How to Improve Bad Tasting Tap Water

Posted by
John Woodard on June 20, 2019

Bad tasting or smelling tap water impacts you on a daily basis, whether you're cooking, brushing your teeth, or just drinking a glass of tap water. Identifying the cause of your tap water issues is the first step to finding the right filtration solution. The taste and smell of your water can help you discover why it tastes bad. Here are 8 common tastes and smells in tap water you may recognize and how to remove them.

8 reasons for bad tasting tap water

1. Bitter taste

Bitter tasting tap water is often a result of high concentrations of total dissolved solids (TDS). Water with high concentrations of TDS is called hard water. Another reason for bitter tasting water could be the corrosion of aged copper piping in your home.

Solution: A reverse osmosis system or a ceramic filter

2. Chlorine or chemical taste

City water treatment adds chlorine in order to disinfect the water supply. If the water needs to travel a greater distance, then additional chlorine is added to compensate. Though the level of chlorine is not harmful, it can affect the taste of your tap water.

Solution: A carbon water filter

3. Dirty or fishy taste

Well water often has an earthy, mineral taste. For city water, an earthy flavor could be the result of untreated algae not eliminated during treatment. Water with algae remnants is usually musty.

Solution: A reverse osmosis system or a ceramic filter

4. Gasoline taste

Water that smells of gasoline or diesel has many different sources, none of which are a simple fix. There could be an intrusion into your water by a fuel storage tank or a well absorbing runoff from nearby driveways or parking lots. Because of the potential for hazardous chemicals in your water supply, it is always best to stop use immediately and have your water tested. You should also call your local utility company to see if any pipes have broken recently that could also cause the smell and then consult a licensed plumber.

Solution: Consult a plumber and your local water authority

5. Metal taste

High levels of dissolved metals like iron, magnesium, and zinc can give your tap water a distinct metallic taste. Though the presence of these metals is not harmful to your health, they damage water pipes.

Solution: A reverse osmosis system or an ultrafiltration system

 6. Rotten egg smell

Hydrogen sulfide causes a sulfur or rotten egg smell when you first turn on water or use hot water. Common with well water, the hydrogen sulfide can increase the speed of corrosion in your pipes.

Solution: A ceramic filter

7. Salty taste

Water that tastes salty is most likely caused by high concentrations of chloride ions. Though common in coastal regions, it can appear in other areas as well. Sulfates can also cause a salty taste in tap water. Sulfates are common in soils and are picked up as water flows through the earth to water supplies. Rain and snow can also cause road salt to drain into local reservoirs.

Solution: A reverse osmosis system

8. Sweet taste

Water with a sweet taste could be a result of certain dissolved minerals not harmful to your health, such as calcium or iron. It could also be a sign of pH or alkaline imbalance in your water.

Solution: An alkaline ionization filter (not enough pH), a reverse osmosis system (too much pH), or a ceramic filter

Contaminants you can't taste in water

Contaminants you can't taste in water

Some water filtration systems remove contaminants you can’t smell or taste. Microorganisms like bacteria and viruses can travel through your home and make you and your family sick without even knowing it. Ultraviolet disinfection treats your water by direct contact with ultraviolet rays that remove the microorganisms before they have a chance to make you sick. 

Solution: A UV water purifier, an ultrafiltration system, or a reverse osmosis system

Smells can also be a bit elusive. What you think is the smell of your water may be the smell of your drain as water from your faucet flows through. Bad odors could also be caused by leaking, corroded pipes, bacteria in the water heater or a cracked well. Due to the complexity of these issues, it is often best to consult a water specialist.

In the meantime, the best way to understand the composition of your tap water is to use a home water test kit or a lab water analysis. You can also find an analysis of your community water through a water report made available by your local water supplier.

How to make your tap water taste better

The best way to make your tap water taste better is to install a filter or purifier to remove the contaminants that are most likely responsible. Below you will find a brief description of our recommendations to help in your decision process.


How to make your tap water taste better

Reverse osmosis (RO) systems

An RO system filters water through a multistage process in order to remove dissolved solids. One stage is reverse osmosis, the process of removing total dissolved solids (TDS) by pushing water through a semipermeable membrane. A sediment filter removes dirt, dust and rust particles while the carbon filter reduces volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chlorine, and other contaminants that can give your water a bad taste or smell. RO systems are the most complete form of filtration for removing harmful minerals, but they also remove beneficial minerals such as calcium or magnesium.

Read more: What is a reverse osmosis system and how does it work? | How to select the best reverse osmosis system

Carbon water filters

Activated carbon filters use carbon that has been “activated” to have a large surface area. Tiny pores along the surface allow for absorption of chemicals as your water runs over a bed of activated carbon.  These filters remove large contaminants like chlorine but are not designed to remove inorganic materials such as heavy metals minerals and sulfates or smaller microorganisms.

Read more: Activated carbon filters 101

Ceramic water filters

These filters operate by filtering water through a hard ceramic casing with tiny holes that make it difficult for contaminants to travel through. Some ceramic filters come with activated carbon inside to allow for a double-step filtration process. These systems are great for removing dirt and bacteria, which make them great for that dirt or fishy taste but are generally not useful in removing viruses which are too small for the ceramic or carbon pores.

Read more: What is a ceramic water filter and how does it work?

Alkaline water filters

This filter uses electrolytes to separate acidic and alkaline components. By adding minerals back to the water it raises the pH. For some, the mineral taste might make the water taste worse. These filters adjust the pH or your water and will help with sweet tasting water if pH is the cause. Alkaline ionization filters work best in addition to other filters. 

Ultrafiltration systems

Ultrafiltration systems force water through a single hollow fiber membrane that serves as a filter for microorganisms. It removes some bacteria viruses and parasites while retaining the potentially beneficial minerals that a reverse osmosis system would remove.

Read more: How an ultrafiltration membrane works

Ultraviolet purification

UV systems use ultraviolet light to deactivate bacteria and viruses in your water supply but are not intended to remove anything else. That is why UV purification is often used in addition to other filtration systems. UV can be ideal for homes with well water, but also for city residents that are under a Boil Water Advisory (BWA).

Read more: How does a UV water purifier work?

If your water contains a different taste or smell than listed above, let us help you identify the source and offer the right solution for you. Contact our expert water specialists with any questions regarding your home or businesses water concerns.

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