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The following chart is intended to serve only as a general guide for determining the cause of problems with water. In some cases, these symptoms may indicate a serious problem—in others, only the taste and smell (its aesthetics) may be affected, but not its safety.

Although information below will help you identify your concerns about your water, we believe that it is safest to have your water tested.

Symptom Possible Cause Possible Health Effects Means of Treatment
Soap scum in sinks and bathtub, or yellow or whitish scum on flower pots Calcium (limestone) and magnesium salts (hard water) Aesthetic only Water softener
Abrasive texture to water when washing or residual left in sink Excessively fine sand, silt in water Various (sand could trap contaminants leading to health risk) Point of use sediment filter or whole house filter
Musty, earthy or wood smell Generally, harmless organic matter Aesthetic only Activated carbon filter or reverse osmosis
Chlorine smell Excessive chlorination Could occur from formation of disinfection byproducts Dechlorinate with point of use activated carbon filter or whole house filter
Rotten egg odor, or tarnished silverware 1. Dissolved hydrogen sulfide gas

2. Presence of sulfate reducing bacteria in raw water
Various effects 1. Manganese greensand filter constant chlorination followed by filtration/dechlorination.

2. Constant chlorination followed with a point of use activated carbon filter or whole house filter
Hot water, rotten egg odor Action of magnesium rod in hot water heater Various Effects Remove magnesium rod from heater
Detergent odor, water foams when drawn Seepage of septic discharge into underground water supply Disease-causing microorganisms may be present 1. Locate and eliminate source of seepage—then heavily chlorinate well

2. Activated point of use carbon filter or whole house system will adsorb limited amount
Gasoline or oil (hydro-carbon) smell Leak in fuel oil tank or gasoline tank seeping into water supply Fuel components may be toxic or carcinogenic No residential treatment. Locate and eliminate seepage
Methane gas Naturally occurring caused by decaying organics Various effects Aeration system and repump
Phenol smell (chemical odor) Industrial waste seeping into surface or ground water supplies Various—compounds may be carcinogenic Point of use activated carbon filter or whole house system will adsorb short-term.
Salty or brackish High sodium content Aesthetic only 1. Deionize drinking water only with disposable mixed bed—anion/cation resins

2. reverse osmosis
Alkali taste High dissolved mineral containing alkalinity (Stained aluminum cookware) Aesthetic only Reduce by reverse osmosis
Metallic taste 1. Very low pH water (3.0-5.5)

2. Heavy iron concentration in water above 3.0 ppm Fe

3. Leaching of lead and copper
Various depends on cause 1. Neutralizing calcite filter down to pH of 5.5

2. Calcite/ Magnesia—oxide mix (5 to 1) for higher flow rate and to correct very low pH water

3. Soda ash chemical feed followed by filtration

For Iron

1. A water softener can remove 0.5 ppm of Fe+ for every grain/gal of hardness to 10 ppm with a minimum pH of 6.7

2. Over 10 ppm Iron, chlorination with sufficient retention tank time for full oxidation followed by filtration/ dechlorination

3. In warm climates residual aerator and filtration will substantially reduce iron content
Dirt, salt, clay Suspended matter in surface water pond, stream or lake Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms "Calcite" or Neutralize (media) type filter—up to 50 ppm
Sand grit, silt or clay substances Well sand from new well or defective well screen Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms Sand trap and/or new well screen
Rust in water Acid water causing iron "pick-up" Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms Neutralizing calcite filter to correct low pH acidity and remove precipitated iron
Gray string-like fiber Organic mater in raw water algae, etc Turbid water may contain disease causing microorganisms Constant chlorination followed by a point of use activated carbon filter to or whole house system to dechlorinate
Green stains on sinks, or, blue-green look to water Water which has high carbon dioxide content (pH below 6.8) reacting with brass and copper pipes and fittings Could lead to health effects if acid water causes leaching of lead and copper 1. Neutralizing calcite filter down to pH of 5.5

2. Calcite/ Magnesia—oxide mix (5 to 1) for higher flow rate and to correct very low pH water

3. Soda ash chemical feed followed by filtration
Brown-red stains on sinks or clothing. Water turns brown-red when used for cooking 1. Dissolved iron in influent (more than 0.3 ppm Fe+) water appears clear when first drawn at cold water faucet. Above 0.3 ppm Fe causes staining Various effects 1. A water softener can remove 0.5 ppm of Fe+ for every grain/gal of hardness to 10 ppm with a minimum pH of 6.7

2. Over 10 ppm Fe+ chlorination with sufficient retention tank time for full oxidation followed by filtration / dechlorination

3. In warm climates residual aerator and filtration will substantially reduce iron content
2. Precipitate iron (water will not clear when drawn) Various effects 1. Up to 10 ppm iron removed by manganese greensand filter, if pH 6.7 or higher

2. Manganese treated, non-hydrous aluminum silicate filter where pH of 6.8 or higher and oxygen is 15% of total iron content

3. Downflow water softener with good backwash, up to 1.0 ppm Fe. Above 1 ppm to 10 ppm use calcite filter followed by downflow water softener Calcite media type filter to remove precipitated iron
Brownish cast does not precipitate Iron pick-up from old pipe with water having a pH below 6.8. Organic (bacterial) iron Various effects 1. Treat well to destroy iron bacteria with solution of hydrochloric acid then constant chlorination followed by a point of use activated carbon filter or whole house system to for dechlorination

2. Potassium permanganate chemical feed followed by filtration
Reddish color in water sample after standing 24 hours Colloidal iron Various effects Constant chlorination followed by a point a of use activated carbon media filter or whole house system for dechlorination
Yellowish cast to water after softening and/or filtering Tannins (humic acids) in water from peaty soil and decaying vegetation Various effects 1. Adsorption via special macro-porous Type I anion exchange resin regenerated with salt (NaCl) up to 3.0 ppm.

2. Manganese greensand or manganese treated sodium alumino-silicate under proper set of conditions
Cloudiness of water when drawn 1. Some precipitant sludge created during heating of water

2. High degree of air in water from poorly functioning pump

3. Excessive coagulant-feed being carried through filter
1. Various effects

2. Aesthetic only

3. Various effects
1. Blow down domestic or commercial hot water heater tank periodically

2. Water will usually clear quickly upon standing

3. Reduce coagulant quantity being fed, service filters properly
Blackening and pitting of stainless steel sinks 1. Excessive salt content

2. High temperature drying creates high chloride concentration accelerating corrosion
Various effects 1. Use other chloride resistant metals

2. Reduce total dissolved solids by reverse osmosis.

Source: EPA Office of Water



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