9 Signs Your Tap Water Might Be Contaminated

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “the United States enjoys one of the world's most reliable and safest supplies of drinking water.” Occasionally, however, homeowners may encounter a bitter taste or off-putting smell that makes them question their H20. Before switching to bottled beverages, check out these 9 signs that your tap water could use a little TLC, and learn how to easily and inexpensively address many of these issues.

By Donna Boyle Schwartz | Updated Nov 16, 2020 12:14 PM

Unusual Taste

Tap Water Tastes Bad

Your taste buds have incredibly delicate sensors that protect you from bad or dangerous substances, including poor-quality water. If your water has a fishy, oily, bitter, or metallic taste, it may be time to look into buying a filter.

Related: 14 Sneaky Ways to Save Money on Your Water Bill


Chlorine Smell

Tap Water Smells Like Chlorine

Does your tap water smell like a swimming pool? Here’s why: Chlorine is added to public water supplies to remove bacteria or harmful microorganisms, and while it’s not typically found in dangerous amounts, it can make your beverages unappetizing. Consider buying a water filter to eliminate any trace of lingering chemicals.

Related: 7 Smart Ways to Save Water in the Yard


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Sulfur Smell

Tap Water Has a Sulfur Smell

If your water smells like rotten eggs, sulfur is to blame. The naturally occurring mineral is prevalent in some water systems but isn’t typically harmful. As with chlorine, a sulfur smell can be eliminated with a water filter.


Flat Baked Goods

Tap Water Causes Flat Bread

If your favorite French bread recipe falls flat, it may not be your fault. The same chlorine that is added to water treatment systems to kill harmful microorganisms can also wreak havoc on the beneficial bacteria (yeast) that makes bread or pizza dough rise. A water filter can often solve the problem with minimal effort and expense.

Related: 10 Gadgets for Every Lazy Cook's Kitchen


Low Water Pressure

Low Water Pressure

If the kitchen faucet seems to be running more slowly than usual, you may have some clogged pipes. This can happen over time when pipes become corroded and then fill up with sediment and scale. Unfortunately, the only solution is running new copper or PVC plumbing throughout the house, which is an expensive (albeit necessary) project.

Related: 12 Things Your Plumber Wishes You Knew


Cloudy, Foamy Water

Cloudy Tap Water

Many municipal water systems don’t filter out minerals and other naturally occurring substances from drinking water, and these harmless compounds can sometimes give water a cloudy or foamy appearance. If the clouds and foam do not disappear over time, however, they may be caused by bacteria. Have your water tested for contamination if the problem persists. 

Related: 9 Health Code Violations Hiding in Your Kitchen


Dirt and Sediment

Dirt and Sediment in Tap Water

Have you ever seen dirt, sand, clay, or other sediments suspended in your tap water or settled in the bottom of your sink? Most of the time these particles aren’t dangerous, but they certainly aren’t attractive. Try installing a point-of-use sediment filter to alleviate the problem.


Spots, Stains, and Scale

Hard Water Stains

Some parts of the United States have naturally “hard” water, water that contains a high percentage of dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. Although hard water isn’t dangerous, it can prevent suds from lathering and reduce the effectiveness of dish soaps, hand soaps, and laundry detergent. Hard water also causes spotting and leaves scale deposits on glassware, serving pieces, and plumbing—thus shortening the effective lifespan of your hot water heater, boiler, and other appliances. To solve issues associated with hard water, install a water-softening system to remove excess minerals.

Related: 12 Smart Dish Washing Hacks No One Ever Taught You


Government Advisories

Public Tap Water Contamination

If you’re one of the 90 percent of American households that receive water through a public system, the government will notify you of any unsafe situations with your water. You’ll also be informed if there are measures you should take, such as boiling your water or switching to bottled water. If, however, you are among the 10 percent of Americans who get their water from private wells, you need to ensure that your drinking water is safe through routine testing with a reputable company.

Related: 8 Dangerous Secrets Your Home May Be Hiding


Know Your Resources

Know Your Resources

If you notice these signs or have other fears that your tap water is contaminated, contact your public water system company. For other questions regarding water quality, visit the Drinking Water FAQ page on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.


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