~ by Peggy Stokes, Certified Water Specialist
There are many reasons why your water tastes nasty.
Water is the universal solvent. It dissolves a little of whatever it contacts. In fact more substances dissolve in water than in any other chemical. The make-up of the H2O molecule helps water dissociate ionic compounds into their positive and negative ions, which then makes them more dissolvable.
As water dissolves some of the many varied elements in our rock and ground, it can end up taking on the taste and odor and color of these elements. For many of our customers, this means their water is downright nasty. Do you recognize any of these complaints? Here is a crash course in the top contributors to nasty water.
My water tastes like an old rusty pipe. This is caused by dissolved iron. We have striations of iron in our granite bedrock. Our water in this region tends to have low pH and tends to have low mineral count. This combination makes the water hungry to dissolve some material to reach equilibrium and if iron is in the water’s path, it gets dissolved. When iron is dissolved in the water, the water actually can be clear, but will taste like rust. When the water is used within the home, the water evaporates and leaves the iron behind which oxidizes in the presence of air and leaves a stain.
My water is salty. We use either sodium chloride or calcium chloride to de-ice our roads in this region. This material will dissolve with the spring rains and can travel down through the ground, eventually impacting water quality especially if the well is below the grade of the road. When the chloride content is more than 250 mg/L this can impart a salty taste to the water. And as the chloride number grows, it also can contribute to corrosion of the plumbing much the same way that the salt corrodes your car.
My water tastes like a penny. Our rainwater in New England has low pH, which means it is slightly acidic. Carbon acid, a very weak acid, is formed when the water combines with carbon dioxide in our air. Because our ground here has low calcium carbonate content, there is not much mineral to buffer this acidity. When water with low pH is pulled out of our wells and through copper plumbing, it will dissolve a small amount of copper from the pipes. This imparts a “penny” type of taste to the water and causes the water to leave a blue-green stain after it evaporates.
My water tastes disgusting. There is a rare and unfortunate occurrence where natural organic material from the surface of the ground seeps down cracks in the bedrock and gets into the well, imparting a skunk cabbage or pig manure type of smell. These are often referred to as “tannins,” which arise specifically from the decomposition of leaf material and pine needles and impart tea color to the water as well. We also refer to this as “organics,” meaning broadly organic material in the well. This is usually an indication of surface water intrusion into the well and that problem should be handled first before treatment is chosen.
Read about more common water problems that may contribute to many issues in your home.
Some of these taste issues are best handled with a drinking water system, and some are more appropriately solved with water treatment for the whole house. Occasionally a problem signifies that the well should be evaluated. Our Water Specialists are trained to know the difference and to guide all our customers through the decision process.