Why City Water Has a Chlorine Taste or Smell
Your city Water may come from a variety of sources, such as rivers, lakes, and wells and this water can be contaminated with germs that may make you sick. Germs can also contaminate water as it travels through the extensive miles of pipes before it gets to your home.
To prevent contamination, water companies add a disinfectant (usually chlorine or chloramine) to sanitize the water and make it safe to use.
You can find out whether there is a disinfectant in your water, what kind of disinfectant is used, and how well your utility has followed the rules about disinfection by obtaining a copy of your utility’s consumer confidence report (“CCR”).
In the CCR report, look for a summary that shows whether any contaminants were found above government maximum contaminant levels and, if so, what the health risks are, what is being done to fix the problem, and what you should do in the meantime.
Chlorine or Chloramines?
Many water utilities add chloramine (essentially chlorine and ammonia) to drinking water to disinfect it and kill bacteria.
Most communities use either chlorine or chloramines. Some communities switch back and forth between chlorine and chloramines at different times of the year or for other operational reasons.
Less commonly, utilities use other disinfectants, such as chlorine dioxide. Some water systems that use water from a groundwater source (like community wells) do not have to add a disinfectant at all.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies indicate that using or drinking water with small amounts of chloramine does not cause harmful health effects and provides protection against waterborne disease outbreaks.
These studies reported no observed health effects from drinking water with chloramine levels of less than 50 milligrams per liter (mg/L) in drinking water. A normal level for drinking water disinfection can range from 1.0 to 4.0 mg/L.
However, chlorine not only can make the water taste bad it also dries the skin and hair and can cause more serious skin reactions.
A new study from Johns Hopkins raises newfound concerns about the most common water treatment found in American tap water. Researchers identified new toxic and carcinogenic byproducts that are produced when chlorine is added to regular drinking water. Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences & Technology.
While the risk may be small, it is not difficult to remove chlorine and chlorine by-products. Most water utilities try to keep the chlorine residual at a level of between 1 and 4.0 mg/L.
Find out how much chlorine is in your water with a Home Chlorine Test Kit.
Do You Notice Signs of Corrosion?
Corrosion of piping, appliances, and fixtures in the U.S. has been estimated to cost the public hundreds of millions of dollars per year in direct costs. Corrosion also can cause adverse health effects.
Lead and cadmium are both toxic metals that occur in tap water almost solely due to corrosion.
Three other metals, usually found in high concentrations due to corrosion of piping systems are copper, iron, and zinc.
Copper corrosion causes blue staining and imparts a metallic bitter taste. Iron corrosion causes reddish or brown water and also imparts a metallic taste.
Zinc corrosion does not usually discolor the water, but can also cause a metallic taste. All waters are corrosive to some degree, and a water’s corrosive character depends on its physical and chemical constituents.
If you suspect corrosion it is important to test your water for lead, copper, pH, hardness, alkalinity, and total dissolved solids.
Does Your Water Leave White Scale or Spots on Fixtures or Surfaces?
White scale and spots on fixtures are typically caused by calcium and magnesium minerals in the water, known as water hardness.
The term “water hardness” originally referred to the ability of water to precipitate soap and form soap scum.
Test your water hardness with a home Hardness Test Kit.
Soap is precipitated (or brought to the “surface”) by water containing high levels of calcium and magnesium. The “harder” the water the less soap will dissolve in the water.
In current practice, total hardness is defined as the sum of the concentration of the calcium and magnesium ions, expressed as calcium carbonate.
Hardness can be expressed as calcium carbonate in either parts per million (the same as milligrams per liter) or grains per gallon.
Since automatic water softeners are rated in grains of hardness removal, this is the more common measurement used by U.S. consumers. One grain of hardness equals approximately 17.1 ppm of calcium carbonate hardness.
Water hardness minerals are commonly treated with a water softener system that uses an ion-exchange resin and regenerates with salt. For residential and commercial applications these are the most effective as they remove the hardness minerals from water.
Alternatives to water softeners are “No-Salt Conditioners” which keep the minerals in solution in the water and prevent scale build-up inside pipes and water heaters.
No-Salt conditioners do not prevent scale from forming when the water evaporates, however, so you will still see white spots on glass doors and surfaces.
It's always a good idea to have a hardness test kit on hand if you do have white spotting so you can know what the levels are.
If you have a water softener this helps determine how well it is working and how to adjust it to lower your salt usage.
Lab Tests for City Water?
Except for lead and copper, most folks on city water would not pay for a lab test. However, it can come up, especially if you are on a small water utility or you don't trust your local water company.
If you’re looking for a water testing kit for your home there are several good mail-in water testing kits that will screen your sample for more than 100 different contaminants utilizing a network of EPA, ISO, and ELAP laboratories.
You receive results within about 5 to 10 days and contaminants are quantified so that you can have more insights into your home’s water quality.
A major benefit of the Tap Score water testing kit is the fact that your analysis includes water treatment advice and the support of a team of water engineers and experts.