Rotten Egg Smell, Sulfur and Well Water

Annual water testing can uncover many hidden issues when you own a home that is supplied by a private well. Water contamination that can cause health problems can arise for a variety of reasons. Some contaminants, such as arsenic cause cancer and offer no clues, they are odorless, colorless and do not affect the taste of your water.  Others can be uncovered just by scent or build up on shower heads. Rotten egg smell coming from your water well tap is a quality of life problem that can be solved.


Sediment issues can affect the clarity, smell, and taste of your water. Dissolved minerals or metals like copper and iron cause these problems. Fortunately, not all of these problems are harmful. In fact, many people consider water with a few dissolved minerals to have a superior taste and even some health benefits.


Some minerals, however, can make your water unpalatable. Often you may find a rotten egg smell when you turn on the tap or take a sip of water. This is a sign of increased levels of hydrogen sulfide or sulfur.


What is Sulfur?

There are two common sources of sulfur in drinking water: hydrogen sulfide and sulfate reducing bacteria. Both can cause that familiar rotten egg smell, and while a nuisance, they do not pose a health risk at concentrations typically found in private wells.

Hydrogen sulfide gas is naturally occurring in some groundwater if it contains decaying organic matter, such as you’d find in wetlands, or it may be present if your well is drilled in shale, sandstone, or near coal, peat, or oil deposits. The rotten egg smell is produced when sulfur and oxygen are present in the soil, or when a non-harmful bacteria digests small amounts of the sulfate minerals.


The Health Effects of Sulfur Contamination

The EPA considers sulfuring a secondary contaminant with no direct threat to health. While the sulfate gives your water a bitter taste and unpleasant smell, in higher concentrations it can have a slight laxative effect. Hydrogen sulfide can give your water that rotten egg smell, effect the taste and in high concentrations can lead to nausea.


On the major problem is that hydrogen sulfide is corrosive to metals like iron, steel, copper and brass. It can cause discoloration, staining of clothes and fixtures. Corrosion can cause increased levels of lead in your water if it is present in the solder joints of your copper pipes. Foods cooked with water containing the chemical can taste bitter, or be discolored as well.


Testing Water for Hydrogen Sulfide

Testing can be difficult because the gas that causes the odor dissipates rather quickly. It’s recommended that you contact a well professional to have an onsite test conducted, especially if the odor is excessive.  Levels higher than 5mg/l may make treatment more difficult and could require special testing.


Rotten Egg Smell and Water Treatment Options

Treatment is usually chlorination or aeration followed by filtration. This is the same water treatment process for removing iron and manganese allowing removal of all three minerals simultaneously. Your well water professional can advise you on the process, installation and costs of a chlorination/filtration system.


Remember, maintaining your private well is your responsibility. Installing a water treatment system that can accomplish multiple tasks and removal of various contaminants is a cost-effective solution that can ensure your family’s health and safety. In the case of hydrogen sulfide, water treatment can eliminate that rotten egg smell and make your drinking water more palatable for your family’s drinking pleasure! 


Contact Skillings & Sons for an estimate on water treatment system that eliminates that awful rotten egg smell.