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Tap Water Contaminants Guide

Whether your home receives water from a city municipal center or private well, there is no guarantee it’s safe to drink. Some of the most common tap water contaminants we see actually enter your home’s water source after it has left a treatment facility.

As much as a water filter or softener can be your water contamination solution, you need to make sure you’re using a system that effectively removes what’s in your water. And that list of potential threats to our water is long.

What are the common tap water contaminants?

  • Chlorine
  • Iron — ferrous and ferric
  • Manganese
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Sediments
  • Raised acidic levels
  • Arsenic
  • Lead
  • Nitrates
  • Microbiologicals
  • Pharmaceuticals

Let’s dive into the list above and learn about each water contamination effect, and how you can find a treatment solution.

Types of Tap Water Contamination: Effects & Solutions

Hard Water

White hard water residue stained on a chrome bathroom faucet
You know you have hard water when you still feel the presence of something on your skin after you shower or wash your hands. The feeling has been described as slimy, sticky and scaly. This means more soap used while cleaning, dryer skin after washing, and more scale buildup across your home, which you’ll notice in places everywhere from your water pipes to your kitchen faucet.

Hard water feels this way because of its high mineral count. Before reaching your city’s water treatment center, water naturally absorbs calcium and magnesium as it travels. Some areas have higher counts of these minerals than others. That’s why hard water levels vary across the United States.

Beyond making your skin feel sticky, there are several other effects of hard water:

  • Leftover residue collects in your shower and other water-using appliances
  • Scale buildup on faucets and drains
  • Duller clothes and laundry that feels crunchy and worn
  • Soap doesn’t lather properly as hard water interferes with its activation
  • Higher energy bills because the scale in pipes makes heating your water take more time
  • Lower water pressure

The only hard water solution that will save you time and money is buying a replacement water softener. But simply going to the store and buying the first thing you see isn’t the answer. Contact one of our water experts so they can come to your home and test how hard your water is. From there, they can suggest the best solution for your hard water issue.

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Chlorine & Chloramines

A white bottle with a label that says chlorine bleach

Chlorine has a very distinct smell. If you have ever gone swimming in a public pool or sat in a hot tub, the water has a notable smell because of the presence of chlorine. Many household cleaning products like bleach also carry this odor.

Pool water smells like chlorine for good reason. The chemical is a disinfectant. Chlorine ensures there are no bacteria floating in the water that could potentially hurt those enjoying the pool.

Adding low amounts of chlorine to drinking water is done for the very same reason. The Environmental Protection Agency allows certain levels of chlorine in water at city treatment centers so when the water reaches your home, it’s bacteria-free.

Many of these facilities use chloramines, which are a combination of chlorine and ammonia. However, too much of this contaminant can make your water smell and taste unappealing. It can also irritate your eyes and skin, especially for those suffering from eczema.

The best solution for removing chloramines is finding a water filtration system that works for your home. Our water experts can pinpoint the exact system for your chlorine problem by testing your water.

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Iron

A toilet bowl with reddish, iron-stained water inside

Iron is everywhere and makes up 5 percent of the earth’s crust. But it shouldn’t be in your water. You can tell it’s there if it has a metallic taste and smell. If you notice rust-like stains on your drains and water-using appliances, iron is most likely the culprit.

Your water can contain 1 of 2 different types of iron contamination:

  1. Ferrous iron contamination is clear to the eye when it’s coming out of the faucet. After it settles in a toilet bowl or glass, it turns red or brown.
  2. Ferric iron contamination tints your water to a yellowish red as soon as it comes out of the faucet. It’s also known as “red water iron”.

Iron contamination begins during water’s natural cycle. When water passes over iron-bearing rocks — 5 percent of the earth’s crust — iron contaminants are carried all the way through the treatment process and into your home.

Iron contamination can affect the function of everyday items from showerheads to kitchen sink faucets. Iron collects at the mouth of faucets causing them to clog. Iron also clogs pipes, making your plumbing inefficient which means higher energy bills.

A specialty filter and/or a water softener is the best solution for iron contamination in your water. Our water experts can identify the problem for you and make sure you pick the most effective solution.

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Manganese

Manganese stains around a stainless steel drain inside a sink

Manganese is 1 of the 2 culprits behind hard water. It’s an essential mineral and occurs naturally in soils and rocks. Nature and humankind need this mineral to exist, but high volumes of it can be unhealthy.

Manganese concentrations are measured in parts per million. If manganese is higher than 0.5 ppm, your water may start tasting metallic and leaving behind brownish stains around your home’s sinks. If your water comes from a private well, concentrations of this water contaminant could be as high as 3 ppm. This is going to quickly discolor any appliance that uses water.

Because manganese collects in water naturally, a water softener can be the solution you need for this contaminant.

Unfortunately, if manganese levels are too high, it will start discoloring your water right out of the faucet. You will need a more effective solution if this occurs. Our water experts can help you find the filtration system to dramatically reduce the manganese level in your home’s water.

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Hydrogen Sulfide

Two eggs laying next to each other

Smell rotten eggs in your water? Hydrogen sulfide has infiltrated your water. There are 2 ways this could have happened. First, you need to know where hydrogen sulfide is created.

This pungent gas arises from naturally decaying organic matter, like the remains of dead plants or animals and their waste products. The gas isn’t released until it reaches a liquid state, whether that’s through sewage, hot springs or liquid manure. It can also be extracted from petroleum products.

If you have ever wondered ”why does my water heater smell?” — it’s hydrogen sulfide gas. This is the first way hydrogen sulfide gets in your water. An obvious sign you need to service your water heater is if your home’s hot water smells like sulfur.

If traces of the gas exist in your cold water, the hydrogen sulfide is coming to life in corroding pipes that carry water into your home. This can be an expensive fix. Before you break the bank, contact our water experts so they can find the right filtration system that will kick this pungent odor.

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Sediment & Cloudy Water

An image of a cloudy glass of water that is contaminated with sediment

When you pour a glass of water, what do you see? Are there bubbles forming and quickly going away after you set the glass down? Or does a cloud linger for a few minutes before the water finally settles and becomes clear?

If your water acts more like the latter, sediment is present in your water. The cloudiness is caused by dirt or other inorganic matter finding its way into private wells or by run-off into a water supply before reaching a water treatment facility.

These contaminants can lead to plumbing issues down the road if left untreated. The sediment builds up in pipes and drains, stopping the flow of water. The more the sediment collects, the harsher it becomes on clothes and water-using appliances.

You can remove sediment from your water by asking our water experts how bad the contamination is, and then finding the right filtration solution for your home.

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Low pH

An outdoor faucet that's stained blue because of low ph water

pH is a 0-14 scale used to measure the level of acidity in a solution. The lower the number, the more acidic, and the higher the number, the more basic. Since water is a solution, the pH of pure water should be a 7, or neutral. When that number decreases, it becomes more acidic and harmful.

Water can become acidic thanks to pollution. Atmospheric carbon dioxide or acid rainfall can quickly turn pure water into an acidic solution. If your water comes from a source near a factory or mining facility, the better the chances your water has a low pH.

You will notice your water becoming more acidic the more it tastes like metal. You can also see the effects of low pH if there are blue-green stains appearing near faucets, drains or inside your toilet tank.

The stain makes the iron or copper weak as the acidity eats away at the material and can cause costly damage to your water heater and other fixtures.

Contact one of our water experts to test your water’s pH level. They will provide you with the right solution for your acidic water problem.

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Arsenic

Water contaminated with arsenic being poured into a glass

Arsenic water contamination is dangerous for a variety of reasons. This chemical is odorless and tasteless. It’s also a human carcinogen and can kill you.

So how does it get into your water in the first place? Arsenic appears naturally in soil, air, and plants and animals. It’s also used in metals, drugs, semiconductors and cleaning products. However, most industrial arsenic is found in wood preservative.

When these materials find themselves in or near a water reserve, it’s likely that the arsenic will contaminate the source. Levels of arsenic are already found in the Western, Midwestern and Northeast regions of the United States. They are being closely managed at water treatment centers. This isn’t always the case for individuals who receive water from a private well.

If you want your water tested for arsenic, it needs to be sent to a state certified lab. Our water experts can get the process started for you and help you choose which filtration system you need to keep you protected from this dangerous chemical.

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Lead

Two lead pencil tips sitting next to each other

Society was slow to realize the dangers of lead contamination. Homes that were built across the country before the 1920s were constructed with lead piping. Lead pipes were also installed under city streets that connected homes to public water distribution centers. After the 20s, some builders still used lead piping until 1986, when lead pipes were banned by national plumbing safety codes.

We’ve almost hit 100 years since society came to its senses with lead contamination, but you could still be threatened by this dangerous substance. Lead water lines are still out there, and when they start to corrode into your home’s water line, you could be in trouble.

Lead is a toxic metal that slows childhood development and attacks the immune system in people of all ages. There are numerous other health risks:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Hearing loss
  • Neurological damage
  • Organ failure

Lead adds a metallic taste to your water, although it can still be present without you knowing. To know for sure, get your water tested or contact one of our water experts. They will test your water and recommend the best water filtration solution to protect you and your family.

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Nitrates

A farmer combining his field leading to nitrate water contamination

Nitrates are vital for our food supply. They appear in fertilizers which help farmers by replenishing soil after a long crop-growing season. But these same nitrates that help the soil recover are toxic when they directly enter the food chain. This happens when nitrate run-off soaks into our water supply.

Due to its extensive use in agricultural and rural communities, nitrate water contamination occurs more often in towns next to expansive farmlands. Irrigated water containing fertilizer is usually the driver for contamination. Nitrates can enter surface and groundwater sources just as easily as sediment.

Plants respond well to nitrates in fertilizer. Humans have the opposite response with ailments including:

  • Organ failure
  • Delayed development in children
  • Reproductive system issues

If you live in a rural area that’s been hit with nitrate water contamination, it could be expensive and take a long time to fix. Contact our water experts if you’re worried about nitrate contamination so they can test your home’s water and guide you to the right filtration solution.

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Microbes

Purple microbiologicals sitting in a Petri dish

Just like hydrogen sulfide, microbiological water contamination starts from the decomposition of organic matter. These microorganisms are carried into our water supply by dead or decaying plants and animals, sewage and waste.

This type of microbiological contamination produces bacteria that can be eliminated at a large water treatment plant but are hard to remove at private wells. The bacteria can’t be seen or smelled. The best way to see if your water is contaminated is to send a sample to a lab for testing.

When microbiological contamination is caused by organic matter like algae, your water will start smelling fishy and possibly musty. Small levels of this type of contamination are not as harmful as lead, but you can still remove it with a home filtration system.

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Pharmaceuticals

A collection of medication pills mixed together

A 2016 Science Direct study detected 47 different pharmaceuticals in the study’s sourced water samples. Fewer pharmaceuticals were detected after testing the water once it had been treated, yet some drug contamination remained. Even more surprising is the fact that there are no regulations concerning pharmaceutical contamination in the United States.

The good news is that there has yet to be a link from this type of contamination to increase health risks. However, there are concerns contaminated water could interact with prescribed medicines patients are taking, causing a harmful drug combination.

It’s still early days for scientists and water experts in determining the effects of pharmaceutical water contamination, but you can do your part in preventing it by responsibly disposing of unused medication instead of simply throwing them away.

Our local water experts can also provide your home with filtration systems that can reduce the potential harm found in dissolved pharmaceuticals in your water.

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