Is Sulfur Water Safe?

We hear the same questions all the time:

“Is sulfur water safe to drink?”

“Why does my water smell like rotten eggs?”

“Is sulfur water bad for my hair?”

I’m here today to answer some of these questions and give you the information you need to diagnose your problem and give you a head start on finding the right solution.

When Most People Realize Sulfur is the Problem with Their Water

The classic thing people notice about sulfur water is the lovely smell of rotten eggs. It’s actually decaying sulfur in eggs that make it smell like that. So, one could say that sulfur doesn’t smell like rotten eggs, but rather rotten eggs smell like sulfur!

This smell can occur naturally in water as the result of a chemical reaction that happens during the decay of rocks and soil. As certain types of rock and soil decay hydrogen sulfide gas is released which is the same gas that’s released when globulin proteins in egg decay. So, now you know where that smell comes from. Let’s talk about other ways you might learn that you have sulfur in your ground water.

Other Common Headaches that Come from Having Sulfur in Your Ground Water

If you notice any of the following occurrences around your household, you might be experiencing an over abundance of sulfur in your water:

  • You find black tarnish on your silverware
  • Your copper and brass cooking utensils are discolored after washing
  • Your laundry is coming out with yellow or black stains after washing
  • The beverages you make that contain water are coming out discolored

If hydrogen sulfate is in the water, you might experience some of these occurrences:

  • Your water tastes bitter and gives laxative effects to some who drink it
  • You notice scale buildup on your water pipes and fixtures
  • The sulfates are hampering the cleaning power of bleach and your whites are not as white as you know they should be
  • You notice dark slime in your plumbing pipes and fixtures

Hydrogen Sulfate and Hydrogen Sulfide in Ground Water

Hydrogen Sulfide

As you learned earlier, hydrogen sulfide is the culprit when it comes to making your water smell like rotten eggs. It is released from the ground when ancient plant and animal materials in the soil decay in an environment that lacks oxygen. Though this gas can be toxic at high concentrations, it’s unlikely you’re in danger just because you smell it coming out of your water.

That said, it is still important to exercise caution when investigating the source of the smell. In order to test the possible sources, it’s necessary to crawl into some tight and potentially dangerous places like your water well pit or cellar where the hydrogen sulfide gas could potentially be built up to dangerous levels. There are water professionals in your area that can come test safely so call them, please.

Hydrogen Sulfate

Hydrogen Sulfate, on the other hand, can cause more harm even though it’s harder to detect. This type of sulfur is not released into the air as a gas so you cannot smell it. It stays in the water. When ingested, hydrogen sulfate can act as a laxative to many people which can lead to dehydration and general degradation of health. These symptoms are especially dangerous to infants and the elderly. Since sulfate and sulfide are commonly found together, that classic rotten egg smell is a good indicator that the water could contain harmful sulfate and should be tested and potentially treated to remove the harmful toxins.

 

Is the Problem Coming from My Ground Water or Somewhere Else?

It’s extremely common for regions such as Minnesota for groundwater to contain sulfur. As the water is pushed or pumped out of the ground, the gases come with it and when it hits open air, the gases are finally able to escape.

Your Water Heater is Causing the Rotten Egg Smell

If you live in an area like Daluth, Minnesota, then it’s more likely than not that your water contains some hydrogen sulfate and sulfide. If you are experiencing that smell only when you use hot water, the problem might not be coming from the ground but rather your water heater.

If you are experiencing that smell only when you use hot water, the problem might not be coming from the ground but rather your water heater.

A lot of water heaters contain a mineral called Magnesium that can react with hydrogen sulfate to create hydrogen sulfide, the smelly gas. A trained water testing technician can isolate the problem and identity if the water heater is the source. If it’s the water heater, the magnesium can be replaced with another type of metal that does the job but doesn’t chemically react with your water.

Bacterial May Be the Source of the Rotten Eggs!

Another common source for the release of hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs) is bacteria. There are types of bacteria that consume iron and sulfur for energy. When they do, they release hydrogen sulfide into the air and water which gives off the rotten egg smell. If you have a water softener in your home, it’s the most likely source of the bacteria build-up. If your water softener smells like nasty eggs, call your water treatment company right away and they will come to remedy the problem.

This iron-eating bacteria can build up in other parts of your water system too. Sulfur bacteria produce a slime that is the perfect food for other microbes such as iron bacteria. The pile-up of these bacteria and slime can break havoc in water wells, irrigation systems, plumbing pipes, and anywhere else the water goes.

Now for the question that probably brought you here: Is Sulfur Water Dangerous?

Is Sulfur Water Dangerous?

Typically, sulfur in your water isn’t very dangerous, but there are some symptoms that come with ingesting too many hydrogen sulfides. The most common symptom is diarrhea which can easily lead to dehydration if left unchecked. There are other things you might notice when drinking water high in sulfides such as:

  • The water tastes bitter
  • The water smells like rotten eggs
  • There’s a buildup of slime in your plumbing pipes and fixtures
  • You have a lot of plumbing issues over the years.
  • Bleach doesn’t seem to work very well when doing laundry

As explained by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia, hydrogen sulfide is extremely corrosive to iron, steel, copper, and brass. It will quickly corrode even stainless steel. Any water well with steel pipes and/or homes wired with copper wire will have shortened life spans which means they’ll require more maintenance and repair than otherwise necessary.

In a nutshell, sulfur water is most likely not life-threatening, but it should still be treated to avoid the many inconveniences that come along with it. So, how does one get rid of the sulfur in their water?

 

How to Remove Sulfur from Water

The first step to finding a solution for any problem is accurately identifying the problem. It’s necessary to get your water tested by a professional that can identify what impurities are in your water and where they are coming from. If your water is high in sulfur, it’s likely there are other contaminants that could be much more dangerous. Once tested, you’ll know. Then, they can advise you on the options you have for eliminating the problem. If the problem is indeed sulfur-related, then you have a few options.

Iron Filtration System

An iron filtration system hooked up to your water system will remove sulfides as well. It works by using a chemical reaction that converts the sulfide into different particles that can then be filtered out of the water. If you have too much iron in your water as well, then this is the best option.

Water Aeration System

An aeration system mixes air with water to reduce the amount of sulfides. Since sulfides react with oxygen, this is like turning up the speed to 100 and speeding up the natural release of that rotten egg smell causing gas! An aeration system can be added to any water treatment system.

Modify or Change Your Water Heater

If the source of the problem is your water feature, it’s sometimes possible to remove or replace the magnesium rod that is causing the chemical reaction. Unless you are a plumbing or water treatment professional, you should probably not go messing around with your water heater parts unless you’re okay with cold showers. This could be the easiest fix so looking at the water heater first is a great idea

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

If you’ve read through this article and have determined that sulfur could be the issue. It’s time to call your local water treatment or testing company and have them come out to conduct a test. These nice people will get you fixed up in no time flat. Thanks for reading and please leave your comments, questions, and concerns in the comment section below so we can discuss it with you today. Thanks for reading!

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Author

Charles Kile

Chuck is a marketing director with an interest in the groundwater industry. He spends his time reading and writing about groundwater when he's not fishing on the beautiful lakes of North Idaho.

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