How to Track Down Bad ‘Aesthetics'
Most strange tastes, smells and colors,
characteristics that water experts call
bad aesthetics, aren't a health risk; they
just bug you. These include water that
corrodes or clogs pipes, stains sinks and
drains or leaves rings of crud around
the toilet bowl. There are few mysteries
in a local water supply. The engineers at
your water utility have seen it all before
and can usually identify the problem if
you describe the symptoms. They'll
often tell you possible solutions, too.
Common problems include:
Chlorine smell or taste. If your water
smells or tastes a bit like a swimming
pool, you're probably dealing with the
disinfectant that the water utility uses to
kill bacteria and other biological contaminants.
If you let drinking water sit or
pour it back and forth a few times,
enough chlorine will dissipate into the
air to improve the taste of the water. Or
you can remove chlorine with simple
Hard water. You probably have hard
water if minerals both build up around
faucets and clog them; persistent soap
scum shows up on shower tiles, tubs
and wash basins; and soaps and detergents
leave residues or don't clean well.
Hard water contains excessive dissolved
calcium and magnesium, which
form scale and inhibit the cleaning
power of soaps and detergents.
Although it won't harm your health,
hard water makes cleaning more difficult
and requires more plumbing maintenance.
Hardness is readily removed
with a water softener that you connect
to the main water line. Many companies
(check “Water Softeners” online) will test the hardness level and sell you a softening system for
$500 to $1,000 if you need one.
Stains. Brown or black stains on sinks,
or a rusty or metallic taste usually signals
excessive iron and/or manganese
in the water. In this case, the water
might even be reddish when run into a
glass. Stains and bad odors can also be
caused by dead leaves and other
organic material. Many stains, colors
and odors are easily removed by inexpensive
whole-house filtration. But
some, dissolved iron, for example,
require more specialized equipment.
Cloudy. Hazy water is usually caused by
fine sediments in suspension. Sometimes
they can clog up appliances, like
an ice maker. These are easily removed
by inexpensive, whole-house filtration.
Fishy or musty smell or taste. These are
usually caused by the naturally occurring
algae and bacteria that grow in
most surface water sources.
It's also easily handled by
Rotten egg smell. The sulfur smell is
hydrogen sulfide produced by bacteria
that live in deep wells. If you closed
your eyes, you could imagine you were
in Yellowstone! This water is generally
acidic and will corrode your plumbing
system. The solution requires professional
analysis and special equipment.
Most aesthetic contaminants can be
eliminated at little expense. But before
you spend a dime on solutions, contact
your local water utility or public health
department to get firsthand information
about the contaminants and suitable
control methods. If these experts
are baffled or unsure, you might have to
take a water sample to an environmental
testing lab to identify the exact type
and volume of contaminants. Your
public health department can provide a
list of certified testing labs.
Or you can hire a water-quality contractor
to evaluate your water. (Search “Water Purification and Filter Equipment”
or “Water Softening and Conditioning” online.) Testing
for simple conditions like water hardness
or acidity is inexpensive and
sometimes free if the contractor hopes
to sell you a conditioning system.
The key is to identify the scope and
type of problem before focusing on a
solution. With the confusing array of
water treatment devices on the market,
it's easy to buy high-powered solutions
to problems you don't have!
such as this
run the water
through a fine
screen to catch
affect taste and
odor. Many “all-purpose”