Why Does My Tap Water Taste Like This?

tap water

The subject of water taste can be, well…subjective. After all, each individual has his or her specific palate for sensing flavors. But there are certain instances when water undeniably has a certain unpleasant flavor. The question is — is this ok, or is this something you should worry about? Let’s take a look at some (mostly) well-known facts…

The taste of tap water is geographically specific

And this is due to a number of local factors, including but not limited to the source of water in your Pittsburgh Area home, its distribution system, construction of pipes, fixtures in your home, weather/climate, surrounding businesses/industries, and the natural topography of the area your home sits upon.

Well and municipal water have different tendencies

According to the EPA, about 15% of the U.S. population uses well water. The rest are hooked up to municipal systems. Whereas most well water is ground water below the surface, municipalities can take their water from a number of sources, including rivers and lakes. The long journey from these sources — through a treatment plant, underground through pipes, into your home and thru your tap provide a lot of room for variables. Anything the water contacts could affect its perceived taste or smell.

What’s Your Flavor?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common flavors of tap water, where its origins may be, and what you can do if you find it mildly annoying to intolerable:

My water tastes earthy, muddy, or generally like dirt

This can happen when your tap water comes from surface water, where the bacteria lifecycle gives off a compound called geosmin. The human nose is sensitive to geosmin and can detect it at very small concentrations. Water on the acidic side can actually neutralize the production of what causes the taste and smell of dirt in water, though water with a low pH is typically associated other common household water issues.

My water tastes metallic or bitter

Zinc, iron, manganese or copper can leach into your water supply and cause this problem. Any sort of galvanized water pipe leaves your water at risk for this. This can happen if your water has a low pH, which is a common reason metal dissolves into your water supply.

While iron and manganese occur naturally in water sources, particularly in groundwater in well areas, zinc can be a product of mineral erosion or corrosion of galvanized plumbing. Zinc can be associated with higher concentrations of other metals such as lead or cadmium, and can be a byproduct of coal-fueled generating stations, steel production, or burning of waste materials.

There are a number of dissolved solids (TDS) that can make your tap water appear to taste bitter or metallic, but few of them are harmful to your health at typical concentrations. A Culligan® Reverse Osmosis Filter can remove 99% of impurities from your water supply.

My water tastes like the Pittsburgh Area public swimming pool

Because chlorine is used in the municipal water treatment process, mainly because it is the most cheap and effective option. Most concentrations of chlorine in tap water are not harmful to humans, but the taste and smell can be a turnoff.

An increase in bacterial contamination can lead to a spike in chlorine taste and smell in municipalities. For example, algal blooms in the spring can give rise to bacteria deposits that force the treatment process to use more chlorine for a given period of time.

My water tastes salty

This means solids from chloride, sulfate and magnesium – particularly sodium chlorides, are the main reason for your water’s salty taste. Seawater intrusion or salt deposits in your groundwater can be a main cause.

In cold weather climates, road salt deposits can dissolve into the surface water and filter into the water supply. However, there are no documented human health water crises attributed to this practice.

A common misconception is that a water softener causes your tap water to taste salty, but this is not the norm with a Culligan® HE Water Softener. If you own any brand of water softener and feel it is malfunctioning, call your your local Culligan of Pittsburgh for expert service. Salty water from a softener is typically a regeneration cycle issue, whether it’s with the control head or a plugged drain line that can’t properly flush the resin tank at the end of the cycle.

My water tastes rubbery, soapy, or like plastic

The bad news might be that your water tastes plastic, rubbery, or soapy (TCP/disinfectant). The good news is that it’s unlikely to cause you health issues so long as they are corrected quickly, and the source is probably your home’s plumbing arrangement and/or appliances. If your dishwasher or washing machine does not have a working check valve, the water from these appliances will hang around in the water supply. Deterioration of flexible hoses may also give your tap water this taste.

Adding a flex valve that is available at most hardware outlets to your pipes/appliances can usually solve this issue.

What you can’t taste can hurt you

Whether or not you can taste something is not directly related to what you should worry about. Some of the most poisonous elements that could be lurking in your water are actually odorless and tasteless — including arsenic, nitrates and lead.

Though your water tastes unpleasant, it’s likely not a cause for immediate health concern. Have your water tested for free by Culligan to know what is in your water, and what you can do if you want your tap water to have a more pure, clean taste.

IMPORTANT: Take action if you detect sudden changes

One indicator of malfunction with your home water supply — or even your own body — is a sudden change of taste or smell. You should know what your tap water tastes like. If one day you wake up and it tastes different, please react accordingly.

Test each faucet to see if it might be one water line or your entire home. If the taste in each faucet is similar, ask your neighbor if they notice any changes in their tap water. Even if you own a private well, your closest neighbors likely have similar external influences on their water supply.

In rare instances, a sudden change in taste can be a harbinger of a deeper health issue with how your brain receives information from your senses. This can range from simple sinus issues to strokes. Contact your physician if you feel a change in taste is a symptom of health problems.

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