On this latest installment of the Clean Water Made Easy Podcast, I talk about how to eliminate odors in well water. I also go over how to identify odors in well water and then walk listeners through the basics steps of eliminating these same odors. As with other issues we’ve discussed, causes may be surprising, but solutions to eliminate odors in your well water are not complicated.
What You’ll Hear in this episode:
1. Kinds of odor in well water
2. What causes these odors?
3. The 4 basic methods of eliminating odor in well water
4. The 3 low-cost methods of eliminating odor
5. What types of water filters are best for treating odors
6. Dangers of hydrogen sulfide in water
7. Ideal water PH
8. What causes rusty water?
9. The importance of doing a water analysis
10. Easy tests you can do at home to analyze your water
11. How to do a physical inspection of your water
12. What happens when you aerate water?
13. Which oxidizer is the most economical?
14. Ways of removing bacteria in water.
15. What is the most affordable method of treating odor and bacteria?
Eliminate Odors in Well Water
Hello! Thanks again for tuning in to the Clean Water Made Easy podcast. Episode #6. My name is Gerry Bulfin. I’m a Water Treatment Contractor and WQA Certified Master Water Specialist. Hey I hope you’re having a great day wherever you’re listening. You know this podcast series is here to help you learn all about well water, water treatment systems, how wells work, and how to improve the quality of your well water.
Free Book Download
In today’s episode, we’re going to cover the basics of how to eliminate odor in well water, particularly rotten egg odor and we’ll talk about the other kinds of odors that folks run into as well.
Some years ago I wrote a book called The Definitive Guide to Well Water Treatment. It’s being sold on Amazon, we update it every year and you know one section of that book, How to Remove Odors in Well Water, is actually one of the most downloaded guides.
I have that separately as a guide and for listeners of this podcast, I’m offering it to you for free. The How to Remove Odors from Well Water is an easy to follow guide, a handy checklist, step by step lists and guides and pictures and useful information all about removing odor from well water.
It covers a lot of what we’ll talk about in today’s episode. Although it’s more in-depth that you can take your time and look at what section pertains to you that kind of thing.
You can get this free guide by texting the word ODORGUIDE to 44222 or you can go on website cleanwaterstore.com/podcasts and find this episode and you can get it from there. So again if you want it might be easy just text the word ODORGUIDE to 44222 and we’ll get that going to you.
In this episode, we’re going to cover: What is the cause of the odor in my well water? What’s the best way to eliminate odor without spending a lot of money? What types of filters or systems are out there to treat odors. We’ll also cover how you can run a little test at home and see what approach would work to eliminate odors in your well water without spending any money.
Rotten Egg Odor
So the most common odor that we run into is rotten egg odor which is hydrogen sulfide gas or gas in water, has a very distinctive rotten egg odor and it may be especially in those homes running hot water you can find a cold and hot. This kind of water discolors coffee, tea, and other beverages it alters the appearance and taste of cooked foods. Truly a nuisance. It’s not usually a health risk – concentrations found in household water but in the end it can be very toxic at higher levels. Usually the gas can be detected long before it reaches harmful concentrations but at higher concentrations is available and places. Well these concentrations are not common. If the gases are released in a confined area they can cause nausea, illness and in extreme cases, death.
You know it reminds me when we were working on a project down in Monterey County. We’re based in Northern California and it was a small community and they had a new well coming online horrific hydrogen sulfide it was even hard for us to even analyze for but in the end we figured it was somewhere between 80 and 100 parts per million.
Formally if you have 2, to 4,5 parts per million that’s too bad you can’t take it but this was so bad when the flow switch and storage tank turn the well on, there’s cloud of hydrogen sulfite gas came out in just and gave us extreme headaches and we had to run from it.
It can get bad, that was a tricky system indeed but in the end, we did end up fixing it. Anyway hydrogen sulfide dissolved in water can corrode plumbing metals, such as iron, steel, copper, brass so you at times you’ll see corrosion. Corrosion of iron and steel form ferric sulfide or black water so sometimes folks will see along with hydrogen sulfide will see black water. Could be from manganese, which causes water to turn black or leave black stains. But oftentimes you’ll get a little bit of iron in the water iron sulfide and you’ll get that ferric sulfide, it gets black.
Where odors come from: Causes
Where does it come from? Well, iron bacteria and sulfur bacteria are present in ground water is most common when it comes out. Bacteria use iron and sulfur as an energy source chemically changes to sulfates to produce hydrosulfide. These bacteria use sulfur available from decaying plants, rocks, soil and thrive in iron-rich environment. That’s why folks say irony water, rusty water and hydrosulfide do. Harmless non toxic bacteria normally exist in oxygen-deficient environment such as deep wells or plumbing systems. Hydrogen sulfide gas may also be present in wells drilled in shallow sandstone, coal or pit deposits or in oil fields big problem for them to they used to deal with it . Hydrogen sulfide is normally found in wells and also in surface water in springs where it quickly escape in the atmosphere.
Often water heaters can become a source of hydrogen sulfide. As a matter of fact, many folks have run into just on the hot water. A lot of folks even in city water where there’s a very low chlorine residual They will have problems with their magnesium anode rods or rods caused by the interaction with the anode rod and sulfate in water and it gives off as hydrosulfite gas.
Other causes of odor in the water especially when it’s cucumber odor or sewage odor or some folks say it’s fuel oil odor – this could be from iron or manganese. Again with different types of bacteria that are metabolizing the iron and manganese along with sulfate to create these weird odors . But there’s always the chance that septic tanks as well or actual well contamination. In other words, there is, what smells like fuel because it is fuel. That possibility is pretty rare.
What to Do
Basically, the way you go about this, first, you need to do a water analysis. It’s very important even if you know you just got hydrogen sulfite. It’s good to know what the Ph of the water is. Good to know if there is any iron or manganese and just do a basic general mineral analysis. Good idea once a year to have your water tested for coliform bacteria. That’s a good time to do it. You see , I’ve got coliform as well as, or I don’t have coliform with odor. So there’s different things as far as what type of treatment you decide to do it’s useful to know going in what basic water chemistry is.
Okay, what to do? Well then the first thing you do after you get the water test or why you’re getting water tested is to do a toilet tank inspection. This is an episode for or basically physical inspection of your well, your pipes, and your toilet tank. It’s very easy to do and very useful. One thing, a lot of times, it’s hard to know where is the odor coming from?
I mean you just assume it’s coming from my well, I got a well, but it may not be. You can run the water outside from a hose bib or faucet outside if you can. Or if there’s a way to get water right from the well before it goes into the house sometimes it’s possible, sometimes not. But if you have that setup you want to run the cold well water and just make sure you’re getting water right from the well and put it in a 5-gallon bucket and just give it a smell. If you’ve been living there for a while, and you think you might have gone so used to the sulfur smell, just very common you might want someone else do it.
Eliminate Odors in Well Water
A friend, maybe your favorite brother in law, whatever just have someone else come over and give it a smell to see if the odor is coming from the well. Usually you can tell. So then you can compare that to the water heater odor. Is there water, does the hot water have an odor . It can happen where folks will have no odor in the well, no odor in the hot water downstairs, but odor in one or more taps upstairs or for instance in some bathroom that is usually not used very much. So these bacteria that the whole chemical process it creates hydrosulfite gas. It takes time. Usually it works better if the water is undisturbed. So sitting there, and there’s a biofilm and bacteria in pipes it lives and grows on the sulfate and metabolizes sulfate iron or manganese and as it lives and grows and dies it gives off hydrosulfite gas .
So that’s why a lot of times folks go to a lake house or a weekend home, and first thing when you turn on the water it smells horrible. Then after they run the water awhile, it’s fine. That’s because the bacteria have had a chance to do their job and create this terrible odor. So basically water analysis– first look in the toilet tank, see what it looks like. Is it clean? Is it black? Is there sediment in it? Just kind of give you a good idea coz like I discussed in Episode 4, the toilet tank is a good representation of what’s happening with your whole water. You know if ever cleans the toilet hashtag hardly you can go in there and say: Yeah I see what’s going on here. Maybe there’s nothing going on. Or maybe you can see the water is bubbly, black, that’s fine if you might have iron or sulfur bacteria well along with this odor problem.
How to Eliminate Odors
Okay. So the next step is: How do I eliminate the odors? Well, odors are best eliminated by first applying an oxidizer. What is an oxidizer? Chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, ozone, or air. The oxygen in air. They’re all oxidizers. And in most cases, usually you apply the oxidizer and then you run it into a filter of some kind. We’ll talk about that in a minute. There’s In general that’s the best way to do it. Now, other folks will say, well, hey, I got my fridge carbon filter on my refrigerator icemaker and the water on the door the water smells terrible coming out of my kitchen faucet but in the refrigerator it’s fine! So I’m going to get a carbon filter.
And actually it does makes sense and in fact, carbon will remove the hydrogen sulfide but it doesn’t last very long. If you were to put a whole house carbon filter on your house, in order to get a big enough one that wouldn’t restrict your flow rate, you’d need say, half a cubic foot or a cubic foot of carbon, and literally sometimes that can last a month or two. Or 3 or 4 months. Definitely less than a year and all of a sudden you got to dump out the carbon and start over.
IF you get a cartridge filter, you might have to change that literally every month. Every 2 or 3 weeks. It gets very expensive. The other problem is, the carbon is, especially in a cartridge is that there probably is some bacteria in well water if well water is not sterile even if it does not have coliform and so you get these bacteria growing and breeding in the carbon and they can give off slime and then you get pressure lost there in the house water pressure. It’s not very healthy either to carbon breeding bacteria. It’s not the best so generally we don’t recommend carbon cartridges for the whole house. Exemption could be if you do have a weekend home or lake house that you use rarely, you could just pop in a cartridge when you’re there. That’s one possibility. It’s easy and low cost but it’s not the best way to do it.
The 4 popular and relatively low-cost ways, at least 3 of them are low-cost, to eliminate odor are Aeration. There’s air in the water, air or oxygen but usually 1) aeration, 2) chlorination, or 3) hydrogen peroxide, or 4) ozone gas.
Aeration is a very well established and very popular method to eliminate odor from water. There are 3 main ways typical for essential application. One way is you have Venturi so when the well turns on this thing in the pipe, there’s pressure drop Venturi and it sucks in air. You’re introducing air into the water … Not the best way to do it. We use this more popular than now because they’re pretty reliable but the problem with it is that they do cause pressure loss so the air injectors, the inline injectors are not the best way to do it.
Another way to do it is to literally aerate water into a storage tank. That’s really a good way to do it although then you got to buy storage tank then you need a booster pump and pressure tank but you can aerate the water, spray the water into the storage tank. Oftentimes, if the odor is slightly bad and you got a big storage tank, say at least 500 gallons up to several 5000 gallons and oftentimes that’s what you need and you don’t even need a filter if the odor’s is very slight. If the odor is more than just slight, even if you’re aerating the storage tank you usually need some kind of filter afterwards. That’s why we recommend oxidation- oxidizer like air chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, and ozone and after it is a filter because you need to filter out the particles that have been oxidized so that clear on the water maybe black, gray, or iron manganese rust or black so anyway it’s a 2-step process. One thing is you can try aeration at home. As a matter of fact you can try the next several methods go over as well but for aeration, all you have to do is get your 5-gallon bucket and just spray the water into the bucket and you could wait like 5 minutes then see if it smells, wait an hour. See if there’s smell. Kind of tell how it’s working.
There’s another aeration method that is pretty powerful very simple and one system includes aeration and filtration some people call an air charger type of by filter though you can get an air charger –iron filter which has an iron filter media in it. Or you can get an air charger sulfur filter which has catalyst carbon in it. Getting back to the discussion about carbon, standard carbon does not last as long in the hydrosulfide as catalytic carbon. Catalytic carbon has a catalyst on it. So that when there’s a little bit of oxygen in the water aeration first then the hydrosulfide rapidly oxidizes right on the catalytic carbon filter media and such a catalyst which means that it doesn’t get used up so a catalytic process going on there so it means that it’s not getting used up. This chemical process is happening right on the media. That generally lasts, works better, and lasts a lot longer. Some of our folks get their air charger filters over the years and those things can last years before you dump up the carbon. They can usually lasts for years, sometimes 4 or 5 years. So it’s much cheaper than using carbon cartridge and it’s really effective when you don’t have an air compressor or a storage tank. It’s all in one tank. If there’s bacteria in the water, however, you might want to put a UV sterilizer after the carbon filter just to make sure that no bacteria could be breeding in the carbon.
They do work right and they’re very simple to install and no maintenance, there’s just no cartridges. The way they work is that a head of air inside the filter we have this thing that’s called water softeners, single tank, doesn’t use any salt, but when it goes into a backwash it backwashes and cleans itself but it maintains the air at the top of the tank. Here’s pictures of these in the guide too. Anyway, you can kinda envision it – a tank where water goes in goes to air then it goes to the carbon but at that point water coming out totally clean. If there is any sediment, it backwashes out. Okay so that basically covers aeration. There’s aeration like I said by Venturi there’s aeration by the air charger type. You can actually get the air compressor type the system that actually blows air into the water. It goes usually top of the filter tank. That’s a 2-deck process.
Okay moving on to our perhaps favorite method – it’s chlorine, chlorine bleach, everybody hits chlorine in a while. Bath in chlorine if they can avoid it. The thing is, it’s very low-cost. It’s really effective and you can filter it out so you don’t have to drink any or have any chlorine residual in your house. Chlorine is very effective and not only gets rid of odors but it also kills bacteria. So it’s a really good disinfectant. So it kills bacteria that cause the odors. So sometimes what can happen is you got a situation where you got a well loaded with sulfur bacteria or iron bacteria, yeah you can aerate it, to get rid of the odor but the bacteria still lives in the water. Perhaps as they go in the house, you go on vacation, come back, terrible odor again. Chlorine gets rid of that problem because basically you’re chlorinating the water this is done automatically with a little meter in pump that pumps in a little bit of chlorine every time the well pump turns on and then that one’s into a little contact tank and then goes to a carbon filter or if you have iron you could use a an iron filter that works with chlorine.
That way, you have no odor, no iron, no manganese, no sediment. Chlorination works the best we found. Ozone works the best in getting but super expensive. Chlorine is the best low cost way to go. With aeration, you think about it adding air into the water with this brand new tank, large enough tank most of the time you use an air compressor or air charger or an air injector to put the air under tank under pressure you literally got air in the water so you draw glass from the kitchen, might look like a little bit of dissolved gas in the water. Even though there’s mechanisms to de-aerate the water, gas off the air, air can still be an issue. No big deal but it’s just one thing . Chlorine does not put any air in the water disinfect the water and really works great on the odor. We found more and more that chlorination is the good way to go.
The next way is hydrogen peroxide. You use the same system especially if there is degassing now for the chlorinator pump. As the chlorinator you can actually try either one. You can try chlorine, you can try peroxide.
Peroxide is nice because when you’re adding peroxide into the water, you don’t have a chlorine residual. When you add hydrogen peroxide into the water, basically it breaks down pretty quickly because of the oxygen in the water. The chlorine bleach is sodium hypochlorite. So that’s a little bit of sodium, it’s very small amount just a couple of milligrams is not a big issue but you are putting something you put into the water a little bit of salt in there. But in peroxide, you don’t have that. While the people like the peroxide, one thing when you use peroxide, especially when you have the higher levels of hydrogen sulfite where you have to add a lot of bleach to it. In other words, the more hydrogen sulfide you have, the more oxidizer you need. So whether it’s air, chlorine, peroxide, you have to add enough to neutralize this odor. So if you get into a situation with extreme hydrosulfitde, you don’t have to engage in industrial gauge hydrogen peroxide.
That’s the only way to treat it because you couldn’t add enough chlorine to do it. The other problem with it, and that’s enough reason to get a water test, is that if you have a high PH, if you’re treat your water as above 8, chlorine is not very effective. So ideally you want your PH to be fairly neutral or even low. Less than neutral less headache but it works fine if it’s 7 or 7.5. That’s okay, but if it’s 8 or above 8 chlorine can be very hard to use, coz very little of the chlorine you’re adding into the water will work. But hydrogen peroxide, it does seem to work better or you have to add a lot of it. If you have a lot of hydrogen peroxide, you still end up with water and oxygen. No big deal. In other words it doesn’t affect the taste cox I was getting that.
We tried different tests but we had many customers say the same thing. Some customers, does work better to use hydrogen peroxide rather than chlorine. Just from the tasting point. You know, just tastes better. But for most situations though, if you have like 2 to 10 parts per million, it’s bad but it’s not just driving you out of the house so it’s super toxic then chlorination works best because you do get disinfection peroxide isn’t really rated as a disinfectant for water. Kinda misleading folks coz you know your mama might have to put peroxide on your cuts when to sanitize your wound or whatever. It works for that, cleans wound and but it doesn’t work the same way with water.
You would have to put a tremendous amount of peroxide in the water, industrial grade which is very hard to deal with, work with. So even EPA and WHO recognize peroxide as a disinfectant but it does work great for water treatment. It does work well to kill the odor. Fortunately for the same system you can do both. Peroxide is much more expensive to use than chlorine. Chlorine bleach is cheap and while you can’t use laundry bleach, you can often find a pool supply place that sells the pure sodium hypochlorite with 10% pool chlorine that usually doesn’t have added just sodium hypochlorite. Bleach, chlorine like laundry bleach with all kinds of softeners in it to help with clean clothes, not good for drinking water.
So peroxide again, works great but more expensive. The kind that we use for our customers 7% coz you can ship that you can also buy it locally and get the industrial but If you get 35% grade it can be explosive, get you on fire, You have to be careful with that. We also don’t recommend that for residential application.
Moving on to ozone. If it’s not that expensive it would be my favorite one. It works really good, disinfects the water, but it breaks down the oxygen so you wont have a little bit of sodium hydro chloride to water. But it’s so expensive even the lowest cost one , you’re looking at 3 or 4 times the cost of chlorinator and oftentimes at 10x the cost or more. Unless you have a great budget, and you want to get something that is fully automatic, maybe just once a year, those are the good way to go but if you don’t have the budget and you want something that is simple that will work and is very effective we recommend chlorination or hydrogen peroxide.
Air Charger Filters
Secondly we recommend some kind of oxidizer and filter like an air charger sulfur filter. Now there are other types of media filter. The last thing in my list here, we’ll talk about so you have greensand filter, manganese dioxide filter, Pro-OX but there’s also FilOX, PyroLox, different types of manganese dioxide, and they all remove odors too if the water’s chlorinated. You can aerate the water too but must be some oxidizer before it. So if you have odor, if iron with manganese and a really great way to do it is to set up an automatic chlorinator.
The well turns on, there’s a tiny bit of bleach into the pipe before your pressure tank and after the pressure tank you can use proportional feeder. These are all in the guide, too. But basically, have a chlorinator run up to your iron filter and manganese dioxide iron filter and finally to carbon filter. Cause you don’t want a chlorine residual in your house water, especially septic tank. So basically you have the chlorinator, and manganese dioxide filters or some kind of oxidizer manganese dioxide filter. If you have odor with iron and manganese. If you just have odor alone then we recommend aeration, chlorination or hydrogen peroxide with a catalytic carbon filter.
I know you have a lot of information but it’s all laid out in the guide. If you want, get that PDF. Basically what we talked about today is: what causes odors, how to identify where it’s coming from, good thing is, you want to consider sanitizing your well like shocking your well one time with chlorine. That’s another thing, that’s a good thing to consider. If you just have a new well and you have to the well like the you can do a well chlorination and that is what the next episode’s going to be about.
Our next episode will be about How to Shock Chlorinate your Water Well, pipeline or storage tank. Thanks. So hope that information is useful to you and if you have any questions, please email me, email us, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. If you want to get the guide just text the word ODORGUIDE to 44222. And you will automatically get the link… Thanks for listening.