Water Problems

Poor quality water may have an abnormal feel, odor, taste, or appearance. In some cases, poor quality water may have many of these characteristics. The chart below will help to identify the cause of water problems based on observations by the human senses.

If your water seems abnormal, make sure to do your part to make your water safe for your family to use and drink. Please visit our page on contaminants, so you can learn more about the problems with your water. The contaminants page will also tell you which filters are appropriate to combat the contaminants or pollutants in your water.

Water with an abnormal feel may leave soap scum in bathtubs or sinks. The water may also leave an abrasive residual substance.

Impurity Problem Cause Health Effects

Abnormal Feel:

Abnormal Feel:
Soap crud, and scum in wash basins & bathtub. Whitish scale deposits in pipes, water heater & tea kettle. Calcium (limestone) and magnesium salts. Aesthetic only. However if consumed, could lead to kidney/ bladder stones.
Abrasive texture to water when washing or residual left in sink. Excessively fine sand, silt in water. Various - sand could trap contaminants.

Water with an abnormal odor may smell musty or may take a specific unnatural odor. For example, the water may smell like chlorine, rotten eggs, detergent, gasoline, methane, or phenol.

Impurity Problem Cause Health Effects

Musty, earthy or wood smell. Generally, harmless organic matter. Aesthetic only
Chlorine smell. Excessive chlorination. Could occur from formation of disinfection byproducts
Rotten egg odor - tarnished silverware. 1. Dissolved hydrogen sulfide gas.

2. Presence of sulfate reducing bacteria in raw water.
Various effects
Hot water, rotten egg odor. Action of magnesium rod in hot water heater. Various Effects
Detergent odor, water foams when drawn. See page of septic discharge into underground water supply. Disease-causing microorganisms may be present
Gasoline or oil (hydro-carbon) smell. Leak in fuel oil tank or gasoline tank seeping into water supply. Fuel components may be toxic or carcinogenic
Methane gas Naturally occurring caused by decaying organics Various effects
Phenol smell (chemical odor). Industrial waste seeping into surface or ground water supplies. Various -- compounds may be carcinogenic

Water with an abnormal taste may taste salty, brackish, alkali, or metallic. These or other tastes may be indication that your water is far from pure.

Impurity Problem Cause Health Effects

Abnormal Taste
Salty or brackish. High sodium content. Aesthetic only
Alkali taste. High dissolved mineral containing alkalinity. (Stained aluminum cookware.) Aesthetic only
Metallic taste. 1. Very low pH water (3.0-5.5).

2. Heavy iron concentration in water above 3.0 ppm Fe.

3. Leaching of lead and copper
Various -- depends on cause

Water with an abnormal appearance may appear dirty, salty, silty, rusty, gray, brownish, blue-green, cloudy, or yellowish. In these or other cases, the water may have string-like particles or leave green stains in the water. The water may leave brown-red stains on clothes, sinks, or tubs.

Impurity Problem Cause Health Effects

Abnormal Appearance:
Dirt, salt, clay. Suspended matter in surface water pond, stream or lake. Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms
Sand grit, silt or clay substances. Well sand from new well or defective well screen. Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms
Rust in water. Acid water causing iron "pick-up." Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms
Gray string-like fiber. Organic matter in raw water algae, etc. Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms

Abnormal Appearance:
Acid water
Green stains on sinks and silver, porcelain bathroom fixtures. Blue-green cast to water. Water which has high carbon dioxide content (pH below 6.8) reacting with brass and copper pipes and fittings. Could lead to health effects if acid water causes leaching of lead and copper

Abnormal Appearance:
Discolored water red, "Iron" water
Brown-red stains on sinks and other porcelain bathroom fixtures. Water turns brown-red in cooking or upon heating. Clothing becomes discolored. 1. Dissolved iron in influent (more than 0.3 ppm Fe+) water appears clear when first drawn at cold water faucet. Above 0.3 ppm Fe causes staining. Various effects
2. Precipitate iron (water will not clear when drawn). Various effects
Brownish cast does not precipitate. Iron pick-up from old pipe with water having a pH below 6.8. Organic (bacterial) iron. Various effects
Reddish color in water sample after standing 24 hours. Colloidal iron. Various effects

Abnormal Appearance:
Yellow Water
Yellowish cast to water after softening and/or filtering. Tannins (humic acids) in water from peaty soil and decaying vegetation. Various effects

Abnormal Appearance:
Milky Water
Cloudiness of water when drawn. 1. Some precipitant sludge created during heating of water.

2. High degree of air in water from poorly functioning pump.

3. Excessive coagulant-feed being carried through filter.
1. Various effects

2. Aesthetic only

3. Various effects

Abnormal Appearance:
Very high chloride content in water
Blackening and pitting of stainless steel sinks and stainless ware in commercial dishwashers 1. Excessive salt content.

2. High temperature drying creates chloride concentration accelerating corrosion.
Various effects

Principal Source: "Sensitivity: A Key Water Conditioning Skill" written by Wes McGowan and published in Water Technology, September/October 1982.