People sometimes complain to us that the water coming from their tap has a funny taste to it and wonder if it’s safe to drink. That can’t be answered without a detailed chemical analysis.
However, in general, it’s not unusual for tap water to come in a variety of flavors – most of which you will not find in a respectable ice cream shop. Well, water is more likely to have a funny taste than water from a municipal system with its multiple layers of sophisticated treatments. Yet just because it tastes funny doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dangerous.
Even after being purified, most drinking water contains trace amounts of various minerals and chemicals. Some people with extremely sensitive taste buds can detect these traces that go unrecognized by most of us. Most of the time the trace minerals are harmless.
Here are some of the causes of what might be thought of as weird-tasting water:
- Algae: Algae blooms in the source water may result in a taste many people describe as “earthy” or “moldy.” Municipal system treatment usually removes algae but some can make it through. Keep in mind that municipal water takes a long route before it reaches your home. After the source water passes through a treatment plant, it passes through city water mains before connecting to service pipes that transfer it to your home’s supply plumbing pipes. Algae growth can occur at any step of the way.
- Chlorine: Many treatment systems use chlorine to disinfect the water supply, so it’s no surprise that this may be one of the primary causes of funny-tasting water. Trace amounts of chlorine tend to stay in the treated water and should be safe to drink at those tiny levels.
- Copper: Corrosion from copper plumbing pipe may leave a slight bitter, medicinal taste to the water. According to some health officials, a level of copper at around 1.3 milligrams per liter can be toxic to aquarium fish and may give a slight greenish tint to light-colored hair. When copper gets well above that level, around 50 times more, it can lead to stomach cramps and other health issues. If your water has a bitter taste, it might be a good idea to get it checked out.
- Lead: Lead leaching into a water supply may give off a sweet taste. This is really bad. If you notice it, contact your water and public health authorities right away.
- Other metals: Water with a metallic taste may come from zinc, iron or manganese. Zinc contamination usually comes from corrosion of old galvanized water pipes, while iron and manganese are naturally present in many water sources, especially groundwater, resulting in so-called “hard water.” This can stain plumbing fixtures and clog water heaters and other appliances. It’s mostly harmless to drink hard water at their typical levels of contamination, but it can be unpleasant to live with. These metallic remnants can be removed by a good household water treatment system.
- Gasoline: A gasoline taste or smell could stem from gas or fuel in the water or a dead animal(s) in the water supply. This contamination could be serious and if you notice it, notify your local water authority to investigate.
- Sulfur: Rural well water is sometimes plagued by a sulfuric, rotten egg taste and odor that could result from the presence of certain bacteria in the water, or from hydrogen sulfide that naturally occurs in many water sources due to the decay of vegetation. It’s generally harmless to drink such water but it gives an unpleasant taste and can lead to plumbing corrosion and fixture stains. Household treatment is highly recommended if you have this problem.
- Salty water: Water that tastes salty usually stem from chloride compounds that occur naturally in water. Usually, the levels are not threatening to health, although it could be a problem for people on sodium-restricted diets. If a salty taste comes about suddenly, it could mean that sewage has gotten into the water supply, a much more worrisome situation. Notify your water and public health authorities.
Perhaps most worrisome of all is that some toxic water-borne contaminants give off little taste or odor. These include arsenic and fertilizer nitrates, as well as various bacteria and viruses. If you have any concerns at all about your home’s water supply, look into treatment systems.