Unpleasant odors in drinking water can make it taste bad and seem unsafe to consume, even when tests show it’s safe. If a rotten egg, musty, or chemical smell comes from the water in your home, it likely has excess sulfur, organic matter, or chlorine. Fortunately, you can remove the unpleasant odors and have clean, fresh-tasting water again.

Causes of Smelly Water

Identifying the specific smell can pinpoint the source:

  • Chemical smell means too much chlorine or chloramine was added when disinfecting municipal water. Heat makes the smell stronger.
  • Musty odor comes from organic matter like leaves, algae, or protozoans in groundwater.
  • Plastic smell in hot water can be PVC or CPVC pipes off-gassing as the temperature rises.
  • Sulfur or rotten egg smell comes from sulfur-producing bacteria in well water or from softening.

Water Treatment Options

There are several methods to remove foul water odors. Point-of-use filters treat water at the specific outlet they are installed on, like a faucet or shower. Whole-house systems treat all water entering the home.

These treat at faucets or showers. Carbon filters absorb chlorine and chemicals well. Faucets, pour-through, refrigerator, and shower filters with activated carbon are inexpensive for one tap. Replace every few months.

Reverse osmosis systems with carbon filters thoroughly remove more contaminants from high water volumes.

These treat all water entering the home at the main line.

Carbon filters remove chlorine and chemicals. Activated carbon media traps contaminants.

Oxidizing filters remove sulfur smells by converting compounds into harmless sulfates.

Backwashing sediment filters strain out organic materials that cause a musty smell.

Aeration systems remove sulfur gas specifically by exposing water to air through cascading or splitting into streams. Carbon filtration does not remove sulfur odors.

Preventing Odors

Ideally, it’s best to prevent smells from developing in the first place by:

  • Flushing water heaters to remove sediment that causes rotten egg odor. See our guide on water heater maintenance for help with this.
  • Installing iron filtration if your water has high iron content and smells when exposed to air.
  • Maintaining a disinfection system if you have a well.
  • Removing sources of organic material, like leaves or algae. Grease traps can help.
  • Using lead-free plastic pipes to avoid plastic smells leaching into hot water.

So, Is Removing Odors Worth It?

Odor-free water is worthwhile for your health and enjoyment. While some smells may not make your water unsafe, they are unpleasant. Filtration provides a noticeable improvement. 

Whole-house systems treat all your water but have high upfront costs. Point-of-use filters treat one tap more affordably. Odor type and budget determine the best solution. 

FAQs About Removing Water Odors

How much does a whole-house filtration system cost?

Installation ranges from $950 to $3,500, depending on filter media. Sediment filters cost less. Systems treating multiple issues cost over $4,000.

How do you maintain filters?

Maintenance like backwashing cleans filter media. Replace cartridges every three to six months. Automatic timers help. I recommend annual servicing.

What removes sulfur smells?

Aeration and oxidation remove hydrogen sulfide gas. Aeration allows gas to escape by exposing water to air. Oxidation converts sulfur to sulfate.

Why does water smell like chemicals?

Too much chlorine or chloramine added when disinfecting your municipal water causes a chemical smell more noticeable in hot water. Carbon filtration helps absorb and remove it.

How do you remove a musty odor?

Musty smells come from organic material like leaves, algae, and bacteria in your water. Sediment or multi-media filters strain out particles and organisms.

Editorial Contributors
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Jonathon Jachura


Jonathon Jachura is a two-time homeowner with hands-on experience with HVAC, gutters, plumbing, lawn care, pest control, and other aspects of owning a home. He is passionate about home maintenance and finding the best services. His main goal is to educate others with crisp, concise descriptions that any homeowner can use. Jon uses his strong technical background to create engaging, easy-to-read, and informative guides. He does most of his home and lawn projects himself but hires professional companies for the “big things.” He knows what goes into finding the best service providers and contractors. Jon studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and worked in the HVAC industry for 12 years. Between his various home improvement projects, he enjoys the outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with his family.

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Lee Ann Merrill

Chicago-based Lee Ann Merrill has decades of experience writing and editing across a wide range of technical and scientific subjects. Her love of DIY, gardening, and making led her to the realm of creating and honing quality content for homeowners. When she's not working on her craft, you can find her exploring her city by bike and plotting international adventures.

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