Rotten Egg (Sulfur) Smell: Where does it come from, and what are my options?

The most common way to diagnose a contamination of sulfur or hydrogen sulfate is its smell. To that end, there are simple steps you can take to eliminate this from your faucets.

Attention: If You Require a Home Solution

Each home is unique. The level of contaminants, peak flow rate and daily usage are all factors in determining the solution for your home. Don’t spring for a sweeping transactional solution online or shop your local big box retailer that doesn’t understand the details. Your water is more precious than that. 

Trust the experts at Culligan with more than 80 years of experience, one of America’s most trusted brands, to provide a product that fits your home needs and a hassle-free maintenance plan.

Health Concerns

The most important question is regarding whether your drinking water with sulfates is a health risk. The short answer is typically no.

The EPA standards for water fall into two categories: Primary and Secondary standards. Primary are based on health considerations and secondary are based on taste, color, odor, corrosively, foaming and staining properties. Sulfate is classified under the secondary standards. 

Hydrogen sulfide, a product of sulfur bacteria in groundwater using iron and sulfur as energy to chemically change sulfates to gas, is flammable and poisonous. But it is not usually a health risk at typical house water concentrations, unless extremely high.

Where Does It Come From?

Sources for sulfates include decay, organic matter, or chemical reactions with sulfur-containing minerals in soil and rock.

  1. Naturally Occurring 

Sulfates are a result of naturally-occuring elements of sulfur and oxygen in some soil and rock formations that contain ground water.

  1. Nearby Industries - Oil & Gas, Fracking, Mining

Hydrogen sulfide can be in wells drilled in shale or sandstone, or near coal and peat deposits, or oil fields.

  1. Community Hazards

Nearby landfills, leaky fuel tanks or pipelines, old septic systems, chemical labs.

  1. Electric Water Heater

The magnesium corrosion control rod can chemically reduce naturally occurring sulfates to hydrogen sulfide. See more below.

It’s Normally Not Poisonous — So How Does It Affect Me?

Aside from the smell and taste being an issue, water containing an excess in sulfur can cause issues with a number of household items and infrastructure:

  • It can tarnish silver
  • Discoloration of copper and brass utensils
  • Corrosion to metals on appliances containing iron, steel, copper and brass
  • Cause yellow or black stains on kitchen and bathroom fixtures
  • Discoloration of coffee or tea
  • Taste and appearance of food can be tarnished
  • Hydrogen sulfide can interfere with the effectiveness of water softeners and other filter systems

What You Can Do 

Determine the Source

Your first order of business is to find the source -- in your drain, or in your water. Take a glass of water from your drain area the smell is originating from, and take a glass of water from another faucet in your home. If both glasses of water contain a rotten egg smell, the problem is your water, which could come from a number of other issues – water heater, well or municipal. If only one glass has the unpleasant odor, it is most likely that specific drain.

If the Source is Your Drain

Find the specific drain and pour ½ cup of bleach down the drain to disinfect it. If you are weary of pouring bleach into your drain system, or do not have bleach on hand, dump ½ cup of baking soda and 1 cup of vinegar in your drain. This should be sufficient to disinfect that specific drain pipe.

Hot Water Heater Troubleshooting

If the issue is from hot water only, the likely culprit is the anode rod in your electric water heater chemically reacting with the natural sulfate ions. This rod is typically made of magnesium. Replace this with an aluminum rod.

You can operate your water heater without the rod, though you risk corrosion of your steel water tank after you remove one. Culligan can add FDA-approved corrosion inhibitors to help correct this potential problem, and can also remove the sulfate by using a dealkalizer.

Sulfur-reducing bacteria could be lurking in your water tank without the rod. One way to test for this is to set your water temperature over 140° Fahrenheit for 48 hours to kill the bacteria. If the odor goes away, this was likely the problem. If it does not, it is likely a rod issue.

If the Source is Your Well/Municipal

If the contamination is located at the actual source of your drinking water, get a water analysis. This test should include a pH analysis, iron, manganese, hardness and TDS (Total Dissolved Solids). A Culligan Softener-Cleer Plus, Sulfur-Cleer Plus, or Iron-Cleer filter, chlorine or hydrogen oxide chemical feed and carbon filtration are all options depending on the results of testing.

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