Our water supplies contain a naturally occurring ion called sulfate. In low concentrations, sulfate doesn’t alter the organoleptic properties of water.

Water Smells Like Rotten Egg

However, chemical reactions with other ions or sulfur-reducing bacteria (SRB) in wells or plumbing systems can produce hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is a toxic gas that smells like rotten eggs. When the gas is trapped in water, it gives the liquid the same foul smell.

Olfactory issues aside, hydrogen sulfide may also alter the taste of water. So, how can you fix this issue? Let’s delve into it.

Why Does My Water Smell Like Rotten Eggs?

Hydrogen sulfide causes water to smell like rotten eggs, but it can have several causes. Identifying the cause can help you get rid of the smell effectively. Let’s have a look at the main culprits:

sulfur water smell

Contaminated Water Sources

SRB thrives in oxygen-deficient environments and feeds on decaying organic matter. Thus, dirty water is more likely to smell like rotten eggs compared to clean water.

Naturally Occurring Chemical Reactions

Chemical reactions aren’t the leading cause of the rotten eggs smell, but they could lead to hydrogen sulfide formation. These reactions may happen when soil chemicals (such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides) contaminate a water source.

SRB or Chemical Reactions Inside Water Heaters

If you notice that only your hot water smells like rotten eggs, the main culprit could be decay or chemical reactions happening inside your water heater.

Is Hydrogen Sulfide Bad for Me? The Importance of Water Testing

Hydrogen sulfide is a toxic gas when inhaled. However, there is little data available on the gas’s oral toxicity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drinking water containing hydrogen sulfide can have the following adverse effects on your health:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach ache
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration (caused by a fluid loss in case of vomiting and diarrhea)

While the hydrogen sulfur levels in water are rarely high enough to kill you, severe vomiting and diarrhea could lead to death by dehydration if not treated immediately.

But hydrogen sulfide isn’t only bad for your health. Its corrosive action can damage your plumbing system and leave yellow or black stains on your pipes and fixtures. Thus, testing your water regularly is essential for maintaining your health and keeping your plumbing system in good condition.

How to Get Rid of Sulfur Smell in Water

Filtered municipal water is tested regularly and is rarely contaminated with sulfur. However, hydrogen sulfide can contaminate water in wells.

Likewise, sulfur-reducing bacteria can grow inside your water heater. So, how to get rid of the sulfur smell in water? Let’s find it out.

How to Get Rid of the Sulfur Smell Caused by the Water Heater?

There are two main reasons why sulfates turn into hydrogen sulfide inside the water heater, corrosion or overgrowth of SRB.

Problem 1: Magnesium or Aluminum Anode Rod Corrosion

A sacrificial anode rod is a protective component present in most water heaters. Its purpose is to trap corrosive minerals and protect the lining of the water tank.

Aluminum anode rod
Photo: Aluminum Anode Rod

However, these rods are often made of magnesium or aluminum. When these rods eventually corrode, the metal ions react with water sulfates, turning them into hydrogen sulfide.

How to solve it?

Replace the magnesium or aluminum rod with a zinc rod. Zinc traps corrosive minerals in the same way as aluminum or magnesium, but it doesn’t react with sulfates in the same way. Thus, the reaction won’t release hydrogen sulfide.

Problem 2: SRB overgrowth

Sulfur-reducing bacteria are called this way because it feeds on sulfates, eventually reducing them to hydrogen sulfide.

A schematic view of the function of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB
Photo: A schematic view of the function of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB

If your water is rich in sulfates, SRB may overgrow inside the water heater tank, causing the rotten egg smell. This issue may be prevalent if you use well water. Most municipal water treatment facilities use chlorine and other chemicals to kill SRB.

How to solve it?

If you use municipal water, but your hot water smells of sulfur, you should call a plumber to flush and sanitize the water heater tank.

If you use well water, you should flush and sanitize the tank and perform a shock chlorination treatment. Moreover, increasing the temperature to 160°F for several hours may help kill bacteria.

Installing a water purification system can also help. These systems trap and remove hydrogen sulfide from the water before it reaches the faucet, improving its taste and removing the rotten egg smell.

How to Get Rid of the Sulfur Smell in Well Water?

If you’re using well water that smells like rotten eggs, the first thing to do is check if you can smell sulfur when running cold water. If you can detect the smell only when running hot water, the problem is in the water heater, and you should follow the advice above.

However, if cold water also smells like rotten eggs, the problem is likely caused by SRB overgrowth in the well or plumbing system.

How to solve it?

Sulfur-reducing bacteria can be difficult to remove once established in a well, so you’ll have to use various methods to deal with this issue.

The first step is to scrub any deposits off the well walls with special chemical treatment – you might want to hire a licensed well contractor for this step.

Next, disinfect the well with a strong chlorine solution. To do this, you’ll need:

  • Unscented household bleach with no additives
  • 5 gallons of commercially bottled drinking water
  • A clean 5-gallon bucket
  • Funnel
  • Garden hose long enough to reach from the faucet to the well
  • Protective equipment (goggles and gloves)
  • Chlorine test papers

Step 1 – Shut down the electric supply and open the well. Inspect all its parts for integrity before proceeding.

Step 2 – Mix a bleach solution based on the amount of water in your well. To do this, pour water from the system in the bucket until it’s about three-fourths full. Then, use the table below to figure out how much bleach to add:

Water depth (feet)2-inch well casing4-inch well casing6-inch well casing
102 cups2 cups2 cups
502 cups2 cups3 cups
1002 cups3 cups4 cups
3003 cups4 cups10 cups

To figure out the water depth, calculate the total well depth minus the static water level. If you can’t determine depth, make the solution taking into account the full well depth. If you’re unsure how to proceed, ask a licensed plumber to help you.

Step 3 – Using a funnel, pour the contents of the bucket into the well.

Step 4 – Attach the garden hose to your faucet. Turn on the circuit breaker and run the water for around 10 minutes in an area away from the well until it comes out clean. At this point, place the end of the hose into the funnel and recirculate the water for around half an hour.

Step 5 – Remove the hose, close the well, then test the bleach solution at the faucet with a chlorine test paper. The test should indicate a concentration of at least 50 ppm. If the value is lower, repeat the steps above until the water is properly chlorinated. 

If the sulfur smell in water doesn’t go away in a day or two, you might want to hire a licensed plumber to check and disinfect your plumbing system.

How to Get Rid of the Sulfur Smell in Groundwater?

Treating groundwater to get rid of the sulfur smell is near impossible, but you don’t have to be discouraged. There are easy ways to fix the issue. Let’s have a look at them:

  • Install activated carbon filters: An effective solution to combat lower hydrogen sulfide levels (up to 1mg/L). The filers trap the gas, removing the foul smell.
  • Install a water filter or purifier: Water filtration systems use various methods to remove hydrogen sulfide from water, including oxidizing media filtration, ozonation, and continuous chlorination.

Does boiling water get rid of the sulfur smell?

No. Boiling water may kill any bacteria present in it, but it will still smell like rotten eggs. To get rid of the sulfur smell, you’ll have to identify and fix the cause.

Will a water filter remove the sulfur smell?

Yes, most water filters will remove the sulfur smell in the water. For the best results, you should install a filter with active carbon.

Is it safe to shower in sulfur-smelling water?

Yes, showering or bathing in water that smells like sulfur is safe. However, don’t expect to smell fresh and clean once you’re done with your shower.

The sulfur smell will stick to your skin. If you don’t want to smell like rotten eggs, you should find out why your water stinks and fix the issue.

How long does it take for sulfur smell to go away?

Typically, the sulfur smell should go away in a few hours. You can wait for a day or two, especially if you’ve treated your well water with chlorine.

However, if it takes longer than 48 hours for the smell to go away, you should probably hire a licensed plumber to take care of the problem.

In Conclusion

As you’ve seen, your water can smell like rotten eggs for several reasons. Drinking and using water that smells like sulfur doesn’t pose significant hazards, but keep in mind that water containing hydrogen sulfide could make you sick.

Hopefully, the methods above will help you get rid of the problem.

Did your water even smell like rotten eggs? What was the cause, and how did you fix it?

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