Sulfur in well water treatment
Sulfur in well water can be present year round, but a lot of people with wells experience sulfur in the spring because of the ground thaw. (You may also notice a sulfur smell in well water in the fall/winter when the ground starts to freeze.) We get many calls in the spring asking how to get rid of the sulfur smell in well water.
In the spring, sulfur in well water increases due to the runoff from the winter snow and precipitation that’s fallen for months. Flooded aquifers in the ground thaw, which leads to organic material and microbes causing odor to seep into your water supply. Sulfur can also show up when new veins open as opposed to just coming through the veins that normally feed people’s wells.
Sulfur is unusual in that humans have a dog-like ability to smell it at a minute level. Testing equipment can not detect sulfur as low as the human nose can. There are several treatment options, depending on how much the odor is inconveniencing your family.
Sulfur is an element that exists in nature. Hydrogen sulfide gas is a result of decay and chemical reactions with soil and rocks. Sulfate-reducing bacteria produce the gas as a byproduct.
They’re not harmful. They’re not pathogenic but they cause intermittent sulfur. They build up in your plumbing supply when you’re not using it such as when you’re sleeping or when you’re at work all day.
When you turn on a sink that hasn’t been used overnight or during the work day, you may get a big whiff of sulfur, and then the odor dissipates.
Hydrogen sulfide can cause black sediment to form on appliances and fixtures at high levels. If you’re experiencing sulfur in well water contamination, disinfecting the internal plumbing is an economical way of addressing the issue.
Treating sulfur in well water with internal plumbing disinfection
Sulfur can be created from sulfate-reducing bacteria which can cause an unpleasant odor and taste. You can perform an internal plumbing disinfection for sulfur if you have a cartridge filter as part of your water treatment system. The procedure cleans out any biofilm that develops within the plumbing.
Items needed for treatment:
- Liquid bleach (standard household bleach)
- A cartridge filter housing to be installed at the house if one is not already there
Steps for treating sulfur in well water
- Treating sulfur in well water takes 12-24 hours to work, so plan ahead when beginning the process as you won’t be able to utilize your water during the procedure.
- If the cartridge is installed ahead of the water softener or filter, put the softener or filter on bypass.
- Depressurize the plumbing by turning your water off before and after cartridge installation. Depress the red button on the top of the cartridge housing until no more water comes out. Remove the existing cartridge filter (if any), and pour out the water.
- Add two inches of liquid, unscented bleach into the housing, and be careful not to spill on your hands, face or clothing.
- Replace the cartridge housing and tighten. Open the ball valves in front of and behind the housing in your plumbing system.
- Go to the faucets where the odor is a problem and run water until you can smell bleach. Turn off the faucet and leave chlorinated water in the plumbing. If you are treating several locations in the house, you may have to refill the cartridge a few times to get adequate bleach to all locations.
- Mark or cover all chlorinated faucets, ensuring no one uses the chlorinated water.
- After 12 to 24 hours, flush the water out of the faucet until the chlorine smell is gone.
- Put water treatment equipment back on line, and replace the cartridge if any.
For areas with strong biofilm, it may be necessary to re-chlorinate several times to completely kill the growth. If the odor returns, the sooner you re-chlorinate your water, the better. If you have to do this procedure on a frequent basis, treatment equipment may be necessary.
Carbon filter options
Depending on how intense the odor is, a simple carbon cartridge filter could temporarily eradicate the odor, but this isn’t a good long-term solution for really intense odors because the cartridge doesn’t have a large capacity for sulfur. Carbon filters are expensive and if the sulfur is intense, you’ll have to change the filters frequently.
In cases of intense odor, we may recommend a more robust approach called air brining, which is a backwashing filter with activated carbon in it. The air brine uses aeration to remove contaminants, and doesn’t restrict water flow into your home.
Confusing sulfur for manganese
Sometimes, people see discoloration in their toilet bowl and assume that it’s manganese. It’s actually the sulfur gas that has precipitated out and turned into a black-toned powder. A lot of people get manganese and sulfur confused. It is quite rare that Manganese contamination is high enough that you can smell it.
If you have a sulfur smell in your water, our team is ready to treat it for you. Contact us today.