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What to do when your hot water smells bad

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When your hot water smells bad, it is both unmistakable and unpleasant.

That distinct rotten egg smell makes your stomach turn at the stench and sparks worry over why it’s coming from your taps. The sulphur smell can permeate the air and quickly become a topic of concern for anyone who fills up a glass of water in your home. It won’t be long before you get tired of lighting scented candles to drown out the bad smells and call a professional hot water service company.

So, what causes smelly water? What can you do to fix it and prevent it from happening again? Read on to find out.

The reason for the hot water stink

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A rotten egg smell coming from your hot water tank or hot water heater is caused by a reaction to the sulphates and microorganisms in the water. This can also appear as black water within the water lines.

The first step is to determine which line the smell is coming from, either your hot or cold lines, by running each tap from different areas of the house.

If the cold water alone has the smell, only the cold-water line is affected. If the hot water is the only source that smells like rotten eggs, the odour will be coming from your hot water heater.

How to locate the cause of smelly hot water

Animation of an entire home's interior

The smell can be overwhelming, regardless of whether it’s hot or cold lines. Still, it can be difficult to pinpoint the source. The source of the smell, however, will determine how you should treat the problem.

Smelly hot water stems from one of these three main areas:

  • The plumbing system
  • The fixtures or pipes
  • The water source

Smelly plumbing system

If the smell occurs in all faucets and goes away after a few minutes, the problem is likely in your plumbing system. In this case, it’s best to contact a plumber who can diagnose the problem or recommend a hot water system replacement.

Smelly fixtures or pipes

If only the hot water smells, the problem is likely with the anode rod. If the smell is only present in some faucets, it is likely the fixtures or pipes supplying those faucets.

If your water flows through older iron distribution systems, it can develop an odour despite having enough chlorine to begin with. This is because iron pipes provide a rich environment for sulphate bacteria growth, which depletes the chlorine levels in your water, becoming odorous by the time it reaches your house.

Unfortunately, smelly water does not always stem from outside sources and can begin in your very own cold-water piping in the home, particularly if your piping is galvanised iron. This type of piping is an older material, which provides bacteria growing environment, resulting in the development of odours.

An excellent way to ensure your water is clean and sanitised is to get your plumber to perform a shock chlorination treatment to kill the sulphur-reducing bacteria and the smells along with it. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity for your plumber to perform a hot water system maintenance check to ensure no further issues are lurking beneath the surface.

Smelly water source

If the odour is in both your cold and hot water and the smell does not go away, the source is likely the water itself.

If your hot water smells

If your hot water is the only source of the rotten egg smell, the problem is likely originating in your hot water heater.

Tank water heaters have an element called a sacrificial anode rod, which is responsible for drawing corrosive minerals towards itself and away from the walls of your tank. If the sacrificial anode is a magnesium rod, it may release hydrogen sulphide gas when corroding and reacting with the sulphates in the water. You may also notice mineral build up if your hot water is too hot.

  • The best course of action is to contact a licensed hot water plumber to flush and clean your system, replacing the anode rod and getting rid of the bacteria and particles that create the hydrogen sulphide gas. Some people are tempted to remove the anode rod as a cheap fix; however, this leaves your tank highly vulnerable to rust, shortening its lifespan dramatically.
  • Another solution is to replace the anode rod with a zinc or zinc-aluminium rod, stopping the water’s poor chemical reaction and bad smells. 

If your cold water smells

Sulphur-reducing bacteria get their energy by feeding on the sulphates found in your water, which eventually turns into hydrogen sulphide gas, aka, rotten egg smell. If your water supply has a high amount of this bacteria, it could explain the smell.

Most water that leads to Australian homes has chemicals added for purification and health purposes, one of which is a small amount of chlorine that kills the bacteria that causes odour. However, the chlorine residual may be too low, particularly if your house is in an area far from the water treatment plant where the chlorine is first introduced.

  • If your cold water is the culprit, call the local water utility or council to report the problem.

Keep bad water smells at bay

Hands washing in bowl sink

If you’ve never experienced bad water smells before, you’re lucky! Yet, it can feel overwhelming and induce quite a panic when you hear the words ‘sulphate gas’ and ‘pipe replacement’ for the first time. Whether you have chlorinated city water or water straight from the well or rain tank, you deserve to have clean, fresh, healthy water that smells how water should…like nothing!

Before you start worrying about contamination or shutting off your water supply, take a deep breath and call our crew. Our team of professional hot water technicians can calmly walk you through the steps to determine where the smell is coming from and how to fix it quickly.

If it turns out that you need a replacement hot water heater or a system flush, we can help with that too. Our expert, hands-on knowledge is available for your maintenance, installation, and supply needs in every major city in the country. 

With our same-day commitment, we have an emergency plumber on call who can get rid of those smells and keep you in hot water around the clock, so your routine doesn’t need to skip a beat. Click here to find all our contact details to have on hand for your next stinky scenario.

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