talk to your county health department or local agricultural extension office and have your water tested by a certified lab.

Resources: University of Minnesota Extension

If you found this blog post helpful, you may also be interested in reading: Testing Drinking Water From Private Wells and After the Storm – Well Water Safety.

Have you had any problems with the smell or taste of your water supply? Tell us about it in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you!

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