July 2021

· 6 min read

It’s Complicated. Why Does My Drinking Water Taste or Smell Yucky?

What’s that odor and why does my city water have a different taste? We explain what’s causing your water to taste and smell funny.
Unhappy woman drinking water with bad taste - What’s Causing Your Water to Taste and Smell Bad | NSF International

Water is the source of life. But while we’re all trying to get healthy following the COVID-19 pandemic binge eating and drinking lots of water to “cleanse,” some of my friends have been asking me why their city water may have an odor or taste a little different?

It’s a bit complicated. Municipal water disinfection practices in the United States, Canada and Europe involve using a disinfectant — usually either chlorine or chloramine — to kill the germs that can contaminate our drinking water as it travels through pipes to your home. Some communities switch back and forth between the two at different times of year. Some water authorities are running their routine cleaning of the area’s water pipes — and residents are saying it’s smelly.

Some good news: It’s not harmful.

If you want to find out what kind of disinfectant is in your water, you can request a copy of the annual water report from your city water utility. The report would show you, among other things, the most recent results of their water testing. Over time, water system pipes may develop a layer of slime that makes killing germs more difficult. That’s why water providers sometimes switch back and forth between chloramine and chlorine disinfection to help remove this slime layer and make it easier to control the water quality.

Now let’s talk about two types of disinfection.

Municipal water disinfection practices in the United States, Canada and Europe involve using a disinfectant — usually either chlorine or chloramine — to kill the germs that can contaminate our drinking water as it travels through pipes to your home.

What Is Chlorination?

A water provider may add chlorine to drinking water to kill parasites, bacteria and viruses. There are various types of chlorine (powder, liquid or gas), as well as different processes used to achieve safe levels of disinfectants in drinking water. Your water company monitors all the levels of treatment to maintain your water quality and make sure your drinking water is delivered to you ready to drink.

Using or drinking water with the proper amount of chlorine is not known to cause harmful health effects for people or pets. It is a very important step to provide protection against you getting sick from these bacteria or viruses that cause waterborne disease outbreaks.

It can however be toxic to fish because it enters directly into their bloodstreams, so don’t keep your aquatic pets in water that contain disinfectants such as chlorine. Many pet stores provide drops to remove the chlorine from the tap water before you use it in your aquarium.

What Is Chloramination?

This is the process of adding chloramine to drinking water to disinfect it and kill germs. It is chlorine and ammonia combined.

Chloramines (also known as secondary disinfection) are disinfectants used to treat drinking water and they:

  • Are most commonly formed when ammonia is added to chlorine to treat drinking water
  • Provide longer-lasting disinfection as the water moves through pipes to consumers

Chloramines have been used by water utilities since the 1930s. Most usage of chloramine is in the U.S. and Canada. More than one in five Americans uses drinking water treated with chloramines.

If you are concerned about chlorine or chloramines in your drinking water, you can install a water filter system. While no regulations exist for residential water treatment filters, purifiers and reverse osmosis systems, voluntary national standards and NSF International have established minimum requirements for the safety and performance of these water filters that treat your drinking water.

Contact our consumer guru for more details on how to find a certified water filter.

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Sources:

www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/water_disinfection.html

www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/chloramines-drinking-water

www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/understanding_ccr.html

www.dcwater.com/chlorine-switch