Well Water Odor: What It Is and How to Eliminate It

Well Water Odor: What It Is and How to Eliminate It


Millions of Americans receive their water from private wells. This water is used for many purposes around the home, including drinking, bathing, and cooking. Well water often has an unpleasant odor, leaving many people to wonder what that smell is and how they can get rid of it. In this guide, we will explore the factors that lead to foul odors in well water and how to eliminate them with a whole house well water filter.

My Water Smells Like Rotten Eggs – Why Does it Stink?

Water supplies in the United States can come from municipal sources or from privately-dug wells. For well water users, a common complaint is water that smells like rotten eggs. Imagine you are just coming home from a tough day at the office or an intense workout at the gym. You step into the shower to clean up; as the hot water flows, the bathroom fills with an unpleasant odor. You may also discover particles in the water – particles that look like rust. What is the source of the smell and the particles in the water you rely on for everyday uses?

The culprit behind rotten egg odors in well water is a chemical compound called hydrogen sulfide. According to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), this compound is commonly known by several other colloquial names, including:

  • Swamp gas
  • Sour damp
  • Sewer gas

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas with a characteristic foul odor. The gas is heavier than air, allowing it to collect in enclosed spaces, such as in the steel casings of private wells. In low concentrations, such as in well water, its presence leads to unpleasant odors like sulfur or rotten eggs. Higher concentrations, however, can be dangerous; hydrogen sulfide is extremely toxic and flammable. Even small amounts may be toxic, depending on how much is breathed or ingested via well water. 

What Causes Hydrogen Sulfide?

One source of hydrogen sulfide is a byproduct of bacterial activity in groundwater supplies. Bacteria known as sulfate-reducing bacteria absorb sulfate ions in the water; a chemical process in the bacterial cell releases hydrogen sulfide. 

Bacterial action is not the only source of this foul-smelling compound. Other sources of hydrogen sulfide include:

  • Chemical reactions between metals in wells and water heaters.
  • Pollutants.
  • Decaying plant material.
  • Chemical reactions within geological features in and around groundwater aquifers. 

Hydrogen sulfide odors may dissipate as the water flows, but the compound may still be present in the water you and your family drink. Without a well water filter, you may be exposing yourself to hydrogen sulfide and not even know it. 

Is Hydrogen Sulfide Dangerous?

In high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide can collect in low-lying areas. If a spark or flame were to contact this gas, explosions can occur. Sewer explosions are commonly caused by the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas. 

Of greater concern is the health effects of exposure to hydrogen sulfide. In addition to the unpleasant rotten egg odor, exposure to this toxic gas can cause:

  • Eye and skin irritations
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Irritation to the throat and lungs
  • Dizziness

hydrogen sulfide side effects

These effects can be experienced even from exposure to low concentrations of the gas. In high concentrations (1000-2000 parts per million), a single breath of the gas can be fatal

What About the Particles in My Well Water?

If your well water has the characteristic rotten egg odor signifying the presence of hydrogen sulfide, you may have noticed black, brown, or reddish particles in your water. These particles are caused by the gas. Hydrogen sulfide is a weak acid; contact with pipes and plumbing fixtures leads to corrosion. Water contaminated with hydrogen sulfide may stain clothing, tarnish silverware and utensils, and damage appliances that use water like washing machines and dishwashers. 

The sulfur bacteria that produce hydrogen sulfide can produce a slime-like substance. This slime can support other bacterial growth, including iron bacteria that collect in plumbing and appliances. Over time, the combination of bacterial action and corrosion from hydrogen sulfide can lead to expensive damage to your home’s plumbing. 

How Do I Get Rid of Hydrogen Sulfide?

Hydrogen sulfide is unpleasant. The foul odor it produces and the potential for serious health effects make it critical to remove the compound from your water supplies. Thankfully, a well water filter can get rid of the odors and threats to your family’s health. 

aquasure well water system fortitude

A well water filter designed for hydrogen sulfide removal uses two filter stages to purify water. The first stage is equipped with a filter element that traps sediments, scale, and rust particles. The second stage is filled with a filter medium containing granulated activated carbon (GAC) to rid the water of harmful chemical contaminants. In addition to removing hydrogen sulfide, the two-stage well water filter removes:

  • Chlorine
  • Bacteria
  • Herbicides
  • Pesticides
  • Chlorine breakdown byproducts like trihalomethanes (THMs)

A well water filter is installed between your home’s water supply piping and faucets or fixtures. These filters are extremely efficient in removing harmful contaminants from the water you use for drinking, cooking, and bathing. These filters also improve the taste, odor, and clarity of the water. Finally, treating the water with filtration can prolong the life of your plumbing, faucets, and appliances. A whole house well water filter can produce up to 1.5 million gallons of clean, fresh drinking water before the filter elements need to be changed. Protect yourself and your loved ones by investing in a well water filter. 

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